Thursday, May 15, 2014


Do you remember the book Dead Man Walking?  Or you might have seen the movie that was made, starring Susan Sarandon (who got the Oscar that year) and Sean Penn.  About ten years ago it was made into an opera!  It recently was performed where I lived, and there were many (free) public events for almost two months leading up to the performance. 

In the couple of days prior to the opening of the opera here Sister Helen Prejean (who wrote the book), longtime Catholic activist, who speaks often about her own conversion regarding the death penalty, was in Madison.  She and Jake Heggie, the composer of the opera, spoke to about 800 people at First Congregational UCC. 

Helen talked about her own conversion – which began when she finally understood that the Jesus of the Gospels went about doing justice, not just being kind to people.  (And in the case of the first man she accompanied to his death he was clearly guilty!)

In this country it costs millions of dollars to execute a person!  Why?  Because of the legal appeals and the number of security personnel it takes to guard and to carry out the prescribed ritual of execution.  Meanwhile, there is a movement to eliminate the death penalty in this country, as more and more states vote to do away with it, they realize that it is not only not a deterrent to crime, but that most people never even think about it.   Fortunately, Wisconsin does not have the death penalty, but before I started going inside the walls I never even thought of the people who lived or worked there!   That’s when my own conversion began.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus did justice?  Do you believe that criminals can change?

Ruth Poochigian. O.P.
Madison WI

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes! The story of Alessandro the attempted rapist and killer of the young Italian girl Maria Goretti is a great one, she forgave him on her deathbed. He was unrepentant until long after when he had a vision of her in prison, forgiving him, at which point he had a deep conversion. He was eventually released and became a secular Franciscan, and was able to attend the canonization of the little virgin saint he made a martyr. I am pro life from conception to natural death, let's keep the death penalty out of WI and work to end death penalty of unborn babies too. I am a sinner, and a revert Catholic once a very active political progressive, zealously pro abortion, pro homosexuality, etc, I was unjust and separated from God and I changed and came back. I volunteer with the homeless through St Vincent de Paul in Madison (sometimes they have thought I was a religious sister... one guy steadfastly insisted I am a nun on the basis that I am devoutly Catholic and celibate and would not accept my explanations) and that often means working with people in and out of prison. One guy told me he had killed someone (not sure if the charge was manslaughter or unpremeditated homicide), it obviously caused him deep sadness by the time he was telling me this, it affects me to think of him (or the remarkable Alessandro), I have also known women who regret with deep sorrow having an abortion, good women who witness now to the preciousness of life. When people get out of prison and come see us I smile and say "welcome back!" For sure people can change. St Therese of Lisieux said the greatest sinner has the greatest reason to have confidence in God because He is a loving father who is most attentive and rushes to help his weakest and most ailing child when he sees him or her making even feeble efforts of repentance and virtue. She loved the story of the good thief St Dimas and it seemed to her that placing all her trust in the sacrifice of Jesus was a far better deal than trusting in her own merits (though she never committed a mortal sin so the rest of us might be tempted to be impressed by her merits). St Dismas said "We deserved our punishment but this man [Jesus] has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."... and Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, you will be with me this day in paradise."


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