Friday, December 18, 2009

US expected to end '09 with fewest death sentences since '76!

The Death Penalty Information Center released the “The Death Penalty in 2009: Year End Report” on December 18, noting that the country is expected to finish 2009 with the fewest death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Eleven states considered abolishing the death penalty this year, a significant increase in legislative activity from previous years, as the high costs and lack of measurable benefits associated with this punishment troubled lawmakers.

“The annual number of death sentences in the U.S. has dropped for seven straight years and is 60% less than in the 1990s,” said Richard Dieter, the report’s author and DPIC’s executive director. “In the last two years, three states have abolished capital punishment and a growing number of states are asking whether it's worth keeping. This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty." There were 106 death sentences in 2009 compared with a high of 328 - 1994.

New Mexico became the 15th state to abolish the death penalty, and 9 men who were sentenced to death were exonerated in 2009, the second highest number of exonerations since the death penalty was reinstated. The total number of exonerations since 1973 has now reached 139.

To READ more GO to Death Penalty Information Center go to deathpenaltyinfo dot org


Also find this report at NPR dot org for same morning of day posted here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Seasons Greeting by Bill Pelke and new Journey of Hope Newsletter

Seasons Greetings,

The Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing hopes that 2009 has been a good year for you and that 2010 will be even better.

We would like to thank each of you for the gifts the Journey has received this year. We asked for people to invest in the Journey and many of you did. The accompanying newsletter reports what we have been able to do with your investment.

Journeys in Montana, Kentucky, Indiana and Germany were all very successful. The Journey of Hope is rebuilding its web site with the assistance of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). The Journey of Hope blog is one of the best in the abolition movement.

In 2010 the Journey will be participating in the NCADP conference in Louisville, Kentucky and the 17th annual Fast & Vigil June 29-July 2 in Washington DC.

Several trips to Europe are in the works including the 4th World Congress of the World Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, of which the Journey is a founding member. Amnesty International Germany will be hosting a three-week Journey in Southern Germany starting the last week of April.

Many hearts have been touched and many minds have been changed by the Journey of Hope witnesses. You can help us reach more people in this coming year with your tax-deductible gift. Help us to share our stories while putting a compassionate human face on the issue of the death penalty.

This answer is love and compassion for all of humanity and the Journey of Hope delivers that message better than anyone. Please help us to get the message out to more people. Step by step we will win the battle.

Have a great new year,

Thank you,

Bill Pelke, President
Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing

Please find the our new winter newsletter here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

For Those Who Died Loving the Powerless

photo credit to fotopedia here

A Poem to be Written Collectively...

There has been a terrible accident and so far at least four people, friends of my friends have died. (Very dedicated activists) I'm feeling SO deeply for all involved. More on the specifics later but I felt sure that those here on The Journey Blog would remember similar occasions and feelings and would have something to say. For now, the partial line which keeps coming to me is just the beginning of a poem...

For those who died loving the powerless...

I'm wondering if this poem might best be written COLLECTIVELY with various here who are activists and have a poetic-bent? - or even those with deeply-feeling hearts and souls - those who's own memories of loss are still unresolved or resolved or freshly remembered? Other activists who happen to come by today? Any who have gone through losing sisters, brothers, companions on this journey? Maybe we would write this together in a universal manner without details except the most common and without any nationality or religion or even ideology specified in this one case.

Here's another version of the above line:
Because of those who died loving...

Send your feelings and memories in ANY of the following languages as I now have people I know in each of them willing to translate:

French, German, Urdu, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Teso (Ugandan), and some languages from other African nations...Or even other languages for which together we might find translators?

No need even to send full lines or stanzas...just analogies, feelings, a line remembered from powerful literature or film, a partial line which comes to you with depth and emotion startling memory of your own?

I will try my best to somehow form what I am able to do - with or without the help of other poets - into One Poem or some sort of unified form...THIS IS TO BE AN ANONOMOUS EFFORT so I will not be giving credit in the poem itself to individuals. But I thank you each ahead of time!

As I was speaking with a lady who sold used books about this recent loss of friend across the world and mentioning the creature which may have been the reason for tragic accident (Perhaps the most detailed report said it was that it was a donkey.

