By Vincent Ujumadu
THERE was jubilation at Onitsha Prisons in Anambra State as Nigerian-born Francis Cardinal Arinze celebrated Christmas with the 800 inmates with a Mass and distribution of food items to enable them enjoy the Yuletide with others.
They sang and danced and pleaded with the Cardinal to prevail on authorities to improve their condition and speed up trials at the courts so the innocent could go home.
Items distributed to the inmates include a cow, eight bags of rice, 14 cartons of toilet soap, 10 cartons of washing soap, toilet tissues, cartons of biscuits and cookies, cornflakes and 125 heads of cake.
Though Cardinal Arinze, who is the Prefect Emeritus of Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacrament at the Vatican City, had been visiting the inmates whenever he was in Nigeria, this year’s Christmas appeared to be different because he inspected the prison facilities which the Catholic Church recently upgraded.
He also commissioned a borehole which had made it possible for water to be provided to all the cells in the prison.
Advising them not to see their present condition as the end of life, Cardinal Arinze reminded the inmates that there were prisons all over the world where people who committed some offences go for reformation.
“Even in Rome , there are prisons and it may interest you to know that three weeks ago, I went to a prison in Rome to say Mass and I saw some Nigerians there,” he said.
He observed that the quest for money was getting out of hand in Nigeria, adding that though money was good, it should not be seen as everything.
According to him, some people do things they should not do because of money and implored Nigerians to use the period of Christmas to reflect on life and its meaning.
Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province , Most Reverend Valerian Okeke, who accompanied the Cardinal on the visit, urged Nigerians to assist the prisons across the country, noting that the inmates were their brothers and sisters.
According to him, God will be happy through rendering of such assistance.
He said the Church should not be left alone in the quest to better the condition of the prisons, adding that members of the Bar and Bench should assist those who have nobody to help them get justice.
He called on those in the judiciary to help speed up the process of trying the cases so that somebody would not be on awaiting trial for years.
“All men and women of goodwill can play their parts to decongest the prisons so that those who should go should be allowed to go, while those who are convicted can serve their sentences and come out to serve humanity,” Archbishop Okeke said.