Costas Kantouris profiles Father Raptopoulos and his charity work in the Yahoo! News article titled, “In Greek crisis, priest buys inmates their freedom.”
Reverend Archimandrite Gervasios Ioannis Raptopoulos and his charity, “Diacony for the Prisoners,” have been providing assistance to inmates in financial need since 1978, long before the start of Greece’s financial crisis.
Inmates jailed for minor offenses in Greece (offenses that carry a maximum five-year sentence) are given the opportunity to buy off their jail time for an average sum of about five euros per day. This clearly benefits those who have the money to “buy their freedom.” For the inmates struggling financially, Greek Orthodox priest, Father Gervasios, and the nuns who form the backbone of his charity are there to help.
Father Gervasios is the founder and spiritual coordinator of the Orthodox Sisterhood, “Saint Xeni.” At 83, Father Gervasios, along with the support of the Sisterhood, has spent about four decades helping more than 15,000 convicts to freedom.
He helped Dimitris Germanidis, a 60-year-old ex-inmate, who went to prison for selling bread rings without a license. “ He paid the fine, and bought off my sentence and so I walked free…He helped me without knowing me, he didn’t even know who the money was going to,” said Germanidis.
“He paid the fine, and bought off my sentence and so I walked free…He helped me without knowing me, he didn’t even know who the money was going to.”
According to the charity’s website, the financial funds of the “Diacony for the Release of Poor Prisoners” have come from private donations— these donations have been roughly cut in half due to the financial crisis. As this number plummets, the number of inmates who cannot pay their sentences sharply rises.
This is occurring as the crisis is worsening already difficult prison conditions. Greece’s prisons are far above capacity, which force authorities to overcrowd “inmates into police holding cells as they wait for a place in jail.” Father Gervasios helps where he can— often in small ways to provide things like toilet paper and soap that often run out due to meager supplies.
Sometimes a small sum of money can make a great impact. “Once, we gave a man 8.5 euros, which was what he lacked to gain his freedom,” said Father Gervasios.
The charity usually allocates 500 euros for each prisoner, but the amount needed does vary. In an exceptional case, they gave one prisoner 10,000 euros—he was ill and had many children.
Father Gervasios has visited prisons in about 90 countries, trying to ensure the release of Greek inmates around the world. Many prisoners come not only from Greece, but from all over the word. If a foreigner dies in a Greek prison, the charity pays for their bodies to be taken home. Father Gervasios is now retired from priesthood and is able to travel regularly to the 34 penitentiaries throughout Greece— he tours the country almost every month to hand out clothing, religious icons and toiletries.
Some former inmates repay the money they received. Others are still in need of help and receive food handouts.
Inmates are marginalized in Greece and many people turn an apathetic shoulder at their seemingly deserved circumstances. The “Diacony for the Prisoners” site reads, “Love, Christian love is unlimited. It hugs the whole world, without regard to race or religion.” For the St. Xeni Sisterhood and for Father Gervasios, this love also reaches across prison bars.
Father Gervasios’s charity: http://www.diakonia-filakon.gr