If you haven’t checked out the current issue of Mother Jones magazine, get up and go get one, read the article on Catholics and the death penalty and then come back. It’s really a great story and relates very much to what we were discussing on this very page a few days ago: Catholics are moving toward opposition of the death penalty to a greater and great degree. This particular article tells the story through the prism of one Catholic church in North Carolina (with nice mentions to People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and the Death Penalty Information Center in the process). I wish I could link the article, but the issue isn’t online yet.

What interested me in particular was not so much the facts that Catholics are moving against the death penalty (not that that is not great news, but we’ve already been there on this blog) but more so the story of the particular church, which had a mother of a man on death row as a member of their congregation. The parish began offering intentions for this man and eventually for the abolition of the death penalty. Now its members are lobbying the state legislature to end capital punishment.

What really struck me about this was how much the growth of this church mirrored an idea for a program which we hope to launch during the new year called “Circle of Grace: the Living Word on Death Row” This program is a ministry of compassion designed to pair churches of all denominations with individuals on death row. Churches would offer prayers at mass, send small care packages and cards for holidays and birthdays, and recruit members to act as pen pals with their inmate. The program is not one of evangelism, but rather a chance for churches, as communities not individuals, to live the Gospel by providing solace to those most estranged and marginalized from society. And the congregants will have a rare opportunity to truly apply their faith and to really grow in an understanding of the death penalty system. As we learn to stop dividing people into “us” and “them” and see everyone as our sisters and brothers, as the Gospel calls us to, I believe that support for the death penalty can no longer stand. Ideally Circle of Grace can offer comfort to the abandoned and growth and challenge to the comfortable.

As soon as FUSE is up and running, we will be able to begin once again writing to the row to assess interest from the guys there. Then we can begin pairing inmates with churches. Let the church say AMEN!

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