Yet for the sake of universal connections any of us driving along such a road may well have encountered a similarly powerles deer or goat or a sheep?) she said "Well many consider something as powerless as such a creature to be without value and yet, who knows what that animal may have meant to the family to whom it belonged?" And suddenly my tears kept flowing as I imagined that the driver (and possibly the riders) collectively chose not to hit this creature for these people whose life together was based on loving the powerless in many forms.

Children protesting the violence which kept their schools closed in Peshawar
found on news service IRIN February 2, 2006

Rural scene from a Day Out (on internet public space)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Extending Grace and Forgiveness to Those Who Harm You - Part Two

C. Henry Smith presentation

Part Two (See Part One in the last post here just below)

II. Choosing not to press charges can be the first step in forgiving those who harm you.

•In Scott’s death, his family said that this choice was very difficult and that there were times when they regretted it but they were glad that they chose to show grace to the teenager.
◦This choice allowed them to heal and know that they made a better situation out of a difficult one.
•In accidents, it is often the case that the person at fault is already regretting his or her actions regardless of if they could have been changed.
◦The pastor that hit the car Hollis was riding in did not do anything wrong other than failing to be completely observant.

■Anyone could have made that mistake and now he has to live with it every day of his life.
◦Forgiveness also creates bonds that otherwise would not be able to form.
■In the Amish shooting, Roberts’ family was able to mourn side by side with the Amish.
■His wife was among the few outsiders that were invited to one of the funerals.

◦When victims do not take an offensive approach and attack the family of the person who did the wrong, the family of the offender is allowed to cope and grieve as well as realize that they are not necessarily at fault.

(Transition: While forgiveness and grace steer toward emotional healing, they also are essential parts of the Christian faith.)

III. Now, you may be thinking that situations involving the Amish and pastors require different expectations but all Christians are called to show mercy.

•Bill Pelke struggled deeply with making room for both his hatred and his faith when his grandmother was killed.
•Ruth Pelke, a 78 year old woman, was robbed and murdered when she brought four teenage girls to her house to teach a Bible lesson.
◦One of these girls, Paula Cooper, was convicted of stabbing Ruth 33 times.

■A year after the murder, Cooper, at age 16, was sentenced to death row.
◦Ruth’s grandson, Bill Pelke battled for a long time with the idea of her murderer being put to death.
■At first he was glad and thought she was getting what she deserved.
■Then, after thinking through the words Jesus said during his crucifixion “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”, he realized forgiving Cooper was the only way to bring peace to himself.
■Pelke then fought to have Cooper removed from death row.
■Her sentence was changed from the death penalty to 60 years in prison as a result of Pelke’s work.
■To this he responded “Revenge is not the answer. It’s never the answer. The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity.”
◦In the Lord’s Prayer it says “Forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us.
■Why should God forgive us if we cannot extend similar forgiveness to others?


I. In conclusion, the cases of Scott and Hollis need to make us realize that accidents and flaws in judgment can happen to anyone.

•The bible says “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”
◦Wouldn’t you like to think that if you were in a similar situation as the teenager or the old pastor, mercy and forgiveness would be extended to you?

II. While Roberts and Cooper do not deserve to be forgiven, which of us does?

•By the Amish community and Bill Pelke offering grace to the families of those who hurt them, both sides were given the opportunity to rebuild their lives.
•This grace is not unlike the grace the old hymn Amazing Grace proclaims.

◦The third verse reads:
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
•Go and extend Grace to others as it has been extended by God unto you.


“Amish grandfather: 'We must not think evil of this man'
from powerfulnews dot com 5 Oct. 2006 and 26 March 2009 GO here

Burke, Burke. "Amish Search for Healing, Forgiveness After 'The Amish 9/11’ Religion News. 4 Oct. 2006. Also, 26 March 2009 GO here

Dougherty, Emily. “After murders, families find a healing path.” Mennonite Weekly Review 23 March 2009. 26 March 2009. GO here

McElroy, Damien. “Amish killer's widow thanks families of victims for forgiveness”. 17 Oct 2006. 26 March 2009. GO here

Newton, John. “Amazing Grace”. Hymnal: A Worship Book. Brethren Press: 1992.

