Order of Malta

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A Surprise Pen Pal Assignment Brings Joy

09/29/2020 

Pen Pal Writer Grows Through Correspondence With Prisoner

 

Sometimes, how God calls us to use His gifts can be very different from what we expect. That was the case for Cece Donoghue who, with her husband, Mike, is Co-Chair of the Order of Malta’s Connecticut Area. “I got involved in the Prison Ministry Pen Pal Program about a year ago because I wanted to support our Hospitallers, who had really worked hard to get the PenPal program going in Connecticut,” Cece said. “I created in my head how I thought the experience would unfold. I would be able to share all sorts of Christ-like, inspirational quotes and build this Christian relationship and support my Pen Pal through his time of trial.”

So Cece was surprised and, as she put it, “kind of dumbfounded,” when she opened her first letter from her assigned Pen Pal and discovered he was Muslim. “I thought to myself, this is going to be much harder than I thought—what if I offend him somehow?”

Fearful she wouldn’t say the right thing, Cece decided to start with something she and her Pen Pal did have in common—sports. Turns out, they were both fans of The Pittsburgh Steelers. She also told him about the Order of Malta and how it was a vehicle for her to share her Catholic faith and to serve others. “The letter I got back was so kind and so welcoming that I would say as soon as I received it, the relationship really began,” she said.

To serve her Pen Pal more effectively, Cece began to research the Muslim faith. “It’s really been a beautiful education, and I’m growing and learning so much,” she said. That her Pen Pal is not Christian has given her some moments of uncertainty about what she writes. In one letter, as a way to encourage him while he was working on his GED, Cece wrote, “Remember God loves you. You’re made in his likeness and image.”

She mailed the letter but then had second thoughts. “As I pulled away from the mailbox, my heart sank, remembering the belief that he is made in the likeness and image of God is not the teaching of his faith, and I didn’t know how it would be received,” she said. “The next letter I got back was, again, so very kind. He outlined how he practices his faith. The whole experience has really been incredible.”

As for how her Pen Pal has grown in the Spirit, Cece said, “I can tell that he’s grateful for the relationship and that it’s touched him in some way. We’ll see what the future brings! I’m looking forward to sharing more with him so we can both continue to grow in the Spirit.”

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