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BOSTON —The Community of Sant’Egidio, a movement founded on the principles of prayer, evangelization, solidarity with the poor and peace, has helped to organize an international push against the death penalty called Cities for Life. The Boston Community of Sant’Egidio will participate in this initiative by holding a prayer service for victims of violence and for inmates on death row Nov. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Paulist Center in Boston.
Cities for Life began in 2002 as a way for members of local communities to demonstrate their opposition to capital punishment. This year events will take place in over 160 cities around the world. The Boston community will collect signatures against the death penalty at the Boston Common and conclude the day with the prayer service at the Paulist Center.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts currently does not have the death penalty, but proposals to reinstate it have surfaced several times in recent years.
“The battle against the death penalty is never over,”said Kerri Marmol, who is helping to organize the service in Boston. “We have to stay aware of what is happening.”
Marmol explained the Community of Sant’Egidio’s stance on the death penalty to The Pilot. “We are all made in the image of God, and so life is precious and valued from conception until natural death. Therefore, no one is given permission to take another person’s life,”she said.
Marmol said she is inspired by noted death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean, a sister of St. Joseph of Medaille, whose book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States,”was developed into a major motion picture staring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.
“Sister Prejean has often said that no person is the sum of his or her deeds,”recalled Marmol. “We are always more than even our worst act.”
Marmol also stated that she feels that the death penalty does not prevent crime, but instead perpetuates violence. She cited a number of cases where death row inmates have been falsely convicted and proved innocent years later. Marmol noted the case of Texas inmate Ruben Cantu, who was charged with murder in 1984 at the age of 17 and was executed nine years later. The only witness to the crime recently recanted his testimony against Cantu and a co-defendant in the case confessed that he allowed Cantu to be falsely accused.
“Many death row inmates have been exonerated after their innocence was proven. So much so that the state of Illinois decided to place a moratorium on the death penalty after several law students reviewed cases and proved that 10 convicted criminals were actually innocent,”she said. “We now have ways in modern society to ensure the safety of the citizens without having to kill the person who committed the crime.”
Marmol said the Community of Sant’Egidio first took interest in the death penalty when the community in Rome received a letter from Texas death row inmate Dominique Green, who was involved in a robbery in which a man was killed. Green wrote to the community, asking people to correspond with him. He was executed in 2004.
“Through the friendship with the community, Dominique became a changed person. He wrote beautiful poetry, helped other inmates deal with life —he was truly a story of redemption. Even the murder victim’s brother pleaded for Dominique’s life,”said Marmol, who is currently in contact with a prisoner in Zambia.
While the communities of Sant’Egidio from around the world were holding a vigil for him, the courts granted a stay of execution. The higher courts in Texas quickly overturned the stay, and hours later Green was led back to the death chamber and lethally injected. Green’s story inspired the community to do more.
Marmol encouraged all those opposed to capital punishment to correspond with death row inmates and other prisoners.
“How we treat the poor, sick, the imprisoned is essential to who we are as Christians. It is not optional,”she said. “A letter is like a visit. It is a small ray of light to that man or woman to remind them that they are not forgotten, they are not without hope, that redemption is always possible.”
“We are not saying they are all innocent or that they do not have a debt to pay to society,”Marmol continued. “We are saying that they are humans, that their life is valued. And in saying this about people, whom many would say do not deserve to live, we are in fact saying that all life is valued.”