Celebrating Ash Wednesday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan visited the incarcerated on Rikers Island. He said he wanted to visit worshipers who could not visit him.
"We hear about Rikers Island all the time, and Lord knows its challenges here, but we've got to think of the people- these women," Dolan said. "Yeah, they made a mistake but boy, they've got a life ahead of them."
Dolan held mass for detainees and correction officers together at Rose M. Singer corrections. It's the women's jail known as "Rosie's." It's a rare visit. Wednesday's mass marks his second service on the island since Christmas Eve six years ago.
"Today was special. Very special. Extra special for sure," said Yvette Hamilton, an officer with the Department of Correction.
"To meet him in this setting wasn't exactly the place I wanted to meet him, but at least I got to meet him," said Inmate, Mary Stiles.
Stiles, was among 40 inmates in the chapel for the pastoral visit. She said she's pleaded guilty in her case, and as she awaits her sentencing she finds clarity and peace in the cardinal's homily.
"We're all in prison. We are given a sentence of death. We are handcuffed by our sins," Dolan said during mass. "ut here's the good news: we have a very compassionate judge," Cardinal Dolan said.
Faith services are a priority in rehabilitation at Rikers, according to the facility's first Buddhist chaplain, Justin von Bujdoss.
"It's a way to connect to something much larger than you in a time when you're feeling really challenged," he said.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, which is six weeks of repentance before Easter. People of the faith give up a luxury.
"Giving up something for lent is pretty hard in here, because we've given up our all our freedom already- there's not too much to give up," Stiles said.
But bouncing off the Cardinal's humor, Stiles said she can think of something to give up: "Probably the cookies. So, I don't roll out of here."
Cardinal Dolan promised to return to Rikers Island and asked the women attending service to promise to visit him at St. Patrick's Cathedral when they're released.