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HELP Program for former inmates invited to the Vatican

The HELP Program for former inmates gets invited to the Vatican. (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Three Cincinnatians, who were once inmates, are part of a delegation headed to the Vatican.

They will walk through The Door of Mercy at the Basilica and hear Pope Francis celebrate mass for the incarcerated.

The 20 Cincinnatians traveling with them are part of Ohio's only Catholic-based re-entry program.

Tiffany Hunter and Kate Lassiter met in the basement of St. Francis de Sales church, which was built in 1850.

That's where members of the HELP Program meet, a program that gives support to the formerly incarcerated.

Support is what Hunter needed, and Lassiter became her mentor.

"I felt I didn't know which way I was going, stuff like that," Tiffany Hunter said. "She didn't give up on me, we stick together."

"She's a mother, works in the community, she's a great advocate for herself and her children," Kate Lassiter said.

Through help, Hunter got a good job.

"They put me in an office where I hadn't worked with computers, but I knew I was smart and I had potential," Hunter said. "I just wanted a chance and I worked as good as anybody else in that office."

"Nobody will hire you," Brother Mike Murphy said. "You know you check that box, and sometimes your application isn't even considered."

Brother Murphy is the founder of the HELP re-entry program, a ministry through St. Francis de Sales church and supported by the Archdiocese.

Brother Murphy said citizens coming out of prison are often rejected by society and sometimes their own families. More than 100 returning citizens in HELP have jobs.

"When they come in they have no self-confidence, they have no hope. That gradually comes back, and they try to bring that back to other people."

Terry Jones got out of prison and was shot while being robbed, the brotherhood at HELP did not give up on him.

"A lot of people that I was affiliated with at the program, they sent me gifts and prayer and came to see me," Jones said. "So that instilled me to walk again also, the future looked bright."

The future is bright for 22 members of the program, including Hunter and Lassiter who have been invited to the Vatican.

Last year, Pope Francis declared it the year of mercy. Next weekend's jubilee promotes forgiveness and honors those who minister to the incarcerated.

"The church talks about mercy and forgiveness, compassion, welcoming; we do that here," Brother Murphy said.

The contingent will take 150 rosaries from inmates in Ohio prisons. They will be blessed by the Pope and returned to them.

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