From prison to the Vatican: That’s the journey three Cincinnatians took as part of Jubilee for Prisoners, called by Pope Francis in connection with his Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Over the course of the year, the pope celebrated multiple jubilees to honor those who show mercy each day.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Cincinnati sent a 22-person delegation that included three formerly incarcerated, their mentors and prison ministry volunteers. It was one of three delegations from the United States. During the Nov. 2-7 trip, the pilgrims visited holy sites in Rome, then joined in Jubilee events.
The three formerly incarcerated Cincinnatians are Dominic Duren, Tiffany Hunter and Jeffrey Whalen.
Duren was in prison nearly 20 years. After his release, he founded the HELP Program, a Marianist ministry dedicated to supporting the formerly incarcerated, led by Brother Mike Murphy. Duren now works with St. Vincent helping others find jobs, stability and hope. He and Murphy made the pilgrimage together, along with Duren’s wife and two children.
“We are extremely proud that Dominic (represented) our community and St. Vincent de Paul Cincinnati in Rome,” said Mike Dunn, the local organization’s executive director. “Following his incarceration, Dominic was first a client standing in line for a coat, but today is an employee. … His leadership of our re-entry program helps link returning citizens with opportunities in Greater Cincinnati. His journey provides hope for everyone he encounters.”
Hunter traveled with her mentor, Kate Lassiter. The two built their relationship through the HELP Program and have worked together more than a year. Since her return 11 years ago, Hunter has faced many obstacles, but she has become a strong advocate to end gun violence and build safe communities. She is also the mother of three boys.
“Tiffany is much more to me than my mentee,” said Lassiter. “I am glad to call her friend. The fact that she and I (undertook) a spiritual pilgrimage together speaks to the depths of what can happen when we show up for each other.”
Whalen was incarcerated a total of 15 years. At Lebanon Correctional Institute, he joined the small faith groups and began attending mass. In 2010 he entered the Catholic Church. He left prison in 2012 and lives with his wife, Rhiannon, and their three young boys.
He regards his pilgrimage to Rome with amazement, saying he saw it “as an opportunity to find a base in my life again and get back to who I was and what I felt when I first found Catholicism in prison.” His wife accompanied him on the trip.