Prisoners of Conscience
In 2013 the parishioners of St Peter’s Church in Fairwater, Cardiff, began a new initiative of sending out cards to prisoners of conscience. They were sent out twice yearly, during the summer and again a short while before Christmas. The cards were made by our own Arts and Crafts Group and also by the children attending Sunday School.
It is difficult to imagine the fear, isolation and hardship experienced by prisoners of conscience. Often kept in solitary confinement, denied adequate food and drink, sometimes experiencing torture both physical and mental inflicted by their captors, it must be the ultimate test of faith, be that religious or simply and unshakeable belief in the ultimate power of goodness.
It takes perhaps half an hour to write an appropriate message in a card, address the envelope and take it to the nearest post office, yet that 30 minutes of time can provide overwhelming encouragement and support to those who are facing the supreme test of their beliefs. Such a simple act should never be underestimated.
In St Peter’s we obtained information concerning prisoners from ‘Christians Against Torture’. These courageous individuals may be Christian or might subscribe to another faith or no faith – the essential point is that they have spoken up in the name of justice and have demanded human rights for their fellow women and men. They have then paid a heavy price for doing so.
Over the years, many people have expressed how much these messages have meant to them in showing them that there are thousands of people around the world who think about them and stand with them. The letters also send a clear warning to the authorities that their actions are being observed. Although some regimes would never admit to it, they do pay close attention to what the world thinks and says.
The impression that solidarity cards make on police, prison staff or political authorities can help to keep their recipients safe and even contribute to getting them home.
The value of letters and cards is amply illustrated by the three following examples:-
1. “Every week I was waiting for these letters. I was reading them again and again, thinking of those people who took five minutes to write or to draw. Five minutes of their time gave me the energy to survive two years of unlawful imprisonment.”
Former Prisoner of Conscience: Chekib El-Khieri, Morocco
2. “I have been covered with an avalanche of letters and postcards. Over the New Year I kept reading the hundreds of letters and postcards. I can sincerely say I haven’t missed out a single one of them. It was an indescribable New Year.” Prisoner of Conscience: Ales Bialiatski, Belarus
3. “When I feel left with no hope to fight, I’ll get a letter and it inspires me. The light of hope appears again, and my confidence in myself and my ability to change things returns! I thank everyone for their support and solidarity letters and cards.”
Prisoner of Conscience: Ihar Tsikhanyuk, Belarus
So there is the evidence. Join St Peter’s now in sending messages of solidarity to these inspirational people. It’s such a simple way to make a difference. There is something immensely powerful in letting someone know that they are not alone and that you care.
Make that decision now – put hope in the post!
Prayers for Prisoners of Conscience
Let us pray for the tortured,
for prisoners of conscience,
people imprisoned without a just trial,
for the innocent who have been swept away
from family and community in raids at dead of night.
Surely we, who take the gift of freedom for granted,
Should often hold them up before God the all-merciful.
Christ calls them blessed
but their aching limbs
their sense of isolation and abandonment
the psychological torture of uncertainty -
will they live to see another day ? –
does all this give them a sense of blessedness -
or forsakenness ?
Our attempts to contact them
or their families or their church
may seem a ‘long shot’ – a drop in the ocean;
that costs us very little.
But small gestures can be full of meaning,
can help to keep the fragile Body of Christ whole.
May they feel part of us – as we seek to remember them.
Our prayer that their captors
Whether unjust judges
or warders just carrying out their jobs,
may show some compassion –
awareness of their shared humanity.
May the families and communities of the victims
Know that they are not ‘the forgotten ones’.
As we rejoice in the freedom we enjoy
through the saving word of Christ,
so we pray that those who dwell in a valley of darkness
may yet experience the light of Christ.
For it is always better to light a candle
than curse the darkness.
May our prayer be a reflection of that light
that no one can put out –
even the most awful dictator –
because it comes from God.
(Sat March 8th 2014 12 midday, Celebration of family life)
Lord hear our prayer
And let their cries come unto you.