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Are You Being Called to Restorative Justice Ministry?

The Diocese of Fresno invites you to discern your calling into the ministry of restorative justice. For those who would like to learn more about ministering to our imprisoned brothers and sisters, we invite you to attend these free upcoming training opportunities.

Introduction of Restorative Justice Ministry

IMAGINE A LAND where children are forbidden, where playgrounds are never built, and where the laughter of little voices is never carried upon the air. Picture, if you will, a horizon of blue sky and cold, gray cement in all directions, punctuated only by an occasional treetop that can never be touched or climbed. Conceive, if you can, a country whose citizens never bear children, yet the census continues to record wild population growth. Consider a society that has banished the use of such diverse items as fresh fruit, chewing gum, and ballpoint pens with clear casings. No taxicabs will ever be hailed from these streets; vehicles are not permitted. Here there are no bus stops, train stations, or parking garages. There are no automobiles, airplanes, or bicycles. All traffic is pedestrian, but running is prohibited by law. The city has one road leading in; there are none leading out. There are no shopping malls, grocery stores, or fast-food restaurants. Banks are unheard of, as are credit unions, employment agencies, or ATMs. Cash is extinct; plastic is forbidden. All the apparel worn by the inhabitants of this alien landscape is identical. Colors are predetermined by the system; style is irrelevant. All mail, in or out, is subject to search, seizure, and censure. Big Brother is a reality; your every step and position, every hour of the day, is known and monitored. And though the dark Orwellian night has fallen; the lights are on. Always. Somewhere. Welcome to the Fourth Dimension, a parallel universe vaguely mirroring your own. Step out of your own universe for a moment if you will; your tour guide awaits you. The doors are open, but they will soon shut with a singular clang as you leave your own time zone. The culture here is as different as that of any foreign country, but most of the inhabitants speak your language. Welcome to the world of the incarcerated. . .[1]

What is the purpose and what are the goals of Restorative Justice Ministry?

Most offices of Restorative Justice began as Detention Ministries Offices, but over the years we have come to recognize, with the assistance of the USCCB’s Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration[2], that we must work to respond to the needs of all those in our communities who have been harmed by crime – direct victims of crime and their families, offenders and their families, and first responders and other professionals who experience vicarious trauma by their daily witness of the impacts of crime; that we must work for their healing and the restoration of their human dignity; and for the healing of our communities and society as a whole from the harms cause be crime.

We believe that the purpose of Restorative Justice Ministry is to imitate the model Jesus provided for us in Luke:

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”[3]

In 2014 the Diocesan Directors of Restorative Justice developed a Mission Statement and Vision for the Future


The Gospel calls us to follow Jesus Christ’s example of faith, hope and love. Through Jesus, God reaches out to the broken, the poor, the sick and the imprisoned. We seek a restorative justice model empowering the Church to heal our communities damaged by crime and violence. This includes the reconciliation and healing of victims of crime and their families, prisoners and their families, and those who serve in the criminal justice system. In advocacy in legislation, education and pastoral care, we are dedicated to the transformation of the criminal justice system.


  • We value Our Church as a prophetic witness to peace and justice, to truth and freedom, "So that all people may be raised up to a new hope."

  • We value our society as a place of compassion and healing justice for crime victims and their family members and communities.

  • We value a society healed from the divisiveness and fear that have created the largest prison system in the world.

  • We value a society that no longer executes its prisoners or subjects them to long periods of inhumane treatment in solitary confinement.

  • We value a society that offers crime victims and their families opportunities for justice that heal and restore lives to the extent possible.

  • We value a society that is more just and respects the human dignity of all persons; and one that ends policies that criminalize and separate family members of the undocumented.

  • We are a ministry that seeks to show offenders a new way of life through compassionate listening, evangelization, pastoral ministry, prayer, catechetics, and offering opportunities for reconciliation and healing so that the cycle of violence in our society may be broken. We seek to restore each offenders human dignity.

  • We are a ministry that seeks to heal the wounds of families of the murdered and crime survivors, by providing pastoral ministry, referrals for professional counseling, opportunities for remembrance and grieving, for reconciliation, for forgiveness and for restoration of their human dignity.

  • We provide a ministry of presence in our parishes, our communities and especially in our jails and prisons.

  • We seek to empower communities to strengthen the fabric of relationships before crimes occur and seek to mend that fabric when it is shredded by crime.

  • We seek to change the public narrative from retribution to restoration through education, legislation and social action. We seek structural change of the Criminal Justice System.

What are the Challenges and Opportunities Our Ministry Is Facing?

One of our greatest challenges is the conversion of a world that has believed since time immemorial in retribution as the appropriate response to crime, to a world that recognizes the need for responsibility, accountability and restoration and healing.

We face the challenge of providing services to all those who have been release from prison recently due to legislative changes under Proposition 47 and other acts, in the gap between release and government funding promised for such programs.

We face the challenge of balancing our ministry to all those in need of our services – victim, family, and offender alike.

We face the challenge of giving voice to crime victims and offenders who seek both transformation and humane conditions in accord with their human dignity, both of whom have been silenced by society.

We face the challenge of energizing and emboldening individuals and a society apathetic to crime, to crime victims and to the needs of those seeking rehabilitation and restoration – those who are blind and deaf because it hurts to much to see and hear the cries of the poor.

We are challenged to exploit the moment – to appropriately exploit Pope Francis’ model of compassion and mercy, to exploit recent movements for legislative reform of the criminal justice system. We are challenged to gain the support of our communities for legislation changing the way sentencing is calculated, and the Governor’s initiative to modify parole and limit the prosecution of youth as adults.

What are our Hopes and Aspirations for our ministry during the “Year of Mercy”?

We hope that during the “Year of Mercy” each office, each parish and each parishioner will learn about what restorative justice can do for those harmed by crime.

We hope that each ministry may better understand the roles of other ministries and learn to collaborate better across functional lines to promote common interests – the right to life from conception to natural death, the strengthening and empowerment of families, and others.

We hope that there may be an institutional commitment to restorative justice, with adequate funding.

We hope that we will see the face of Christ more clearly in the faces of all to whom we minister, and that they may see Christ’s face in ours.

And finally, that we may come to make every year a year of mercy.

[1] Spitale, Lennie, Prison Ministry: Understanding Prison Culture Inside and Out, (B & H Publishing Co., Nashville, TN; 2002). Preface.

[2] USCCB, Issued by USCCB, November 15, 2000. Copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved.

[3] Luke 1:16-21

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