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Gabriela and the hosts from prison

· The Eucharist of Pope Francis in Santa Marta ·

The hosts are the most precious material that is used in the liturgical rite because they become – in the consecration – the body of Christ. Precisely for this reason it has always been the tradition that they should be prepared by the purest hands, those of virgins dedicated to God, cloistered nuns. And with ancient methods, not in an industrial way. For this reason, not being simple material, but material that is going to be transformed through transubstantiation, they can have a positive influence on the one who prepares them.

This is just what the Benedictine nuns of San Isodoro must have thought: a suburb of Buenos Aires, located in the vicinity of a penitentiary where the nuns have decided to share the honour of the preparation of the hosts with inmates.

In carrying out the preparation – which includes a complete cycle from the milling of the grain up to the finished host – one prisoner, who is locked up in penitentiary Unidad 47 in Buenos Aires and who for a year has prepared hosts of an excellent quality, has stood out. The idea of involving the inmates in the preparation of the hosts was welcomed by the prison chaplain, Jorge Garcia Cueva, and the priest Juan Ignacio pandolfini, who has noted that, since she was directed to the preparation of the hosts, the prisoner Gaby C. “has been able to make sense of her prison life” so as to no longer fall into her depressive phases.

The production of this workshop is used to supplì various parishes and colleges of the dioceses, and demand grows at special times of the year, such as Holy Week, Corpus Christi and Christmas. But not only: for some months these hosts – just the best, those prepared by the prisoner Gaby C. – have come to the Pope, who since July 10 has celebrated using these his daily Mass in the Chapel of Santa Marta.

A few days after receiving the gift of the hosts, Francis wrote a letter to the prisoner: “Dear Gabriela, Monsignor Ojea has brought me your letter. Thank you for your confidence …and for the hosts. From tomorrow I will celebrate Mass with them and I assure you this moves me. Your story made me think and this has led me to pray for you…but it gives me joy and security to know that you pray for me. I’ll keep you near. Thank you again for writing to me and sending me the photographs: I will keep them in front of me on my desk. May Jesus bless you and the Blessed Virgin take care of you. Sincerely, Francis”.

The joy and emotion caused by this letter in the team of the prison ministry and especially in Gaby is beyond words. The woman felt the wounds provoked by her imprisonment – harassment, abuse and basically a regime that causes her devaluation as a person – to be healed and she commented: the words of the Pope “comfort me, not only for myself but also for my parents, who are strong believers”.

The success of the decision to include the inmates in the preparation process of the hosts lead the members of the prison ministry to reflect, in this way leading to an assessment of their work. There are many female and male Gabys – those responsible for pastoral care in prison confirm – and “today she is the symbol of the incarcerated, she is the voice of all those excluded that we accompany and visit in every prison block, in every cell. We have no doubt that it is the voice of the imprisoned Jesus in each of them, shouting at society to be heard, accompanied and recognised. The prison brings us the mercy of God to make heard this voice of the marginalised, that in our society we refuse to see and listen to”.

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