Deacon Nestor and Maria Chavez
Diocese of Yakima, Washington
Deacon Nestor and his wife, Maria Chavez, formed the Prison Ministry in 1982 at St. Joseph’s Parish in Yakima, Wash. The Prison Ministry consists of 12 active members in two groups, one English-speaking group and one Spanish. The two groups weekly serve those who the rest of the world deem lost and unworthy. The ministry visits the women’s prison every Saturday morning, men’s prison every Sunday and Monday, and juvenile prison every Wednesday. Each visitation lasts about two hours, reminding each prisoner about the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness and that is never too late to repent for their sins.
The Prison Ministry reads scriptures, hands out bibles and pamphlets to teach those who want to learn prayers and how to pray the rosary. Deacon Nestor and Maria have run into several people that they once visited who have told them that because of the Prison Ministry they felt like they were not forgotten members of society. The Prison Ministry made them feel like they deserved a second chance to change their lives and accept the forgiveness and mercy of the Lord, even despite their crimes. Because of the constant rewarding feedback, Deacon Nestor and Maria are extremely committed to the Prison Ministry to help these men, women and youth regain their faith and get their lives back on track.
Deacon Nestor recalls one prisoner he visited that was a leader of a gang. This man saw himself as superior to others because he was a strong leader with many followers in the jail. Deacon Nestor worked with him constantly to help him realize that his actions were shameful and wrong. He advised him to do right and just things, and after a while the man wanted to change himself for the better. Deacon Nestor, Maria and the rest of the ministry continued to pray with him until he felt he was ready to reconcile with God, and later became Catholic.
Deacon Nestor describes his work at the prisons as if he were a doctor at a hospital – sometimes patients leave healed and others do not. “We need to help them realize that there is a better way to live, a better path to take,” Deacon Nestor said. “Once they’ve realized how far they are from God, they want to get closer to him.” The ministry’s mission is to reach as many lost men and women as possible and reconcile them with God.
Deacon Nestor and Maria view their service and ministry in the jails as a crucial aspect and are working to make it present in all prisons. The group has been able to convert atheists and Protestants to Catholicism, as well as bring non-practicing Catholics back to their faith. Some of the prisoners have even created their own bible study groups in the hopes of continuing with the practice of their faith during the days the Prison Ministry does not come visit.
For over three decades of his service, Deacon Nestor received a certificate from Saint John Paul II acknowledging and honoring him for his life-changing prison ministry work.