‘Someone who suffered the greatest pain and experienced (so to speak) hell can become a prophet in society’. Pope Francis.

In many prisons the inmates do indeed experience hell. Many are left to languish behind bars without trial, in inhuman conditions – overcrowded cells, rubbing shoulders with hardened criminals, drinking from half-filled tin cups in sweltering tropical heat.

In Miarinarivo, in Madagascar, the sisters of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of Niort visit them. Many of the prisoners cannot read; they signed the indictment against them with a thumbprint, without even understanding the charge.

One particularly tragic case is that of Agnes. Her husband was murdered. After the funeral, a member of his family came to Agnes with a written document, telling her they knew who the murderer was.

Agnes need only sign the document, they said, to show she supported the case. She ‘signed’ with her thumbprint. In fact it was a fake confession, stating that she had murdered her husband herself. She was brought to trial and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for murder.

The sisters have taken care of her little daughter Lucie, along with other children whose mothers are also in prison. Thanks to the sisters, Lucie can now go to school and live a relatively normal life. Despite this family tragedy, she will still know what love is.

Others have been imprisoned simply for taking a piece of bread to save themselves and their families from starvation. They were caught and dragged before the courts. Now the sisters bring bread for them, and for others – and the Word of God. They also help to bring peace and reconciliation with their families, as many families in Madagascar simply want nothing to do with them after prison.

The sisters also care for orphaned children and young abandoned street girls, give them schooling and provide care for the homeless. They have been working in this thorn-filled vineyard for many years now.

Some 60 years ago, when their congregation first came to Madagascar, the sisters made their home in what was already then an ancient house. It has constantly needed repairs. Now the tornadoes and gales have done their work and it is close to collapsing; it needs to be completely rebuilt – which is too much for the sisters.

And yet they need a place of prayer and community in order to gather strength for their difficult work and continue to be prophets of love, so that Lucie and the other children can see the smiling face of God. ACN have promised to help them.

This article can be found in Mirror 0416.