As already reported in our last Bulletin, the article of death sentenced prisoner, Tanaka Masahiro, that appeared in issue number 98, was instrumental in planning "Life Painting Exhibitions" and other related events in Jesuit-run schools. A group of sympathizers gathered to discuss the possibility of enlarging the movement towards Japanese Christians and citizens alike, in order to reflect on the issue of the death penalty. They came out with the idea of promoting the "Life Painting Exhibition" 2001 Campaign. Our Center plans to participate also, once the campaign starts officially in March.
The first stage began last January 31 with the lecture of Sr. Helen Prejean at St. Ignatius Kojimachi Catholic Church (Tokyo), "Sin, Forgiveness and Life". I will offer the content of her lecture in our next issue, but today I want to report on the event.

500 people filled St. Ignatius Church and they were literally drawn for one hour and a half by Sr. Helen's talk. There was not enough time left for the many questions put to her.
The first contacts Sr. Helen had with the issue were when she started counseling prisoners with a death sentence. In 1993 she published a Report, "Dead Man Walking" that shocked many people in the USA. (The name of the book comes from the call to prisoners for death punishment.) Later on, after Sr. Helen met prisoners under a death penalty and started also to support activities for the families of the victims. The narration of her vivid experiences with both the prisoners and the families of the victims had persuasive power.
Two points of her speech made a great impact in me. The first one was that her approach was a human one and not the point of view of the death penalty. Nowadays in Japan, whenever atrocious crimes occur, the issue of the death punishment is brought into the open. Mass media competes with each other to report on the brutality of the murderer to push through the opinion that the human rights of the victims weight more than those of criminals.
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But how much are people aware of the realities of death punishment? After all, capital execution is the death of a person. It is the act of killing a live person. Sr. Helen continues holding the hands of the prisoners till the very moment they are executed. She reports that many of the executioners suffer from psychological traumas.
On the other hand, do we, really, understand how deeply the families of the victims have to suffer? Sr. Helen introduced the expressions of some of those families upon watching the executions: "we could not calm down looking at how comfortably the criminal was executed. We want the criminal to burn forever in hell". Sr. Helen does not deny that, in the movement to support the victims, the families of those victims do not hate the criminals. But at the same time she recognizes that people can not live hating others, that the hearts of those families can not find real healing by considering criminals their foes.
A different issue is that death penalty can not better society. The cause of crime is the darkness that exists in the hearts of human beings. Sr. Helen does not say that all the prisoners under death sentence she met repented from their crimes and became holy people. Some of them looked to be worthy of a death sentence till the moment they were executed. Can executions solve the problem of the darkness of the hearts of people? Otherwise, does society just liquidate criminals from this world as we get rid of garbage? Sr. Helen says: "Crime is not reduced by executions. Crime invites death, but death punishment also imposes death which results in still greater increase in violence. " (Shibata Yukinori)
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Here is a list of planned events to help us reflect seriously on the realities surrounding the death penalty.

Series of lectures organized by the Melchizedek Study Group (Kojimachi Catholic Church)
Place Hall room number 203B
Time 18:45-20:30

* 21 February (Wednesday) [Meeting Mr. Nagayama Norio, a prisoner with a death sentence] by Ms's Ichihara Michie and Shintani Noriko
* 7 March (Wednesday) [Victims' families supporting the abolition of the death penalty] by Mr. Harada Masaharu
* 21 March (Wednesday) [Meeting Mr. Tanaka Masahiro, a prisoner under a death sentence] by Kurebayashi Rieko

Discussion Group on Life issues (Fr. Juan Masia)
Place Catholic Center of Sophia University
Time April 20 / May 18 / June 15 (Fridays from 18:30)
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