Fr. Reamonn Ó Muirí, Adm., Armagh
When Pope John XXIII visited San Angelo Prison in Rome, his simple action, screened universally on television, brought tears to many an eye. One could feel the gentle compassion emanate from him as he raised his arms in greeting to meet the outstretched arms of the prisoners, so wretched looking in their pyjama-like garb. He showed his solidarity, not only by his love and prayer, but by confessing that his own brother had done a term in jail for poaching. Like Jesus washing the disciples' feet, Pope John had given an example.
I often thought Cardinal O Fiaich in his attitude to prisoners was a true disciple of Our Lord and another Pope John. He reached out in love and compassion to them. I was chaplain in Armagh Prison for nineteen years. He took an interest in the prisoners there and did his best to intercede for them in times of stress and sickness, adopting some particular cases and pursuing the issue, even though he met with criticism and opposition. Every November, we had a Mass in the prison for the dead relatives of the prisoners. The women prepared the liturgy very well and it was always a moving occasion. After the Eucharistic celebration, we would chat and put on an informal concert. The Cardinal would oblige with "The Boys from the County Armagh", "Henry Joy", and "Trdthnona Beag Areir". One looks back on those times with a nostalgic mixture of joy and sadness.
In January 1990, the Cardinal invited me to visit some prisons in the North and Midlands of England in his company. I was delighted to accept......
......When we arrived back at Ara Coeli, we had travelled 1,200 miles in a few days, a little indication of the pressures the Cardinal worked under and the stamina needed for his work. But he thought it was worth it, just as the compassionate Christ did not spare himself. When the Cardinal died, these same prisoners we had visited sent messages of grief. The Cardinal had shown himself a true friend to them. "I was in prison and you visited me".