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Making do


The second week of April we celebrated two confirmations in my parish.

Obviously the ideal misa for confirmations and baptisms is the Easter Vigil, but in my parish we often work with what is less than ideal.

My parish community is a group of around 40 men who are currently inmates in El Penal de San Antonio. We don’t have a church where we attend mass… we are the church, and we make do with the space that we have.

Outside of the hour we are together, our “chapel” doubles, or triples, as a fútbol arena; a meeting space for visitors and family; and overflow workspace for the zapateros, artesanos, y cerrajeros who have limited space in their workshops.

Our altar is a borrowed work table from the carpintería; our pews are plastic red chairs borrowed from the delegates’ office. When it rains, we pause mass so a group of guys can climb up the walls and cover the courtyard with a plastic tarp.

There are poster of Steve Austin and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the walls—the saints of the gym overlooking the courtyard. There used to be a gigantic mural of a chimera as well, but it has since been painted over with dark green paint. I’m not a fan.

It took me a while to warm up to this as a sacred space, but now I can’t imagine a more ideal space for the church to grow. There is something special about the un-ideal that builds community and leads to authentic worship.

I’ve been meeting with our deacon and the two men who received the sacrament of confirmation for a few months now, and so that Sunday was an incredible opportunity to celebrate their commitment to their faith. Maybe the mass wasn’t ideal, but I can’t imagine a more perfect church.

Jeff Sved served in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from 2013-2016. His main ministry was working with inmates in seven prisons throughout Cochabamba.

Prior to joining FMS he served in Wilmington, Del., with Franciscan Volunteer Ministry teaching math in a prison and teaching English to members of the Latino community. Originally from Pittsburgh, Penn., and a graduate of Villanova University.