By Lauren Caggiano
FORT WAYNE — For more than 100 children in the area, there will be one less person at the Christmas dinner table due to incarceration. However, thanks to the Angel Tree program, more children can feel connected to their parent(s), even when prison bars separate them.
Locally, Mark Michuda, of the Knights of Columbus Anthony Wayne Assembly 4th Degree, is responsible for introducing the program to the diocese. Last year, he and some St. Aloysius, Yoder, parishioners participated in a prison ministry program called Christmas Behind Bars whereby they went to several prisons to visit inmates. It was a pivotal moment there that spurred his dedication to the cause: “I walked by the visitation room to see a woman greeting probably her husband as he entered the room in his orange jump suit,” he recalled. She started crying uncontrollably as they embraced, I sensed the pain and hardship that woman must be going through.
Inspired to take action, he asked a fellow volunteer about the availability of other prison ministry programs. She told him about the national Angel Tree program, which strives to keep children connected to their parent in prison.
While it’s important to minister to the inmates, the children are often the most vulnerable parties in the situation. In Allen County alone, Michuda noted there are 1,000 children who have a parent away in prison or jail.
Michuda justified the need for this ministry: “It’s the children who suffer and they have done nothing wrong,” he said. “Statistics show that children who have a parent in prison become high risk. Many end up in prison themselves.”
Last year Michuda worked with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish to serve 30 families of inmates. This paved the way for the larger scale event at St. Henry Parish on Dec. 19. Families of inmates were invited to the parish center for an afternoon of activities, including a prayer service, gifts, lunch and card making. Children received personal messages from their parent and had an opportunity to reciprocate the action through the Christmas cards to be sent back to the parent.
The ministry does not stop here, however, according to Michuda. The group intends to do a follow-up with the families and offer support groups, counseling and spiritual direction if they desire.
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