Bluffton University - 1 University Drive • Bluffton, Ohio 45817-2104 • 419-358-3000 / 800-488-3257

On Grace and Forgiveness to Those Who Harm - Part One

C. Henry Smith presentation: Extending Grace and Forgiveness to Those Who Harm You

Part One

Rachel Giovarelli
April 2009


I. On October 2nd, 2006, Charles Roberts barged into West Nickel Mines School, an Amish school house in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.

•After holding several young girls captive, he proceeded to kill five of them, execution style, (three were pronounced dead at the scene while two others died at the hospital). He also seriously injured five others.
◦Roberts then committed suicide as the police were swarming the school house.
•In most other school shootings, the families of the victims lash out against the perpetrators.
◦They threaten to sue the families of the attackers and hatred fills their hearts.
•But this is not how the Amish reacted.
◦Instead they chose to forgive Roberts of what some would consider an unforgivable crime.
■These young girls, ranging from age 6 to 13, had never done anything to Roberts.
■Their deaths were those of innocents.

◦A grandfather of one of dead emphasized to his fellow mourners that "We must not think evil of this man.”

◦An Amish father proclaimed that "[Roberts] had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God."

◦Many of the Amish visited the family of Charles Roberts after the incident to comfort them and one family even called to offer forgiveness only a few hours after the attack.

◦Roberts’ funeral was attended by more than 30 people of the Amish community and the community put aside a fund for his family.

II. Some have argued that in this circumstance forgiveness is inappropriate and that the Amish community is trying to “deny the existence of evil”.

•Maybe some of you believe this, in which case I ask that you remain open-minded and consider a few questions.
•Why is forgiveness such a strange concept for our world?
•How can we justify criticizing those who are forgiving of others?

III. One of the common ways victims show forgiveness is by not pressing charges against the one who has wronged them or by arguing in favor of the offender to receive less or no punishment.

•While the State does not always make this possible, in this speech I will provide examples of extending forgiveness, explain the benefits, and apply it to the Christian way.

(Transition: Two of these examples are personal.)


I. When I was very young, I learned of a car accident that occurred very close to where I live.

•A. Scott Nafziger, the oldest child of my former pastor, was riding home with his grandfather, grandmother and mother when another teenager ran a stop sign and hit the car he was riding in.
◦Scott, his grandfather and the girlfriend of teenager who hit them did not survive.
◦The crash devastated my church and Scott’s family.
◦This boy that so many had watched grow up, perished at such a young age, the wrong time in his life.
•Two Christmases ago was the first time I learned Scott’s family didn’t press charges against the faulted teenager.
◦Scott’s father even went to court to testify for the young driver, asking the court not to send him to jail.

■It was because of his testimony that this young man received probation and lost his license instead of going to jail for involuntary manslaughter.

◦This story of forgiveness seems almost expected since Scott’s father was the pastor of my church but I only learned what happened through a similar incident.

•Christmas Eve, the day before I found this out, one of my friends who attended a high school very close to mine was killed in a comparable accident.

◦The driver was an old man who did not see the stop sign at a busy corner.
■Hollis Richer was coming home from Christmas Eve service with her boyfriend’s family when their car was hit.
■Hollis, along with her boyfriend’s father, was killed in the accident and her boyfriend’s older brother was paralyzed.
•The reason this incident brought up Scott’s accident was because the driver that hit Hollis’s car was a retired pastor at a church out of town.
◦The pastor was horrified at his mistake and the consequences of it.
■Hollis’s family, like Scott’s, chose not to press charges but the case is still pending.

•In both of these situations, the victims’ families chose to not press charges even though this decision was not necessarily easy for them.

(Transition: Doing the right thing is not always easy but it can help both sides move on.)

Blogger's note, Part Two coming...qualifier, some situations of course need pressing of charges in worst cases so as to protect others from similar harm - hopefully with law officials who follow rule of law and justice according to the highest rulings and methods.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

As execution date is getting close victims' family members speak out about their opposition of the death penalty

In 1994 Matthew Eric Wrinkles his estranged wife, Debra, and her brother and sister-in-law. His execution date is set for this friday.

But while the parents of one of the victims, Debra, want to see Wrinkles die, the mother and two of the daughters of the other two victims speak about their opposition of the death penalty.

Victim's mom, Mary Winnecke:

As a devout catholic, Mary Winnecke has always been opposed to the death penalty.
But her faith got a major test when Eric Wrinkles murdered her daughter.

