Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco blessed the men and grounds of San Quentin Prison and delivered a message of salvation during a holiday season visit.
The title of his sermon was, “Salvation is worked out right where we are at.”
“God comes to meet us where we are at,” said the archbishop. He said part of his responsibility as Catholic leader of this region is to visit San Quentin two or three times a year, mainly around the holidays.
“I look forward to coming here and getting to know the men here in the prison,” said the archbishop on his Dec. 30 visit. He also said that it is a “moving experience” for him when he comes to prison.
The archbishop has been coming to bless San Quentin Catholic men for six years out of his 36 years in the ministry.
Eighty-six-year old Brian Gragan, an outside visitor, has been feeling welcomed at San Quentin for three years. Whenever the archbishop comes, “It’s a marvelous demonstration of what holiday and communion means to the men in blue,” said Gragan.
Upon the archbishop’s arrival there was a Vietnamese Mass in session. When it ended, he greeted the Vietnamese priest and some of the participants in attendance.
Kelvin Ross has been the Catholic Chapel’s clerk for two years. He has seen the archbishop six times.
“Every time I met him, I found him to be very personable and knowledgeable,” said Ross. “He and Father George allow us to speak candidly and they be respectful toward us and treat us like human beings. They encourage me to strive better in my walk.”
Father George Williams, who everyone at the prison calls Father George, has been at San Quentin for eight of his 25 years in the ministry.
“We are all brothers and we at the Catholic Chapel welcome all, no matter what your religion is,” said Father George. “I believe in helping all the guys in their spiritual journey.”
Prison resident Richard B. Evans has worked closely with Father George for the past three years.
“He has a loving heart towards the prisoners and gives a significant amount of his time to our needs. That’s huge!” Evans said.
The archbishop stood at the door welcoming attendees by shaking hands. He was dressed in his white and gold Chasuble (robe), his Miter (hat) and held his pastoral staff that he calls “Shepard staff” in his right hand. By his side were alter service workers Arturo Huerta and Pablo Ramirez, holding lit candles.
Kit Greerty , who was there with her husband, Tom, from Martinez, read the book of St. Paul on forgiveness and love.
The archbishop led the singing of “Glory, Glory to God.”
“One of my responsibilities is to stimulate the people,” he said.
He spoke first in English and then Spanish to translate the message to the Spanish speaking community present. Video pictures of waterfalls were displayed in the background.
“Salvation is an obedience to God’s will,” he said. “The one who is enslaved is the one who is entrapped in a vice of life.” He correlated that to human life.
Father George prayed and personal petitions were allowed by the inmates and congregation. Many were voiced throughout the room, ranging from prayers for the sick, the immigrant communities to Death Row inmates.
A Bible reading from the book of Colossians was followed by music from the Spanish choir led by Michael Adams.
After the song entitled, “All the ends of the Earth have seen the power of God,” the archbishop addressed the crowd in Spanish and English. A cross hung in the background as the archbishop read from the Bible.
Michael Adams sang “Oh Holy Night,” and Father George wished all a happy new year.
The archbishop blessed the congregation and charged them to go out and spread the gospel of Christ.
Before service ended, the archbishop blessed the communion utensils and the members had communion. Father George held the big Bible for the archbishop while he prayed.
San Quentin resident Kenny Rogers read from the scriptures, Luke Chapter 3 verses 1-6.
Dwight Krizman, co-director of the choir, sang “Salve Regina” in Latin. He said it is a song asking the Virgin Mary to pray and show us the baby Jesus.
“Being able to fellowship with Father George and the archbishop is a gift from God,” said Krizman. “ It was a privilege for him to come and I hope that he takes the experience of the incarcerated men with him to the streets.”
“I have you all covered in my prayers every day,” said the archbishop.