Hundreds of students and community members left their signatures on white cards before leaving Gonzaga University Friday night, expressing to state legislatures that they don’t want Washington to be a “killing a state.”
It had been 15 years since Prejean had last been to Gonzaga, she recalled. Between two different commencement addresses she spoke to 16,000 people, she said, and remembered telling passionate stories about those on death row to start a spark and get people fiery about capital punishment.
Today, Washington still has the death penalty, but Prejean said she believes things are moving in a new direction.
Before the program began — which overflowed Gonzaga’s Globe Room —Bishop Blase Cupich of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane offered a prayer. He asked God to comfort those on the row by letting them know they’re cared for and are not alone. He asked for blessings on those who work with and for the inmates, and asked that humanity’s hearts be moved.
“We ask all this knowing that your son too was on death row, was executed,” he prayed.
With that, students from Gonzaga, Whitworth University, Eastern Washington University, Washington State and Rogers High School joined local advocates in performing an hour-long rendition of “Dead Man Walking.”
Victoria Thorpe, director of the Fellowship of Peace Foundation, said she hoped the play would show the, “realities of what the death penalty says to us Washingtonians and does to us as a society.”
Prejean spoke after the performance, applauding young people for getting involved in such an important issue. She pointed to the crucifix hanging on the wall in Cataldo Hall, and the one around her neck. Symbols of execution are everywhere, she said.
“We have the message of the Gospel coming to us now in 2013 that love is stronger than hate and compassion is stronger than vengeance,” she said. “But it’s hard to live out in our society. Most of us struggle with the death penalty because we’re outraged with death of innocent people, but another part of our heart barely trusts the government to fill potholes.”
Prejean, who has walked with six inmates to their death, said the more citizens know about the death penalty, the more they will realize how broken the system is.
It’s flawed by politics, biases and other factors, she said.
In her second book, “The Death of Innocents,” Prejean writes about the work she did with Pope John Paul II, and how he became the first pontiff to strengthen the Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty.
“He was the first pope in St. Louis, in 1999, after he changed the catechism, who said no to abortion, no to euthanasia, no to physician assisted suicide and no to the death penalty, which is cruel and unnecessary,” she said. “Even those among us who have done terrible thing have a dignity.”
Prejean also spoke about the award-winning film, “Dead Man Walking.” She said no one wanted to produce it at the time because it was too heavy. But when actress Susan Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress, it happened to be the Feast of Annunciation — and 1.3 billion people were watching.
“It brought that film to the whole world,” she said. “God uses us. We do our bit and work to transform out fellow human beings. For 20 years I’ve been crisscrossing our nation talking to people. It’s time.”
In six years six states have abolished the death penalty, and Prejean said Washington needs to be next. She said half of Washington residents don’t even realize their state has the death penalty, and said residents can no longer be silent on the issue.
“Five people human beings have been killed in this state, and every one of them in our names,” she said.
Thorpe said Washington ending the death penalty would influence the rest of the nation. She said those who didn’t attend the event Friday night can e-mail their legislatures.