Wrinkles is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection before dawn Friday at the state prison in Michigan City, Indiana.

In 1994, Wrinkles murdered Winnecke's daughter and son-in-law, Natalie and Tony Fulkerson -- as well as his own wife Debra.

Debra had left her abusive husband when he broke into the Fulkerson's home and shot them dead.

Winnecke told Fox7 she won't be in Michigan City for the execution. She'll be home ... praying for Wrinkles.

Read and watch Video of interview here: Wrinkles Execution: Exclusive Interview with Mary Winnecke

Victim's daughter, Tracy Hobgood:

There were four children and one teenager in the Evansville home at the time of a 1994 bloody murder scene. 15-years after the incident Tracy Hobgood speaks out. She says her aunt Natalie died saving her life.

Tracy Hobgood was 19-years-old when her family was murdered in front of her. She was living with her aunt and uncle Tony and Natalie Fulkerson. Debbie Wrinkles and her children had recently moved in to get away from Debbie's husband Eric. Tracy says she'll never forget the night Eric Wrinkles busted through the back door.

"He ran to back bedroom, that's where he shot Tony then I heard Debbie say, 'You shot my brother'. Then, I heard gunfire and I didn't hear Debbie no more," said Hobgood. That's when Natalie came yelling for Tracy to get out. Eric Wrinkles followed close behind. "We were struggling at the door to get out. She was pushing me out first and there was a gun shot," she said. Natalie had gotten in between Tracy and Wrinkles. "There were a few gunshots before and I felt Natalie start to go down she pushed me out the door that's when I ran down the street."

Tracy escaped with her life but the memories still haunt her. "I hear this countdown until the execution and it just gets harder," she said. Tracy says she doesn't believe in the death penalty. She says she forgave Eric Wrinkles on March 14th of this year. That day she wrote a letter to him to which he replied. She's written him three times since the 1994 slayings. The third letter was sent Monday, Wrinkles will receive it Wednesday evening. Tracy's final words contain a mixture of confusion, pain and forgiveness.

Tracy will join other family members at the prayer vigil at Evansville's Holy Redeemer Church Thursday night and Friday morning.

Read and watch Video of interview here: Wrinkles Execution: Exclusive Interview with Tracy Hobgood

Victim's daughter, Kim Dillman:

Kim Dillman was 9 years old in 1994 when her uncle Eric wrinkles murdered her parents, Tony and Natalie Fulkerson and his own wife Debra.

Wrinkles will die by lethal injection before dawn Friday morning at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

When Tony and Natalie Fulkerson got married, Eric Wrinkles was the best man.
The two families were very close.

Kim would often spend the night at the Wrinkles home. Eric would baby sit Kim.
She never saw the side of him she saw on the night of murders.

Debra had left her abusive and drug-using husband and moved in with the Fulkerson's for protection.

Wrinkles broke into the home on Evansville's north side, shot Tony, Natalie and finally Debra.

Kim had been asleep in her room.

Kim is opposed to the death penalty.

For one, she says it's just morally wrong.
Two, Wrinlkes won't be the only person who gets hurt. His two children will lose their father after having lost their mother 15 years ago.

Read and watch Video of interview here: Wrinkles Execution: Exclusive Interview with Kim Dillman


Monday, December 07, 2009

Reflections from Mozambique #3

By Art Laffin
Maputo, Dec. 2

Today marks the 29th anniversary of the of the martyrdom of Jean Donavan, Sr.Dorothy Kazel, Sr. Ita Ford and Sr. Maura Clark-PRESENTE! They were killed in El Salvador in 1980 by a death squad because of their love for the poor, their commitment to uphold the human rights and dignity of the voiceless, and their deep fidelity to Jesus' way of unconditional love. Deo Gratias for their faithful lives of courage and hope.

I leave this morning to return to home. I am so grateful for the many experiences I've had in my short stay in Mozambique.

