Cardinal George visits Lake County jail to meet, bless inmates
Guided through locked doors guarded by deputies to a room full of jail cells, Cardinal Francis George made his way around the room to greet inmates.
The archbishop of Chicago was invited to the Lake County jail Thursday to visit the facilities and bless the inmates.
Sheriff Mark Curran said George's visit, solicited by a letter written by a jail chaplain, is inspiring for inmates, police officials and chaplains who lead weekly religious services.
"I think the world of this man. We have a great, great leader," Curran said. "All of us that call ourselves Catholics know that we're blessed in these trying times to know this holy man."
Walking from cell to cell and often pausing to pray with inmates, George also asked about their family life.
George said the most important part of the ministry is to make connections and relationships with inmates.
"The purpose of my visit is to be present to people so they don't feel as if they're totally isolated from society," he said. "They're still a part of society."
For some veteran chaplains, seeing George marked a significant milestone in their work at the jail. Chaplain John Richardson, who started the Catholic services at the jail 26 years ago, said he chose to work with the prison ministry after he was ordained. Since the Lake County jail didn't have Catholic services, he decided to coordinate volunteers and start a program.
"Now it's mushroomed," he said. "Once you're hooked, you're done, you're in it."
Curran said religious services have made a huge impact on the inmates, leading them to re-evaluate their life and actions to make better choices.
"Well, it's been said you can teach inmates woodwork, computer skills — criminal skills — so you have to teach an inmate morality as well, which comes from their faith," Curran said.
Rick Riddle, inmate programs manager, said there is an average of about 750 inmates, 120 volunteers who work with them, and 18 chaplains, six of whom are Catholic.
This was the first time George had seen the jail.
"Lake kind of gets the short stick from time to time, so I felt it necessary to come up and thank all of the people responsible for the prison here," he said.
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