Mass Seeks to Bring Religion to Prisoners Clergy Says Men, Women Behind Bars Need Compassion, Prayers

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Many people have no problem helping the poor and feeding the homeless - but reaching out to those in prison might take some out of their comfort zone.

It's one of the biblical mandates people often fail to follow, said the Rev. Larry Craig, chaplain for Cook and Lake county jails.

"Christians have the basics in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked," said Craig. "But the ministry that gets the least amount of attention is that of visiting the jailed. I think they don't even know where to begin."

Today, Craig and about 1,000 others will join Cardinal Francis George at an unprecedented ministry event - a prison Mass suggested by the Pope John Paul II. The pope wants Christians to acknowledge the plight of prisoners.

George will lead a Chicago Mass at 1:30 p.m. in Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, 3121 W. Jackson Blvd.

It is aimed specifically at praying for those who are jailed, their families and their victims. Former inmates will participate in the Mass. Similar Masses will be held throughout the world, including one led by the pope at the Regina Coeli Prison in Rome.

"The impetus, of course, is that it's the jubilee year," Craig said, explaining that even before Christianity began it was routine for some prisoners to be released during the jubilee year.

About 45,000 people are in Illinois prisons and jails with about 2 million incarcerated nationwide. …