WEST VALLEY CITY—There may not have been a lot of seasonal joy at the Salt Lake County Oxbow Jail this Christmas, but for some inmates for an hour or so Dec. 21 there was an opportunity to feel a little of the peace the holidays are supposed to bring.
That day Fr. Eleazar Silva, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, celebrated the liturgy of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord; concelebrants were Fr. Francisco Pires, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, and Fr. Sam Dinsdale, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish. Assisting was Deacon Joaquin Mixco.
The priests also offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation before Mass.
In his homily, Fr. Silva told the story of his godson Julian, 4, who was unimpressed by the figure of the infant Jesus when they visited the Nativity at the cathedral in Mexico.
“‘He was too little,’ he told me,’” Fr. Silva recounted, and went on to say that Christ did not come as a great and powerful leader as the Jews expected. Instead, Jesus came as a tiny baby in a manger, and went on to live the life of a poor man.
As such, the Savior can understand people when they themselves feel little, he said.
“When we look at ourselves and we look at how we do things and how we make mistakes, we realize that we don’t have all the answers, that we try and many times … we fail; we feel little,” Fr. Silva said. “This very cruel society we live in – when you make a mistake they push you aside and they never let you come back. … You feel little. You feel little when you realize what you have done damages your family and harms your loved ones.
“Deep inside, we all feel little,” he continued. “When we find that out and we find also baby Jesus in the manger, being so little we discover that we’re not lonely anymore, that we’re not forgotten by God, that God understands the fact that we’re not great, that we don’t have all the answers, that we make mistakes, that we have gone astray. … He makes himself very, very, very little to be with us.”
“This is what the mystery of Christmas is all about, that God becomes a human being,” Fr. Silva said, “but he doesn’t become a king like Herod or an emperor like Caesar. He becomes a baby.”
Fr. Silva went on to say that as the Babe of Bethlehem Jesus can understand humankind and save people from their sins.
The inmate congregation at the jail welcomed the chance to attend Mass. David (last name withheld by request), who is awaiting trial, was baptized Catholic but had moved away from the Church. He said he was glad for the opportunity to connect with his roots and to draw closer to God.
Edson Ramirez took advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and was able to receive Communion at the Mass.
“I’m always trying to be connected to a higher spiritual being,” he said. “This is an opportunity to do that and follow my tradition. I have faith that God will help me.
Manuel Leon has been in the jail for 50 days and is looking at the possibility of deportation back to Mexico, but seemed to draw comfort from the Mass.
It wasn’t just Catholics who participated in the Mass. Austin Record and Edgar Vargas, who are not Church members, both said they enjoyed the spirit of the Mass.
“There was a really prayerful, serene feeling,” Record said, while Vargas said it gave him goosebumps.
The Mass was organized by members of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City’s jail ministry. The ministry has almost a dozen members who regularly visit jails and detention centers, where they offer Eucharistic services, prayer and Bible study.
Mass is celebrated when a priest is available.
Ken Harris, a Blessed Sacrament parishioner, has been part of the jail ministry for more than 10 years.
“It’s something that gets into you; you can’t quit,” he said. “These people are so lost, it tears your heart out. They just need help.”
Fabiola Trujillo, a Sts. Peter and Paul parishioner, has been visiting the jail for eight years. She urged fellow Catholics in the diocese to get involved.
“The need is so great,” she said.