By Paul Kurtz
The new archbishop of Philadelphia was bringing his Christmas blessings today to men who will spend the holiday behind bars.
This morning, Archbishop Charles Chaput left most of the trappings of his church behind for a trip to the House of Corrections, in Northeast Philadelphia.
The archbishop celebrated mass with dozens of inmates behind the walls of the Gothic prison that was built in the late 1800s.
Mass was celebrated inside the gymnasium, and it was a rather odd scene: the leader of the Roman Catholilc Church in Philadelphia praying and leading a bunch of hardened criminals in prayer and song, while armed guards stood nearby.
Chaput offered a prayer of redemption for the inmates.
“Christmas is coming up and you’re going to be in jail, and it’s going to be an awful experience,” he told the gathering, “But you can be free in your hearts. And that’s what God desires. And God desires that you be free from prison, too.”
One inmate says he was delighted when he was asked to help Archbishop Chaput with the service.
Afterward, a group of inmates presented Chaput with a crucifix they had made personally for him.