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M

arian

H

elper

 • W

inter

2016-17

 

• marian.org 

23

a cell built for four.

Unbeknownst to me, a person who was to become

pivotal to this story o

f Divine Mercy s

pent that same

seven years in a prison in a neighboring state confined in

a polar opposite circumstance: the utter cruelty of soli-

tary confinement

. Pornchai Moontri

was brought to the

United States from Thailand at age 11. His story is told

wonderfully, painfully, powerfully by Felix Carroll in his

celebrated Marian Press book

, Loved, Lost, Found.

After a series of moves and seemingly unrelated

events, Pornchai’s life and mine converged. He was

moved to this prison eight years ago. He and I became

cellmates, sharing a two-person cell. Two years after his

arrival, in 2010, Pornchai announced his decision to

become Catholic. He chose my birthday to be baptized

and confirmed, but due to other seemingly unrelated

“accidental” events, it was postponed until two days

later. On Sunday, April 11, 2010, Pornchai was received

into the Church. It also just so happened to be Divine

Mercy Sunday, the day in which the Lord promised “all

the divine floodgates through which graces flow are

opened”

( Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska,

699).

Mary comes knocking

A few years earlier, I had introduced Pornchai to

St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose image in both his priestly

and prisoner garb is fixed above the mirror in our cell.

Pornchai was so inspired by his life and sacrifice that

he took the name “Maximilian” as his Christian name.

Pornchai-Max was called from darkness into a wonderful

light, and his response to that call has led other prisoners

here to examine the direction of their own lives.

Three years later, in 2013, the transformation — not

only of Max, but of our prison — took another major step.

The Marian Fathers sponsored a group of volunteers to

introduce into prison the consecration to Jesus through Mary

using the

33 Days to Morning Glory group retreat

written b

y Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC.

It was the first such

effort in any prison, and Max and I were invited.

There was just one problem: We were not going. We

did not understand what the retreat was all about, and

in the previous months we had been hit with a barrage

of trials and disappointments, small things that add up

painfully behind prison walls. In the midst of this spiri-

tual warfare, I asked Max if he wanted to attend, and he

responded with a sullen, “Not really.” I felt the same way.

However, these Marian-trained volunteers were not

giving up so easily. After missing the first session, we

learned that it would be repeated for the “stragglers.”

“I think that’s us,” I told Max. We also learned that St.

Maximilian Kolbe appears prominently in the

33 Days

book and retreat. “So I guess we’re going,” said Max.

Several others who had originally opted out also

changed their minds. The retreat culminated in our conse-

cration on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 24, 2013.

Seeing signs in a cellblock

Our consecration didn’t result in thunder and light-

ning, and our spiritual warfare continued. That’s the

nature of prison life. Only in hindsight could we see the

immense transformative grace that was given to us. This

consecration to Jesus through Mary changed not only

our interior lives, but our environment as well.

In the months to follow, many other inmates signed

up for subsequent

33 Days

group retreats. Several pris-

oners converted to Catholicism as a result. Others, such

as our friend Michael Ciresi, have come home to their

Catholic faith, which they had abandoned. Of the 60

prisoners in this one cellblock, a full 20 percent have

entered into Marian consecration.

The Marian-trained prison volunteers have returned

to guide two additional groups of prisoners to consecra-

tion through

33 Days to Morning Glory

and have also led

our original group through two other retreat programs

in Fr. Gaitley’s

Hearts Afire p

rogram.

“Part of the risk of real mission and service is the

uncertainty of whether it will make any difference,” said

Jim Preisendorfer, one of the volunteer retreat leaders.

This risk paid off.

Moreover, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pornchai

Maximilian Moontri and I were invited by Fr. Gaitley to

become

Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy,

a group

committed to consciously and deliberately trying to win

the whole world for God through the two powerful spiri-

tual weapons of Divine Mercy and Marian consecration.

On

Divine Mercy Sunday 2

016, in the prison chapel,

Jim witnessed our commitment to the Missionaries’ life

and mission.

Walking across the walled prison yard on the way

back to our cell that day, Max and I felt like the disciples

who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus (see Lk

24:13-53). Having once seen life as not worth living,

Max, holding his Marian Missionaries handbook, turned

to me and said, “How did this happen?”

In announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which

began last Dec. 8, the Holy Father spoke of how the

thresholds of prison cells can signify inmates’ passage

through a Holy Door, “because the mercy of God is able

to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars

into an experience of freedom.”

We’re thankful for the Holy Father’s beautiful gesture.

But it seems Mother Mary beat him to it!

MH