Monday, December 24, 2007
REFLECTIONS FROM ROME
Reflections From Rome During the "Cities of Life" Campaign To Abolish
the Death Penalty (Updated, December 2007)
by Art Laffin
Nov. 27-30, 2007
Heartfelt greetings of love to you from Rome. My time here so far has been simply extraordinary. I arrived on Tuesday morning and immediately went to the dedication of a park/square to Dominique Green, a 30-year-old innocent African American man who was executed in Texas in 2004. The Community of Sant'Egidio took up his case and several members of the community visited him before he was killed. Rejected in the US, Dominique's spirit lives in Italy. His ashes are kept at a shelter for the
homeless in Rome.
During the last two days I have given six talks to about 600 students and teachers. I have been received very well. Last night I attended an inspiring program organized by the Sant'Egidio community at Rome's main university highlighting the worldwide campaign to abolish the death penalty. The program, which was broadcast on live TV, featured, Antoinette, a death row survivor from Lebanon, Mr. Furukawa, an abolitionist from Japan, an Italian murder victim family member who forgave the killer of his father, two famous Italian actors, an acclaimed Italian saxophonist, video messages from Nobel laureates and other abolitionists and a representative of the Community of Sant'Egidio.
Tonight at the the Roman Coliseum, where so many people were sacrificed and executed at the hands of the Roman empire, lights will be lit throughout the stadium to call on the world to abolish the death penalty.
The community of Sant'Egidio has taken good care of me during my stay here. It has been a great blessing to get to know different members of the community and to join their community prayer each evening at the beautiful church of Santa Maria. Please know that I hold you in prayer and heart during this sacred time in the eternal city.
Nov. 30-Dec. 4.
On Nov. 30, at 5:00 p.m., I spoke at a school on the outskirts of Rome where over 200people from the school and community attended. IT WAS AMAZING! A 96 year old woman, who is still a pen pal to a death row inmate, thanked me for my talk.
In the evening I spoke before over 1,300 people in Rome's famous concert hall--just down the street from the Vatican. (The pope wasn't able to make it due to a prior engagement). Nicola Piovani, composer of musical score for the movie, "Life is Beautiful" performed, a renowned Italian singer named Giorgia sang, several famous
Italian actors read selections by death row inmates, and Kerry Cook,(who spent 22 years on death row in Texas before being freed--his brother was also murdered during the time of his imprisonment), Mr. Furukawa, and Mario (from the Community of Sant'Egidio), were the other speakers. There was also a moving video tribute to Dominique Green. This event was part of the Nov. 30 "Cities of Life" campaign where over 722 cities and 33 capitals worldwide had events calling for the abolition of the
On Dec. 1, I spoke at a school to over 150 students who were very receptive.
On Dec. 2, Bill Pelke, co-founder of the Journey of Hope, Kerry Cook and I did a brief interview with Vatican TV. Bill has been in northern Italy speaking during the last week. It was great to get together tonight with Bill and SueZann Bosler, another amazing Journey friend, who has been speaking over the last week in towns south of Rome.
On Dec. 3 I spoke to another student group of over 100 at the Nautical High school in the south of Rome. In the evening I had a great reunion with Journey friend Shujaa Graham, and his wife Phyliss, who were speaking during the last week in Sicily and Naples.
On Dec. 4, I took a train to Genoa and spoke that evening in Pavia (near Milan) to about 60 students, teachers and members of the public.
On Dec. 5 I flew back to the US.
I am very grateful to the Community of Sant'Egidio for inviting me to come to Rome to participate in the Cities of Life Campaign. This was my first time in Italy speaking about the murder of my brother, and why I, as a murder victim family member, oppose the death penalty. I was deeply moved by the empathy I experienced from the people who heard me speak. I was also moved by how deeply people care about those on death row in the US and around the world.
I experienced this compassion first-hand as soon as I arrived in Rome and attended the dedication ceremony for the park named in honor of Dominique Green. The Community of Sant'Egidio truly takes to heart the words of St. Paul that when one person suffers we all suffer.
During my visit I gave eleven talks and visited eight schools. And it was a great honor for me to speak during the November 30 concert at the Auditorium - Via della Conciliazione in Rome. I am thankful to every person I met during my time in Rome and in Genoa and Pavia for their loving support and commitment to abolish the death penalty. I would also like to thank each member of the community who helped translate for me and who drove me to different events. I would also like to thank the
community for the loving hospitality I received. And I will always treasure the shared meals with community members and the sacred moments of community prayer I experienced at the Church of Santa Maria. And special thanks to Bill Pelke, who has been such a vital link between the Journey of Hope and the Community of San't Egidio. The Journey of Hope continues...