12/23/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Christmas: Christian youth celebrate with prisoners

by Nirmala Carvalho
Diphu Diocese organized a day of partying and reflection in a local prison together with local administration, the Baptist Church and Nehru Yuva Kendra.

Diphu (AsiaNews) – Spending Christmas with prisoners, “to understand the true spirit of this feast – God who comes to live in the hearts of men and women.” This was the choice made by the Diocese of Diphu that organized a meeting in the local prison on 22 December.

 

It was a “unique experience” for the inmates. The diocese organised the event together with the local administration, the Baptist Church and Nehru Yuva Kendra, a youth voluntary organization. All 360 inmates participated in the event: many have been in prison for years.

 

Over 400 volunteers came together to prepare Christmas activities for the event. They said the decision to spend Christmas thus aimed to “communicate the message of Christmas to prisoners and to create a different atmosphere for them.”

 

The theme of the celebration was 'No one is born a criminal'. Lectures by local authorities on the importance of living a crime-free life gave inmates an opportunity to reflect in ways that could help them start a new life.

 

A Christmas play and singing carols were the most appreciated moments: all those present applauded the choir and joined in the traditional carol “Santa Claus – Jingle Bell”.

 

The party programme included moments of reflection. The detainees were divided into groups to discuss the circumstances that had led them to commit crimes: most admitted their guilt and said they were ready to pay the consequences of what they had done.

 

Abdul Das, one of the inmates, was called to cut the cake. Moved to tears, he said: “I never cut a cake in my life. This is the first time I have been accorded such an honour. I will remember this Christmas for the rest of my life.”

 

Samsing Kro, a catechist present at the event, said prison should be a “place for reform not punishment”. The local police superintendent, Bora, urged prisoners to lead “a different life once they leave.”

 

One of the organizers, Fr Tom Mangattuthazhe Thomas, told AsiaNews: “Most inmates are not Christians, but they understood the humility of the Child Jesus born in a stable.  They could well relate to being told that there is ‘no room in the inn’, as Mary and Joseph heard repeatedly when they sought shelter in Bethlehem. Like them, the detainees know what it is like to feel like rejects.”

The detainees “were moved as they accepted the consequences of their actions and they literally begged the visiting youth not to follow in their footsteps. With them, I did really feel the meaning of Christmas vivid and clear, God coming to search and dwell in the hearts of men and women.”

 

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