Yesterday, I visited the Nutrition Center (NC) in Matola, which is just outside of Maputo. The NC is part of the DREAM program which was built in 2005 by the community of Sant'Egidio (CSE). I didn't realize until yesterday that this is such an essential part of DREAM, which is an acronym for Drug Resource Enhancement Against Aids and Malnutrition. At the NC, CSE members and friends provide a refuge where the poor of the area can play, take showers and have a nutritious meal Monday through Friday. Most of the children, ages 2-early teens, are very, very poor, and many are malnourished. Most of the children where dirty clothes and many are without shoes. The NC, which is open Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. is a sanctuary for these beautiful children. There is also a School of Peace for 25 children and a small kindergarden. Yesterday, some 2,000 children came the NC. I was in awe of the several who women do most of the cooking for the children. They use the biggest deep pots I have ever seen. Every child had pasta, a small piece of beef, half an apple and clean drinking water.

I spent time with some of the very young children as we watched some of the girls play a creative game of jump rope. As i held little Januario and his baby brother on my lap, I couldn't help but think of my son Carlos, and all the other children i know and love. I also thought about the impending escalation of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and how all the billions of dollars being squandered on our sinful warmaking could be used instead to help these beautiful children at the NC.

Before leaving the NC, I had an hour meeting with a group of young people and early teens who were visiting the NC from a nearby school. I was asked to speak with them about the death penalty and nonviolence. As we sat under a mango tree, we spoke heart to heart. I also shared with the students books by Archbishop Desmund Tutu and Martin Luther King. Jr. I will always remember these special young people and our heartfelt sharing under the mango tree.

I leave Mozambique with a profound respect and deep love for all the wonderful people I have met. I am deeply grateful for the CSE for inviting me to come to Mozambique and for taking such good care of me during my visit. Everyone I have met has brought me closer to God and has helped deepen my faith in the Gospel. What a great Advent gift! My new friends of Maputo will always have a special place in my heart.

With love and gratitude,

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Cities for Life

This year on Nov. 30th close to 1200 cities throughout the world illuminated a momument of their cities in an unusual way to show their support in the fight against the death penalty. The event "Cities for Life" is growing each year.

Thankfully Sant'Egidio, the organizor of the event, sent me some photos so I can share them with you.

Marienfestung in Würzburg, Germany:

Townhall of Osnabrück, Germany:


Justizpalast (Palace of the Judiciary), Munich, Germany

Tower of the townhall of Gelsenkirchen, Germany:

Museum of the state, Emden, Germany:

Spitalkirche in Cham:



Burg Het Steen, Amtwerpen, Belgium:

Townhall of Aachen, Germany:

Viersen, Germany:

Townhall of Coburg:

Shujaa Graham in Würzburg, Germany

On Nov. 30th Shujaa told his story at the University of Würzburg at Sant'Egidio's invitation. Sant'Edidio sent me some photos of the event which I will share with you but before let me tell you a bit about Shujaa for those of you who don't know him:

Shujaa Graham was born in Lake Providence, LA, where he grew up on a plantation. His family worked as share-croppers, in the segregated South of the 50s. In 1961, he moved to join his family who had moved to South Central Los Angeles, to try to build a more stable life. As a teenager, Shujaa lived through the Watts riot and experienced the police occupation of his community. In and out of trouble, he spent much of his adolescent life in juvenile institutions, until at age 18, he was sent to Soledad Prison.

Within the prison walls, Shujaa came of age, mentored by the leadership of the Black Prison movement. Shujaa taught himself to read and write, he studied history and world affairs, and became a leader of the growing movement within the California prison system, as the Black Panther Party expanded in the community.

In 1973, Shujaa was framed in the murder of a prison guard at the Deul Vocational Institute, Stockton, California. As a recognized leader within and without the prison, the community became involved in his defense, and supported him through 4 trials. Shujaa and his co-defendant, Eugene Allen, were sent to San Quentin's death row in 1976, after a second trial in San Francisco. The DA systematically excluded all African American jurors, and in 1979, the California Supreme Court overturned the death conviction.

After spending three years on death row, Shujaa and Eugene Allen, continued to fight for their innocence. A third trial ended in a hung jury, and after a fourth trial, they were found innocent. As Shujaa often says, he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence in spite of the system.

Shujaa was released in March, 1981, and continued to organize in the Bay area, building community support for the prison movement, as well as protest in the neighborhoods against police brutality.

In the following years, Shujaa moved away from the Bay area. Shujaa learned landscaping, and created his own business. He and his wife raised three children, and became part of a progressive community in Maryland.

