In 1779, year in which slavery was officially abolished, the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy undertook their latest “redemptions of captives”. After the official abolition of slavery, a new era opened for this “redemptive” Order that led it to undertake a reflection in search of a new saving actions responding to its original charisma but also according to modern times.
On September 24, 2013, the feast of Our Lady of Mercy, patron of Spanish prisons, the Minister of the Interior, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, granted the Order of Mercy the gold medal for Social Merit due to his assistance and pastoral commitment in Spanish prisons. With this sign the civil authorities officially recognized and supported the social work carried out by many religious men and women in Spain in the service of marginalized people. In his speech, the minister underlined the constant commitment of the Order of Mercy, from its foundation in Barcelona 800 years ago, with the prisoners of yesterday and with the today forms of slavery.
The Mercedarian Province of Aragon assumes “the ministry in prisons as a primary apostolate and a concrete way of living and exercising the fourth vow of the Order” (Statute, 42). Also other Provinces, such as the Province of Peru, Chile, Argentina, the Roman Province, the Province of Quito-Ecuador and the Province of Mexico, develp out important and fruitful projects of prison ministry. Although the Province of Castile does not have a defined infrastructure in this area, numerous of its religious visit the prisons and collaborate in the pastoral care of prisoners in Spain, the Dominican Republic and Cameroon.
In Spain, Father Mario Alonso Aguado realizes an important project of penitentiary pastoral care of the diocese of Palencia as chaplain in the prison of La Moraleja, in the locality of Dueñas. There are about 1,800 prisoners benefitting from the project, many of whom are foreigners, of different nationalities and with distinct problems, some extremely poor or with serious mental problems. The project provides social and spiritual assistance, as well as professional and therapeutic workshops in collaboration with educators, social workers, psychologists, lawyers and officials. In addition, the religious mercedaries in Palencia support a center for prisoners with permits and the project “House of the Church”, which offers material support to the prisoners, maintaining the relationship with their families.
For these people working in prisons means working with the captives of our century, it means witnessing to Jesus Christ who manifests himself in the face of the person who lost his freedom. “I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt 25. 36).