Local News Archive
Print Issue: July 1, 1999
Helping Imprisoned Is Gospel Mandate, Priest Says
BY PRISCILLA GREEAR
ATLANTA--At Catholic Social Services fourth annual luncheon, keynote speaker Father George Clements urged people in the archdiocese to follow the Gospel call to serve the lost by establishing parish programs to help rehabilitate ex-inmates and drug addicts.
I believe in my heart that we are not going to be able to solve the drug problem unless we get God involved. Weve got to do that. Weve got to get faith communities involved and it has nothing to do with religion, said Father Clements at the Festival of Hope luncheon June 11 at the Georgia World Congress Center. Religion is for folks who are trying to escape going to hell and spirituality is about folks whove already been to hell.
Undaunted by rain, some 500 people, including representatives from agencies concerned with special needs adoption, offender rehabilitation and prison ministry, gathered in a spirit of celebration and collaboration with interested clergy and parishioners. Brenda Wood of WXIA-TV was emcee.
Father Clements, who was ordained in Chicago in 1957, became the first priest in the country to adopt a child and subsequently adopted three more, out of a concern for the number of older children awaiting homes. He founded One Church-One Child in 1981, a program arranging adoptions for children with special needs through churches. The program has grown to involve 60,000 churches in 38 states, including Georgia, and is credited with 90,000 adoptions.
Since 1993 Father Clements has been implementing the One Church-One Addict program. This project recruits faith communities to offer love and spiritual support to recovering addicts with help from public housing and court systems, health care and educational agencies and substance abuse treatment centers. Over 800 churches in 31 states have become involved.
Father Clements, whose ministry was the subject of an NBC movie, also began One Church-One Inmate, a spin-off of the addiction program, to provide care for men and women who were incarcerated. He now serves in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
After an opening prayer by Archbishop John F. Donoghue, Father Clements related the story of eight finalists in a Special Olympics track meet in which one runner fell down. Another runner, followed by the remaining six, went back to help him so all could run together.
Those people taught us what it is really all about. Its really not about winning, but its about whether or not were going to join together on this earth, he said. Everybody needs help and the fact is that we all need to look back to that one that needs help ... leave the 99 and go for that one that has fallen. Thats what were supposed to be about.
Serving the poor is the Gospel and Christ expects this of his followers, the priest said.
How can you worship with a homeless man on Sunday and ignore him on Monday?
He told of a 16-year-old boy he met with years ago. The boy told him of his desire to be an obstetrician, but soon after he died of a drug overdose. Father Clements then discovered that many youth frequented a local store that sold drug paraphernalia. He mobilized a successful drive that resulted in a law banning the sale of drug paraphernalia in Illinois.
Father Clements urged people to become personally involved, responding to people in need one by one. At the Million Man March in 1995, a 21-year-old dealer approached him about the One Addict program, he said. After waiting near the parish all night, the man met with Father Clements the next morning and told him he wanted help with his drug problem.
Unless we get out there and get personally involved, this thing is going to implode this nation because it certainly has nothing to do with any race, any gender or any occupation. It has nothing to do with your lifestyle, with your wealth or poverty.
Father Clements hopes Georgians will accept his challenge.
Id like to see One Church-One Addict and One Church-One Inmate get started in Atlanta, he said. Thats my hope for Atlanta for the millennium. If we really want to make a difference we always have to work together.
Government, with its material resources and staff, is a good partner for collaboration, Father Clements said, but many of its programs have failed because they lack the love that faith communities can offer.
Two ex-inmates and former drug addicts testified at the luncheon on how caring people were instrumental in transforming their lives. Jackie Thompson, director of Justice for All, told how, as the son of an alcoholic growing up in terror, he became a drug addict at 14 and began committing crimes until he was arrested for breaking into a drug store in 12th grade. He served two years in prison and received drug treatment before being paroled. His parole officer became his friend and mentor.
He took an interest in my goals, supporting me in what I wanted to accomplish. It was through a relationship with somebody that cared about me that I began to find out that I was normal. I didnt know that, he said.
Donna Spearman of Revelation Seed Ministry said she served nearly seven years in jail relating to cocaine addiction. Saying she found Christ while incarcerated and felt freed when imprisoned, she stressed the need to bring Christ to others. For many years she had walked the streets with churches on every corner, but no one ever told her about Jesus.
I thank God for people with big hearts. I thanked God for people who looked past my faults and saw my needs ... for parole officers that believed in me ... Because of individuals who reached inside themselves and remembered the love that was given to them, I can stand before you today not only as a survivor but as an advocate for women who are incarcerated.
Charles Topetzes, director of parole for the State Board of Pardons and Parole, said his agency is anxious to hear from parishes about collaborative efforts for transition assistance to parolees. The state Department of Corrections, through its Community Resource/Volunteer Division, and the State Board of Pardons and Parole have both introduced programs, such as the Community Linkage Program, to encourage individuals and groups to participate in helping inmates and those on parole to live productive, crime-free lives.
Topetzes said churches can offer spiritual support as well as practical help with housing and education. As 90 percent of the incarcerated eventually are released into Georgia communities, it is far wiser to assist these offenders who want to make appropriate changes in their lives to live law-abiding lives, he said.
Georgia has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation with more than 44,000 prisoners in the state prison system. An estimated 80 percent of inmates are in prison today as a result of alcohol- or drug-related crimes, and the recidivism rate is 38 percent.
Celebrating the good works of CSS volunteers, executive director Pam Buckmaster presented the third annual CSS Golf Classic awards to St. Michaels Church, Gainesville, and Lewis Massey, president of Directo, Inc.
Kim and Rick German of Cumming received the Henry deGive Award for serving since 1990 as foster parents to 10 children through the Pregnancy, Parenting & Adoption Services of CSS. They were also foster parents with an Alabama agency and between the two places have fostered more than 30 children. Mrs. German also co-founded the Childrens Advocacy Center in Forsyth County.
One Church-One Addict executive director Eric Donaldson described how the program, based in Washington, works with churches. The interfaith program offers volunteer training for relational and spiritual support teams to serve at least one addict, and hosts or sponsors statewide and national gatherings of volunteers, clergy, facilitators and clinicians. Volunteers work with addicts, hold recovery revivals (spiritual sobriety celebrations) and publish training materials and a newsletter. Donaldson said the program helps to break down barriers, as churches often have a fear of this type of ministry, and helps churches to identify and use resources in the community.
The first thing to do is to commit to the long haul and realize that this is not easy, he said. Volunteers should commit to at least two years of involvement, he said.
Gini Eagen, a lay minister at Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain, said the event gave her a feeling of connection with other volunteers and motivation to be more active in prison ministry. She hopes to establish the One Church-One Inmate program. She and a RENEW group at her parish visit prisoners and offer them support when released. They also respond to letters from inmates.
I think, in a sense, were already doing that type of ministry. This would formalize it, she said. I would like to see more education for the community that this is the mandate of Jesus. It isnt a suggestion.
For information on One Church-One Addict and One Church-One Inmate programs, call (202) 789-4333. Call (770) 808-7121 for information on the One Church-One Child program.
ONE COMMITTED PRIEST -- Father George
Clements, founder of One Church-One Child, One Church-One Addict and One
Church-One Inmate programs, believes faith communities must get personally
involved with people in need. He cited Matthew 25 where Jesus says,
...whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for
GREETINGS -- (L-r) Father Gregory Kenny, CMF, pastor of Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain, Father George Clements and Father John Kieran, pastor of St. Pius X Church, Conyers, visit prior to Catholic Social Services annual luncheon June 11 at the Georgia World Congress Center.