20th January 2022

Cardinal Vincent Nichols today met with prisoners at HMP Wormwood Scrubs in response to Pope Francis’s call ‘to engage in the exercise of deep and respectful listening to one another’. The Cardinal told the prisoners that he particularly wanted ‘to listen to those who can often be forgotten’.

The visit was facilitated by the Prison Advice & Care Trust (Pact), of which Cardinal Nichols is President, and supported by Acting Governor Dom Ceglowski and Fr Chima Ibekwe, Catholic Chaplain at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. While it remains a difficult time for prisons as they work hard to mitigate the risks of COVID-19, today’s visit was an important one for the many prisoners who rely on faith and parish relationships to lead more positive lives following release.

Fr Chima Ibekwe worked closely with prison staff and the Pact team to arrange the visit, gathering a group of men in the chapel to meet the Cardinal and be heard by the most senior member of Catholic clergy in England and Wales. The meeting was a powerful example of the synodal process in action. Fr Chima said:

“Everyone here at Wormwood Scrubs embraced the Cardinal’s visit. The lads were so pleased that he sat with them. The support from not just the multi-faith chaplaincy but all the staff, including those with no religious faith, has touched my heart. We all worked together to make the visit a success.”

The Cardinal made time to speak at some length with prison staff over sandwiches. Pact staff and volunteers welcomed the Cardinal in the prison Visitors’ Centre, operated by Pact and home to the charity’s FamilySpace initiative, which supports families across London affected by the imprisonment of a close family member. On behalf of HMP Wormwood Scrubs, Father Chima presented the Cardinal with a picture that included the words from Matthew’s Gospel: ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me’.

Some of the prisoners spoke about how important family and even parish connections are while they are inside and the hope that these relationships can give them. The Cardinal reported that an important message for him was that the prisoners appreciated being acknowledged by parishes and would value being invited back to those communities when possible.

Pact’s CEO, Andy Keen-Downs, reported that Pact’s Faith in Action team is well-placed to help parishes become places where prisoners, people with conviction and their families can feel known and loved.

You can contact our Faith in Action team at [email protected].

Cardinal Nichols visits HMP Wormwood Scrubs