DEATH PENALTY: Statement in Opposition to the Death Penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – A Call to Communities of Faith in Massachusetts and the United States

from the Agape Community and Pax Christi Massachusetts

We are residents of Massachusetts, from various Christian faith traditions, who are opposed to the Death Penalty in all cases. For months, we have watched with dismay as defense and prosecution counsel have negotiated the legal maze of jury selection as they prepared for the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused in the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Dzhokhar, now 21, faces 30 charges, 17 of which carry the possible imposition of Capital Punishment

In order to serve in this Federal case, jurors must be willing to impose the death penalty. The defense alleges that a fair trial in Massachusetts is impossible, but several motions for a change of venue have been denied. As legal issues continue to unfold, the trial has begun.

We deeply mourn the deaths of the victims of the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon: Krystal Marie Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard, and M.I.T. police officer Sean Collier. We are also painfully aware of the trauma and suffering inflicted on 260 innocent people by this heinous act. The deaths and horrific injuries inflicted on so many precious human beings, our brothers and sisters, bring us to repent the violence rampant in our social fabric. As Christians committed to both the Wisdom and Compassion of our faith, we pray that we may find ways to nonviolently transform the evil of violence by our healing acts of love and mercy toward all involved.

In anticipation of the possible imposition of the Federal Death Penalty, Pax Christi Massachusetts and the Agape Community sent a letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston. In it, we asked Cardinal O’Malley to apply his strong statements against the death penalty in general, to the specific case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

To resort to the Death Penalty as a way to ease pain or express outrage is morally wrong and does not possess the power to heal or reconcile. Therefore, we view this upcoming trial as a propitious and prophetic time to call Christian Church leaders and their communities to demand an end to the death penalty in our country, without exceptions.

Though there has been a decrease in the number of executions in the United States each year, the barbarity of retaining the death penalty  as an option continues in 32 states, ensnaring both the guilty and those whose guilt or mental capacities are in question. Further, the Death Penalty always deprives the condemned of the opportunity to repent and be transformed by God’s redeeming Love.

In these violent times, we must insist on the sacredness of all life, including the lives of those deemed dangerous killers. Given this urgent necessity:  We ask your support in building a stronger community of witness, prayer and resistance to the Death Penalty in the U.S.: 

  • Join this national campaign of Christians Against the Death Penalty, by signing this statement in solidarity with its aims.
  • For those of other Faith Traditions, consider creating similar statements calling for a national repeal of the death penalty, a merciless form of State-sanctioned violence.
  • Join Agape and Pax Christi in a nonviolent public presence to oppose the execution of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We will contact you with date, place, and time. This witness will be conducted prayerfully, nonviolently and with attention paid to the ongoing suffering of the victims.
  • Since the 1980s, Pax Christi MA, the Agape Community and others have held an Annual Vigil against the Death Penalty and All Forms of Violence in front of Boston’s State House on Good Friday. You are invited to join us this year on April 3, 2015 from 12 noon to 3 pm.
  • You are more than welcome to send your endorsements to the designated organizations below.
  • BUT MORE IMPORTANT is that you use this statement as is, or as a template, and disseminate it widely: to clergy and bishops, faith organizations, media outlets, universities, U.S. District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr, and others.
  • Please post this letter, or your own template, on your websites, Facebook, or other social media outlets.

Coretta Scott King reminds us: “Forgiving violence does not mean condoning violence. For too long, we have treated violence with violence and that is why it never ends.” May we Christians remain steady in our faith, trusting that the unconditional mercy and love taught by Jesus finds expression in our words and deeds as applied to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and others condemned to death, all children of God.

Please endorse this statement by adding your name to over 200 others who have already signed, by providing the following information:

1. Name    2. Address    3. Phone    4. Email

Send to:

Suzanne and Brayton Shanley, the Agape Community
2062 Greenwich Rd.
Ware, MA 01082


Pat Ferrone, Pax Christi MA

In the Peace of Christ,

The Agape Community and Pax Christi, MA

REFLECTION: The Francis revolution


by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

In only two years, Pope Francis has changed the face of Catholicism by radically reimagining how it presents itself to the world. From the moment he stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s, he has presented a different style of being pope and a new set of priorities for the church.

pope-francis-and-doveThe change in style was what first caught people’s attention. He rejected the usual papal finery of silks and firs and presented himself to the people of Rome in a simple white cassock. A simple greeting of “Good evening” were his first words, and before he blessed the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, he bowed his head and asked them to pray over him.

This was quickly followed by his decisions not to live in the papal apartments but in Casa Santa Marta; to celebrate his first Mass as pope in St. Ann’s, the small parish church of Vatican City; and to celebrate Holy Thursday in a prison for young male and female offenders whose feet he washed.

These early gestures of the pope garnered him worldwide attention, but more importantly, they were symbolic gestures that communicated his vision for the church. He realizes that the Gospel is preached not just in words, but in actions. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary.”

The pope’s early actions were a direct assault on clericalism in the church by modeling what it means to be a good bishop, a good priest, a good Christian….

Read the entire article by clicking here.

LENT 2015: Reflection for the third Sunday of Lent, March 8


by Joe Nangle, ofm

Exodus 20:1-17 | 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 | John 2:13-25

800px-Valentin_de_Boulogne_Expulsion_of_the_Money-Changers_from_the_TempleIt’s a scene that makes us uneasy — Jesus causing conflict. The modern view makes him out to be a consoler, a comfortable presence, just a nice guy. He is there to make us feel good about ourselves, not rocking our boats.