In 1999, Shujaa was invited to speak about his experiences on Death Row at fund raiser for the Alabama Death Penalty project, sponsored by the New York Legal Aid Foundation. This was a new beginning, and provided Shujaa the opportunity to begin to tell his story, his experiences and grow through work with other death penalty opponents.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Reprieve for Turkeys, But Not for People

by David C. FathiDirector, US Program, Human Rights Watch
posted Dec. 2nd, 2009 in The Huffington Post

The day before Thanksgiving, at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama officially "pardoned" two turkeys, sparing them from the chopping block and sending them to live out their days in Disneyland. This is one of those uniquely American traditions that must have our foreign friends scratching their heads. What can you say about a country where turkeys receive a presidential reprieve, while more than 3,000 human beings are awaiting death at the hands of the state?

Compare the White House turkeys' experience to Romell Broom's. On September 15 the state of Ohio tried to execute Broom by lethal injection - and failed. Prison staff struggled for more than two hours to find a vein for the needle that would deliver the deadly chemicals to stop his heart. They stuck him at least 18 times, painfully striking muscle and bone. At one point Broom covered his face with his hands and cried. Governor Ted Strickland finally ordered the execution postponed, and a federal appeals court later stayed another Ohio execution pending investigation of what it called the "disturbing issues" raised by this incident. But the state still wants to try again to kill Broom.

The United States is one of very few democracies to retain the death penalty. All of our closest allies - Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France - abolished it decades ago. And it's not just a little-used provision in US law; last year, the United States was the world's fourth-leading executioner, just behind the repressive governments of China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. There have been 48 executions in the United States so far this year, and nearly 1,200 since the start of the modern death penalty era in 1977.

The vast majority of the nearly 3,300 persons under sentence of death in the United States are on state death rows, so President Obama has no direct authority to commute their sentences. But he could use his office as a bully pulpit to urge states to abolish capital punishment, as New Jersey and New Mexico have done in the past two years. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. President Obama supports the death penalty, writing in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope that some crimes call for "the ultimate punishment." On the campaign trail in 2008 he went further, strongly denouncing a Supreme Court decision that invalidated the death penalty for rape and other non-homicide crimes.

Despite this disappointing lack of presidential leadership, there are signs of waning public support for the death penalty. The number of new death sentences imposed each year has fallen to about one-third the peak level of the mid-1990s. The exoneration of more than 130 death row prisoners since 1973 has created significant doubt about the reliability of the death penalty system. And at a time when yawning budget deficits are forcing deep cuts in basic government services, the enormous expense of capital punishment seems harder to justify. A 2008 study by a California state commission concluded that the state could save more than $120 million annually by abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life in prison without possibility of parole.

It has taken many years for the world to turn its back on the death penalty, leaving the United States as one of the last holdouts. Here in the United States, progress has similarly been incremental, slow but steady. It won't happen tomorrow, but with luck, we'll eventually see the day when human beings receive as much mercy and compassion as White House turkeys.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Reflections from Mozambique

Art Laffin's brother Paul was associate director of a homeless shelter in Connecticut for 10 years before he was murdered by a mentally ill man in 1999. Art has been working against the death penalty for many years but even more actively since his brother's death.

Art, a dear member of the Journey of Hope, is in Mozambique at Sant'Egidio's invitation right now. Below are a few impressions he sent.

Reflections from Mozambique #1

Maputo, Nov. 30

I write from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Last month i knew very little about Mozambique. Now I am immersed in my first African experience. The Community of SantÉgidio (CSE) has invited me here and, they have given me a great welcome. I've gotten to know different CSE community members during several delicious meals we've shared. I am staying at a small, modest hotel that the community uses for guests. It is still spring-time here so I'm lucky it's not too hot. But it's still hot and humid during the day.

Yesterday, I walked through a good part of the city with CSE members Joao and Roque. Joao speaks some English and has been very good in explaining different things to me. The offical language here is Portuguese and Changana is the local language. I saw some of the government buildings, the main hospital, the central train station and the main market. We also walked a while along a roadway overlooking the beautiful Indian ocean. In the various neighborhoods, there are pockets of extreme poverty and substandard housing. Near the business district and along the seaside the more affluent resisde in good housing. There are also many street beggars and people try to sell you things. As you get into the downtown area there are many shops and stores. Many of the streets are named after Marxist and socialist leaders, from Karl Marx to Salvador Allende.

