Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
Prayer Service to Stop Death Penalty
The Religious Community Network, "Call for Moratorium Now" held a public gathering called: "Fukuoka 2005 Prayer Meeting of Religions to Stop Death Penalty" at Fukuoka's Daimyo Catholic Church, in the evening of last September 2. About 70 persons from local religious groups and sympathizer members of the Religious Community Network attended the gathering. They represented Shinshu Otani branch, Seimeizan Schweitzer Temple, Tendaishu, The Episcopal Church of Japan, Jesuit Social Center, Omoto, the Christian Link to Abolish Death Penalty and supporters of prisoner sentenced to death Hakamada Iwao.
The gathering started with the show of a video of the Fukuoka incident, a false accusation that took place in Fukuoka immediately after the defeat of the last war. An interview of Mr. Fujinaga Kiyoki, a member of the group seeking a retrial of the Fukuoka incident and Mr. Yahiro Mitsuhide, the head of the lawyers' group supporting the retrial of the case followed.
Then, Ms. Kaneko Yumiko performed a flute concert and representatives of all religious groups mentioned above exposed their messages and offered prayers. The ceremony closed with the offering of candles by all participants. The fact that prayers could be offered in a Catholic Church by each religious group in its own style, thinking about prisoners sentenced to death and their families, victims of crimes and their families, officers who perform the executions and all who are related somehow to the death penalty, was a real blessing. I want to offer here part of my prayer and statement that day.
"While Jesus was at dinner in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?' When he heard this he replied, 'It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:10-13)
This way, Jesus was usually in the company of sinners and those despised by society. God never discards those who do wrong and those who walk astray from God and from human ways. On the opposite, he feels compassion towards sinners and loves them abundantly so that they could repent. Christian faith is not to proclaim proudly, "I am a right person before God". On the contrary, it is to recognize inside one's heart with wonderful gratitude that, "God takes pity on me, a great sinner, and the death of Jesus has saved me".
Since we are such persons we cannot "stone and kill" people that have committed crimes. If I believe that God has pity on me and has saved a person like I am, there is no other way for me but to live together in society with those who have committed crimes and to promote a human society that helps them to repent.
I pray for those victims of crime who have died. God, embrace in your arms the souls of those who have died suffering in fear and provide them an eternal rest.
I pray for the relatives of those who have lost their dear ones because of crimes. Let us imitate you in shouldering the heavy weight of the pain of those who are suffering and share with them their sadness.
I pray for those who were executed as a result of the crimes committed. As a sinner myself I beg you to save their souls and invite them to your kingdom.
I pray for those innocent that have been executed, so that your tenderness clears them from the false accusations and gives them eternal rest.
I pray for prisoners with a death sentence, so that justice is implemented and those innocent could safely return to normal life. And as for those who committed crimes, that they could be given an opportunity to do reparations and reconciliation, to reform their lives.
I pray for the family members of people who have been executed. Help them to heal their wounds, the suffering of having lost a dear person without being able to manifest their suffering to others.
I pray for those who, ex officio, perform the executions. They perform such brutal executions instead of us. Please, heal them from the deep suffering they must feel in fulfilling the orders from above.
And, finally, I pray for the conversion of Japanese society that allows the continuation of such a brutal punishment, called death penalty. I pray that we come to our senses, as soon as possible, from the illusion that we can make a safe society by using violence, like death punishment and that we could be able to desire love instead of hate, understanding instead of exclusion, trust instead of insincerity.
Take pity on us sinners.

Protest against Executions
Last September 16 one person was executed at Osaka's prison. Although his name was not published he was, certainly, Mr. Kitagawa Susumu who had committed a series of murders in 1983 and was given a final death sentence in the year 2000. On the day of the execution I went together with several members of other organizations, accompanied by Diet members, Fukushima Mizuho and Hosaka Nobuto, to handle a protest statement against the execution to the Minister of Justice, but since she was unable to meet us, we met with the head of the Criminal Affairs Bureau and handled him our protest. Both Diet members asked for an explanation of, "Why the execution was performed in a hurry, right after the general elections of the Lower House?" "Why the name of the executed is not made public?" "What norm was followed for the selection of the executed?" etc. The answers given were just a formality. "The death sentence is legal and its implementation was made silently" "We cannot provide any concrete details". We felt sad at the coldness of the treatment given to us, because notwithstanding he was a criminal a human life had been destroyed.
The following is our protest statement.
To: Ms. Nono Chieko Justice Minister
We, the Jesuit Social Center, strongly protest the execution of Kitagawa Susumu, prisoner at Osaka's prison on 16 September 2005.
This center is a catholic institution of the Jesuit organization that handles social issues in Japan and is involved with the problems of death sentences. By cooperating in the organization of public meetings to promote dialogue between the supporters of prisoners with death sentence and family members of victims of murders, and by helping in "Exhibitions for Life" that show drawings of prisoners with death sentences we have arrived at the conclusion that "executions should be halted and public discussion on the continuation of the system of death sentence should be promoted". Taking such a stand we participate in the Network of Religions to promote a moratorium on death punishment.
The Catholic Church clearly supports the moratorium of executions. Recently deceased Pope John Paul II made appeals to stop executions affirming that "modern society has the potential means to deter efficiently crimes, not by denying totally to criminals the opportunity to repent and start life anew, but by finding ways so that they do not do harm to others any more. The Catholic Bishops Association of Japan expresses doubts on death sentences by affirming that we humans, no matter the reason and in spite of that we might believe that it is in accordance with social justice, violate the Divine Power when we destroy human life invoking the name of national community. Catholic teaching affirms that Christ was executed on the cross to expiate our sins and bring us to Heaven. This reflects the deep reality that although all human beings are under the power of sin, God is strongly determined to save everybody. Based on these we strongly appeal for providing opportunities to repent and to compensate damages done, no matter the crimes committed by the criminals.
We doubt the opinions that assert, "Death punishment heals the pain of the family members of the victims left over and sustains public peace". We believe that it is not by eliminating from society criminals what relieves the survivors of victims or eradicates crime, but particularly the opportunities to convert and start life anew, the elucidation and eradication of the causes that provoke crimes and a total social support of the victims of crime.
It is impossible to believe that national security could be maintained by the use of death punishment, a new violence to be added to this actual Japanese society immersed in violence. And because these are the realities we are facing, we need to build a society that accepts criminals and promotes their recovery to support them.
We now pray from the bottom of our hearts for the eternal repose of the souls of the executed Mr. Kitagawa and the victims murdered by him, as well as for his family and for the members of the families left. At the same time, we strongly appeal to the Ministry of Justice to implement a moratorium as soon as possible, to stimulate actively public discussion on the continuation of death punishment and to push upon an effective care of all victims of crime.
September 16, 2005

Last September 24, a public gathering organized by several citizen's organizations was held in Tokyo with the participation of 40 people to protest executions. Together with messages of deep sadness and reflection at not having been able to stop the last execution, reports were provided on activities done by Japan's National Bar Association and others directed to ban death penalty that show gradual improvements. All participants renewed their strong determination to continue working again for the abolition of death penalty.

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