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Nov 07, 2023 1603 Sister M. Gerard Fernandez RGS, Singapore
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All is Not Lost

At the age of six, a little girl decided she did not like the words ‘prison’ and ‘hanged’. Little did she know that at the age of 36, she would be walking with death-row prisoners.

In 1981, the shocking murders of two young children became front-page news in Singapore and around the world. Investigation led to the arrest of Adrian Lim, a medium who had sexually abused, extorted, and controlled a string of clients by fooling them into believing that he had supernatural powers, torturing them with electro-shock ‘therapy.’  One of them, Catherine, had been a student of mine who had gone to him to be treated for depression after her grandmother’s death. He had prostituted her and abused her siblings. When I heard that she was charged with participating in the murders, I sent her a letter and a beautiful picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Six months later, she wrote back, asking, “How can you love me when I have done such bad things?” For the next seven years, I visited Catherine weekly in prison. After months of praying together, she wanted to ask forgiveness from God and all the people that she had hurt. After she had confessed her sins, she had such peace, she was like a different person. When I witnessed her conversion, I was beside myself with joy, but my ministry to prisoners was just beginning! 

Tracing Back

I grew up in a loving Catholic family with 10 children. Every morning, we would all go to Mass together, and my mother would reward us with breakfast in a coffee shop near the church. But after a while, it stopped being about food for the body and became solely about nourishment for the soul. I can trace my love for the Eucharist to those early morning Masses with my family where the seed of my vocation was sown.

My father made every one of us feel especially loved, and we never failed to run joyfully into his arms on his return from work. During the war, when we had to flee Singapore, he would home-school us. He’d teach us phonetics every morning, asking us to repeat a passage in which someone was sentenced to death at Sing Sing prison. At the tender age of six, I already knew that I didn’t like that passage. When it was my turn, instead of reading it, I recited the Hail Holy Queen. Little did I know that I would one day be praying with prisoners.

It’s Never Too Late

When I began visiting Catherine in prison, several other prisoners showed interest in what we were doing. Whenever a prisoner requested a visit, I was glad to meet with them and share God’s loving mercy. God is a loving Father who is always waiting for us to repent and turn back to Him. A prisoner who has broken the law is similar to the Prodigal Son, who came to his senses when he reached rock bottom and realized, “I can go back to my Father.” When he returned to his Father, asking for forgiveness, the Father came running out to welcome him back. It is never too late for anyone to repent of their sins and turn back to God. 

Embracing Love

Flor, a Filipino woman accused of murder, learned about our ministry from other prisoners, so I visited her and supported her as she appealed her death sentence. After the rejection of her appeal, she was very angry with God and wanted nothing to do with me. When I passed her door, I would tell her that God still loved her no matter what, but she sat in despair staring at the blank wall. I asked my prayer group to pray the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and offer their sufferings specifically for her. Two weeks later, Flor had a sudden change of heart and asked me to come back with a priest. She was bubbling over joy because Mother Mary had visited her cell, telling her not to be afraid because she would stay with her until the end. From that moment, until the day of her death, there was only joy in her heart. 

Another memorable inmate was an Australian man who was imprisoned for drug trafficking. When he heard me singing a hymn to Our Lady to another prisoner, he was so touched that he asked me to visit him regularly. His mother even stayed with us when she came to visit from Australia. Eventually, he also asked to be baptized as a Catholic. From that day on, he was full of joy, even as he walked to the gallows. The superintendent there was a young man, and as this former drug dealer walked to his death, this officer came forward and embraced him. It was so unusual, and we felt it was like the Lord Himself embracing this young man. You just can’t help but feel God’s presence there. 

In fact, I know that every time, Mother Mary and Jesus are there to receive them into heaven. It has been a joy for me to truly believe that the Lord who called me has been faithful to me. The joy of living for Him and for His people has been far more rewarding than anything else.

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Sister M. Gerard Fernandez RGS

Sister M. Gerard Fernandez RGS , founder of the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry in Singapore, has devoted her life to sharing the goodness of the Lord. For over 40 years, she has been counseling prisoners and accompanying inmates on death row.

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