Editor’s Note: This is Part IV in a series called “Visiting Christ the Prisoner: A Look into Prison Ministry in Bolivia”. 

Enjoy previous posts in the series:  
Part I: Plantas
Part II: Chess
Part III: Council

“Christ of Maryknoll” by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

In this post, missioner Jeff shares with us a little about how he approaches and is received in the prisons of Cochabamba. There are seven prisons in and around Cochabamba that Jeff regularly visits.

What’s in a name? That which we call arroz by any other name would … still taste like rice.

While I hate to disagree with Shakespeare, my experience with the prisons in Cochabamba leads me to believe otherwise: the name makes a huge difference.

When I first started going into the prisons here, the nature of what I was doing led the people I was visiting to call me doctor – the common title for both medical doctors and lawyers. At that point I was often bringing donations of medical supplies we had received or helping with legal documents, so the assumption with the title made sense.

While I appreciated the title and the respect that came with doctor, it set the tone for the relationship in what I viewed as a negative way. There was an implied difference in standing or social level that came with being referred to as doctor.

As an hermanito, I am invited humbly into their space….

While I still do similar things in the prisons, there has been a shift in the name they use for me… and that has made all the difference in the relationships. Now I’m received as hermanito which literally translates to “little (or dear) brother”.

There is a stark difference in the tone used between doctor and hermanito, one of which invites a continuing relationship. As an hermanito, I am invited humbly into their space, and received with a similar humility.

Maybe Francis was on to something with the name “Fratrum Menorum” or “lesser brothers”. That commitment to minority and fraternity sets the tone for how the brothers approach and are received in any relationship.

With that, I have to ask, what do we lose by referring to the brothers as Franciscans? Would “Lesser Brothers” set the tone for a different relationship?

With the title “Franciscans”, I often think of the saintly man with a bird in his hand.

With the “lesser brothers”, it is easier to make the connection to the man lovingly referred to as “the little poor man of Assisi”.

A name can make a huge difference in any relationship, as Romeo and Juliet later would find out.