For a year now Father Gregorio has been regularly visiting the youth prison in the diocese of Carupano in eastern Venezuela. “He was like an angel from heaven” says Alejandro. The 15-year-old is behind bars for aggravated theft. “It has completely changed us”, he says. The “it” is the word of God, which tells of the Lord’s love. Father Gregorio has brought it with him in the form of the Bible and YOUCAT, the youth catechism sponsored by ACN. His bishop requested these books from ACN for Father Gregorio. And many other dioceses are waiting for this kind of help.
“Father gave me this Bible and the catechism”, Alejandro recalls. “Before that I knew a few stories, but didn’t really want to know.” He takes a deep breath and looks at us with eyes full of hope. “Thanks to these visits, I have now made my first Holy Communion, and in a few days I will be confirmed.” Alejandro is one of 30 young inmates aged between 15 and 19. Before Father Gregorio, some of the Protestant sects came, but they only “preached and understood nothing”, their female warder tells us. “The sects could not supply the longing of these young people for understanding and love”, she adds. “And not being understood, they became still more aggressive.” But Father Gregorio speaks to them from the heart, she explains. “He brings them the love that they have never experienced in their lives.”
All the boys are from broken families. “At first I simply listened to them”, Father Gregorio tells us. “They were lonely, inwardly abandoned, but longing for meaning in their lives, for love, for friendship with God. So then they were able to read in the YOUCAT, and little by little we talked about it.” Alejandro confirms this: “We see life differently now. The words of Father Gregorio, the Bible and the YOUCAT, it all made us think a great deal. We’re going to live differently now.” His cellmate, who is also going to be confirmed soon, adds, “All this has shown us the way of truth, the way to goodness, to God. I’m so happy that Father Gregorio has shown us this path.” It is this joy in the truth that now liberates these lads and fills their hearts.
For Antonio José, the visits of the priest were a totally new experience. “I was only just baptised a few days ago, here behind bars. I didn’t know the Bible and knew nothing about Christ. Now it’s like I’m born anew; the past seems so far away. Father is helping me to look forward. I want to live with God.” Nor have these young inmates forgotten you, our benefactors. “We know where these good books have come from, which tell us about Christ and help us to overcome our bad habits and inclinations. We are very grateful to the people of ACN. Through the YOUCAT we feel we are united with them; it’s as though they themselves had come to visit us. Thank you.”