Marie, who is an CSE member, and I went to Mass last night at a Franciscan parish. It was great to worship with so many new friends on this first Advent Sunday and the singing was beautiful.

This morning I was given a tour the DREAM Center, which was established in 2002 by the CSE to help people with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. This DREAM program is truly a miracle to behold. When everyone, inculding the World Health Organization, was saying that AIDS could not be treated in Africa, and that only prevention measures could be implemented, the CSE believed otherwise. With over one million people suffering from AIDS in Mozambique alone, the CSE knew they had to do something to help. Having developed strong relationships with people here since before and sfter the civil war they helped to mediate, the CSE saw it as their responsibility to help their friends. And so they did. The CSE has establlished various DREAM centers not only in Mozambique but throughout Africa. Indeed, personalism practiced at its best!

The DREAM center in Maputo provides a wide range of services including counseling, on site lab analysis of bloodwork as well as diagnosis for the AIDS disease for each patient, a pharmacy, and a food distribution program. As I write this at the DREAM Center, mothers and children, and the elderly stream though the center seeking help. All those who serve the patients radiate a spirit of love and compassion.

This afternoon I will speak at the Cities for Life event that is being sponsored by the CSE. This one of 1,200 events taking place around the world today to call for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Tomorrow, I will travel outside of Maputo to visit a CSE center that provides a special nutrition prgram to some 1,000 chronically malnourished children. I will also speak with young people about nonviolence.

Be assured of my love and prayers for family and friends, near and far.

Reflections from Maputo #2
Dec. 1

Today is World AIDS Day. Being here in Africa and at the DREAM Center which treats people with AIDS, this day takes on a whole new meaning for me. My heart and prayers go out to all who are suffering from this terrible disease, for all those caring for people who have AIDS, and for all who are working to provide the necessary resources to combat this deadly disease. I pray that there will be a greater awareness among people of faith and conscience in our world to support efforts like the DREAM program of the Community Sant'Egidio (CSE) to help treat our sisters and brothers suffering from AIDS. (See:

Yesterday I spoke at the Cities for Life conference in Maputo with over 200 people, including many young people, attending. This was just one of 1,200 events coordinated by the CSE taking place around the world yesterday to call for the abolition of the death penalty. There was an effort made to have a live internet link to the events in Rome but that did not happen due to techncological and other problems. Also speaking at the conference was Dr. Machili, a former Justice Minister from the Mozambique government and Mr. Manso who is director of Education for the Maputo. Francisco Cocote from the CSE did an outstanding job moderating the conference. A moving excerpt of a letter by executed death row prisoner Dominique Green was also read at the conference.

In my talk I shared the story of my brother Paul's murder and how my faith in God and Jesus carried me through this unspeakable tragedy. I also spoke about Dennis Soutar being a mentally ill homeless man and how he fell through the cracks of our society and ended up killing Paul. I asked people to pray for Dennis who is in a prison hospital in Connecticut for the rest of his life. I also shared about how comapssion, love, mercy and forgiveness is the way to break the cycle of violence, and why the death penalty should be abolished. I spoke of the great work of the Journey of Hope (JOH), Murder Victims Families for Human Rights and Murder Victims for Reconciliation to help bring about an end to state-sanctioned murder. I mentioned that five people from the JOH were participating in Cities for Life events in other countries: Bill Pelke, co-founder of the JOH and death row exoneree Curtis McCarty were in Italy, murder victim family memner Bud Welch was in Belgium, and death row survivors Shujaa Graham and Juan Melindez were in Germany and Spain. I included in my talk several local phrases which were greatly appreciated by those attending the conference. The best one is "Kanimambo", which means Thank You. I was very humbled by the rousing ovation that i was given. After the conference I aksed if we have a big group photo with all gathered. Hopefully, i will be able to later share with you this photo and many others that were taken of this most memorable event.

In closing I would like to share a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I used in my talk. I think this quote is especially appropriate as Mr. Obama is to announce tonight plans to escalate the criminal and sinful war in Afghanistan. Dr. King said:
"Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world."

With love and gratitude,