Lauren Farrell, Campus Ministry Associate at Corpus Christi University Parish
Here in the Diocese of Toledo there is a strong network of groups and parishes working on various aspects of social justice and criminal justice reform. Corpus Christi University Parish, where I serve as the Campus Ministry Associate, is no stranger to the many struggles for justice our faith calls us to be involved with. When the opportunity came up to have a program about the death penalty, we, as well as the St. Rose Peace and Justice Committee, jumped to help out.
But, we were a little surprised when the organizer from Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE) told us they didn’t want to do the event at one of our usual parishes. Instead, they explained that it was important to hold the “Voices of Experience” event at a location physically inside the nearby district of an important legislator. They wanted to make sure she was hearing from her own constituents.
That was for the larger public event, but there was another way we could help, and it turned out to be just as important. As part of the organizing activities, OTSE is hosting private “Faith Leader Luncheons,” where local faith leaders of all denominations and faiths are invited to hear some of the “Voices of Experience” speakers share their stories and learn about death penalty reform opportunities and OTSE’s new Faith Leader Initiative.
We jumped at the opportunity, and invited dozens of clergy from throughout the area. Among those who attended in addition to Catholics were United Methodists, Lutherans, non-denominational Protestants, and even leaders from the Muslim community, which is significant in our area.
I was particularly moved by Derrick Jamison, one of Ohio’s six exonerated death row prisoners. He shared his story of how his faith that was imparted to him by his mother at a young age, carried him through the spiritual, mental and emotional struggle of being on death row. He spoke about how he would read scripture to his fellow death row prisoners who were not able to read, and he urged us to work to end the death penalty to help the people on death row whether they are guilty or not.
I have always been especially struck at how the death penalty affects the poor and vulnerable in society, and being a part of this event enhanced my strong feelings of compassion for those who have been sentenced to death by the state. My Catholic faith, particularly the body of writings known as Catholic Social Teaching, the Consistent Ethic of Life Ideology introduced by Cardinal Bernardin in 1983, and the witness of living Saints such as Sister Helen Prejean, has made a great impact on how I live my life and the causes that I support.
Yes, we still have work to do in our own Parish. Often it takes much time, prayer and consideration even for lifelong Catholics to understand the purpose of maintaining a “consist ethic of Life”. Our work and ministry will continue internally as well as with the broader community. Now with Pope Francis’ most recent statements calling for Catholics to work to end the death penalty, we plan to support the campaign in any way that we can. Part of the discussion we hope to have soon is how we can be more helpful in reaching out to the Parishes nearby, which are located in legislative districts represented by politicians who are not yet with us on this issue.