Paul writes in Romans that “There is no distinction; all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Paul’s point, I think, is that because all of us fall short of God’s glory, its incumbent upon us to offer grace to all.
Damien Cave has a beautiful essay in Sunday’s NY Times Magazine about Father Robert Coogan, a Brooklyn-born Catholic priest who has served as the chaplain of a Mexican prison in Saltillo for the past decade. Coogan’s ministry is a wonderful testimony to what it means to offer grace to others, without distinction. In the Saltillo prison, Coogan ministers primarily to members of the Zetas, a dangerous Mexican cartel gang.
Coogan is the sort of priest that makes it just a little bit harder to feel jaded about the Church; he’s the sort of priest who makes me proud to share his vocation- the sort of priest you’d expect to find in the pages of Graham Greene.
Here are two great excerpts. I encourage you to take the time to click over and read the entire essay. It’s worth it. Here’s the link.
“To the extent that Father Coogan has influence within the prison, it is in part because he grasps their motivations. He not only comes to the aid of those being victimized by the gang, but he also offers the Zetas what no cop or judge ever would — an open mind. While Mexican officials describe the gang members as coldblooded killers, Coogan prefers to see them, as he sees everyone else in the prison, as vulnerable, flawed and capable of change. “These guys who enter the Zetas become part of a system where they find their dignity,” he said.
“It’s a terrible way to do it, but I respect them for doing what the church should be doing: giving meaning to people’s lives.”
“It’s true that for all their infamous cruelty — beheadings, kidnappings, the mass murder of 72 Central and South American migrants in 2010 — the Zetas are also known for their respect of the Catholic Church. After I wrote in 2011 about a chapel that Lazcano, one of the cartel’s founders, built in his hometown, word trickled back to Saltillo’s Zetas, who insisted on doing something similar for Coogan. “What color would you like the chapel painted?” one of the leaders asked him. Coogan said he liked it the way it was and told them not to bother because the roof leaked. “Two hours later they had people on the roof,” he said. “There was nothing you could do about it. They made a decision.”