Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center)
The 2001 Campaign of Paintings by death row inmates that started with Sister Helen Prejean's conference at St. Ignatius Church, ended December 3. The last exhibition was held at Xavier Girls High school in Onoda (Yamaguchi). During the Campaign 8 different places from all over Japan held exhibitions and thousands of people participated in conferences, prayer meetings and symposia. I hope that the various events provided an opportunity for many persons to reflect on the death sentence.
Today I want to report on the prayer meeting "A Search for Reconciliation and Healing" that took place in Kojimachi Catholic Church (St. Ignatius) last November 30.
Since November is the month selected by the Catholic Church to pray for the deceased, we decided to hold memorial Christian services for the victims who died from criminal acts and for the criminals executed. The ideal is to offer an opportunity for both the families of the victims and the relatives of the executed to pray together. In Japan, however, the time has not yet come to accomplish this, so a group of volunteers held a simple prayer service. Hoping that the time might come when we will be able to offer opportunities for reconciliation and healing, we named the prayer meeting "A search for Reconciliation and Healing."

About 70 persons participated in the services that took place at the Chapel of Our Lady in Kojimachi Church. The services started at 7:00 PM with traditional Japanese music in the background and the offering of candles at the foot of the altar for the beloved deceased ones. The first prayers that followed asked God to provide healing to the victims of criminal acts and their families, as well as to the criminals executed and their relatives. We also prayed for reconciliation in societies that are accustomed to return violence with violence.

After a Taize song, we heard the reading of memoranda of some family members of a victim of crime and the last words of a criminal before being executed. The wife of a victim of crime tells with regret how her innocent husband was murdered and the impossibility to meet with her husband again. She appealed earnestly for the defense of the human rights of the victims and their families, stressing that the present legal system does not consider them properly. On the other hand, the executed robber/arsonist left behind the following words, before his execution, manifesting with frankness his troubling inner sentiments: "I want to live longer. After death, I want to meet with the victim of my crime and apologize for it."
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After some silence to meditate on the readings, a passage from the New Testament was read. It was the scene of Christ on the cross and the dialogue that took place with the other 2 persons executed with him. Fr. Ando of the Jesuit Social Center and chairman of the Executive Committee spoke about the content of the above gospel. The main theme was "Blessed evil that brought Christ to the world." Christians celebrate the liturgy of Advent, 4 weeks ahead of Christmas and Lent a month before Easter. During that period the expression "Oh blessed sin (Felix Culpa)" is often recited in the liturgical prayers.

Although the terms of the prayer look contradictory the meaning is that, since this world is sin, Jesus was born into it to save it. The human race committed sins and Jesus has come to redeem it with his death and resurrection.
Men kill each other. Under such a situation we humans cannot recover from sin. It is, most probably, unthinkable that persons whose friends or relatives have been killed could be healed. It sounds impossible that, no matter the repentance of criminals, the victims or their relatives could reconcile with them. Nevertheless, Jesus the Son of God who is totally innocent took on his shoulders the sins of the human race, was found guilty, and was sentenced to death. When he was executed on the cross he told one of the criminals next to him: "Today, you will be with me in paradise". Only the power of God is able to produce the wonder of healing and reconciliation.

We are sinners and, because of that, it is through Jesus that we can repent. We suffer because of sin and through Jesus we are healed.

Human societies constantly fight wars, killing each other. But, in Jesus we are always given reconciliation. This is an amazing inner world hard to believe and difficult to understand for the victims of crime and their families, especially for the criminals themselves.

Nevertheless, this has been experienced, little by little, in the United States of America between those promoters of abolishing death penalty and the supporters of the victims of crime.

Fr. Ando explained that the way to reach such understanding is by a love that surpasses justice, by the power of love that restores justice. He called on us Christians to live with firm belief in the wonders that are contained in healing and reconciliation.
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After the homily, we prayed the Lord's Prayer and common prayers asking neither hate for the criminals nor for their social seclusion, but demanding their conversion and the establishment of a human society where we could be able to live together with them. Finally, we renewed our conviction to oppose the system of the death penalty combining our last prayers with religious and Taize songs. The last prayer was: "Lord, we pray to you to find a common way of life where we can live together and reconcile with each other in an atmosphere of love; a life that gets away from the chains of evil where killing people is the remuneration given to assassins, hate is the price of hate and violence is repaid through violence."

The religious service ended with a beautiful Taize song: "The loving tenderness of God is the source of all life." In this way, the one-year campaign was closed with a prayer meeting that fulfills perfectly the aims for which the campaign was organized.

In fact, in May of next year Sister Helen Prejean will come to Japan again and a new campaign, under the name of "No more Dead-man Walking", will start. During the last two weeks of May, Sister Helen will conduct a conference-tour all over Japan, starting from Kumamoto. She will make public appeals to stop the death sentence during her tour of Fukuoka, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Nagoya, Sapporo and Tokyo. Local preparations are already taking place and several Catholic schools and churches are organizing her speech program. Amnesty International and the 'Seimeizan Sweitzer' Temple are the main organizers of the new campaign. Our center will also cooperate with it.

The Parliament of neighboring South Korea is moving ahead towards the abolition of the death sentence and this should be an incentive for us here in Japan to reinforce, next year, the actual current to abolish capital punishment.
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