Yet in the Gospel today he’s on a rampage, throwing the idolaters of money out of the temple’s sacred space, then confronting those who challenge his right to this consuming zeal for God’s house.

An angry Jesus, a Jesus who gets into disputes and shows himself disagreeable, throws us off. As products of our culture, we avoid confrontation. We like to be liked and likable. Yet here we have the Teacher being anything but likable–he’s downright obnoxious as he drives the money-makers out of the Temple, knocking over their tables and spilling their coveted coins all over the place in the process.

The lesson for us is clear, a Lenten meditation. If our discipleship is authentic, we cannot avoid conflict any more than Jesus could. In fact, as the daily Lenten readings begin to remind us, a constant reality of Jesus’s ministry was confrontation. As his public life unfolded and his agenda became known to the power structure of that time, he found himself in serious disagreement on a daily basis with those who had most to lose as a result of what he was saying.

We really have no choice but to learn the lesson of conflict as a hallmark of discipleship, given the world of anti-Gospel values we inhabit. To be part of today’s American society as followers of Jesus means being out of place, misfits, round pegs in square holes. Like Jesus in his time, our lot is to be confrontational, subversive, disruptive of so much that surrounds us. Look at some examples of our national life.

The weakest in our society–especially single mothers, their children, and the elderly–see the little they have being taken from them in what astute economists describe as a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Our national policy discriminates against the strangers among us, those whose homelands have become unlivable. Even immigrants who are here legally have their social and economic needs denied.

We place no restrictions on late-term abortions, despite all the evidence that these procedures border on outright infanticide and inflict gruesome pain on their little victims.

We kill people convicted of capital crimes, the only country in the industrialized world which continues this barbaric practice.

We rank first in the production and sale of weapons to the countries of the world, even to poor countries, where better schools, health care and security for the neediest, not guns, are urgently wanted.

The examples go on and on.

The Gospel fairly shouts for people of faith to break our national consensus around these and so many other idolatries. Surely our imitation of Jesus and this Lenten walk with him must include a protest against out national sins. Even if our natural bent is not to speak out, not to object, not to disagree, this time of renewal is our opportunity. We have, fortunately, many brothers and sisters in the household of faith who have confronted the powers and principalities of this world. We only have to join one of these communities of resistance to find courage and companionship in continuing Jesus’s struggle with the demons of his time and ours.

* This reflection appeared in Lent 1997: Following Jesus on the Way to Calvary, published by Pax Christi USA.

OBITUARY: Farewell to Bix – Fr. Bill Bichsel, SJ, d. February 28, 2015

Nick Meleby Nick Mele, Pax Christi Pacific Northwest

[NOTE: Many in Pax Christi USA have been inspired by Fr. Bill Bichsel’s witness. We invite you to share stories or memories of Bix in the comments section of this story.]

A few months ago,  Fr. Bill “Bix” Bichsel, SJ, traveled to a village on the island of Jeju in South Korea to stand in solidarity with villagers who have been resisting construction of a naval base there; base construction has already destroyed a unique ecological and geological area and has disrupted relationships throughout the village.  This past weekend, he died, several years later than a doctor had predicted. Bix never let his health stand in the way of his call to accompany oppressed people, minister to marginalized people and discomfort comfortable people.

Pax Christi Pacific Northwest icon Fr. Bill Bichsel protests at Jeju Island.

Fr. Bill Bichsel, SJ, center, protests at Jeju Island.

He is being eulogized across the Pacific Northwest and in the U.S. peace and justice community as a prophet, and he was a strong and powerful voice for peace and justice. Bix was also a sociable, funny, gentle soul and a friend to many. He led retreats for young people and ministered to homeless people on the streets of Tacoma in addition to his peace activism.  Bix encountered many people during his long, active life. He took part in protests, retreats, workshops and actions in many places and with various groups, including the the Catholic Worker Movement, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, and Pax Christi.

Bix’s last journey to Korea was one of many. Some were short, perhaps over to Bangor, WA, to take part in civil resistance to nuclear weapons or to Joint Base Lewis-McChord just south of Tacoma for peace vigils. Others were long, to Japan, Korea, Fort Benning, Georgia. I first worked with Bix when he was planning a peace walk from Tacoma to the 2006 World Peace Forum in Vancouver, British Columbia. The walkers needed a place to spend the night in, a our town, the last stop before the US-Canadian border, and my wife was able to arrange for the walkers to spend the night on the grounds of our parish church. Bix was funny, energetic and altogether amazing in his commitment to nonviolence and to those suffering from injustice of any kind. He seemed indestructible.


BixA few years later, partly with Bix’s example in mind, a group of Pax Christi and JustFaith members organized a walk to Tacoma, a pilgrimage of about 140 miles to pray for justice for immigrants. Bix met us at the conclusion of our walk, at a Mass and dinner at St. Leo’s Church in Tacoma. Again, he was funny, supportive and knowledgeable—we talked, among other things, about nuclear abolition and his recent trip to Japan to apologize to the Japanese people for the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Before his trip to Korea last fall, Bix and I corresponded about what he would find there; in the course of our correspondence, I disagreed with him at one point. We could have both been unyielding, but instead we agreed our difference was insignificant beside the human tragedy that has been unfolding on Jeju and noted we were both working toward the same goal, the end of base construction and some justice for the villagers. It was my last encounter with Bix, and it was typical. He never lost sight of his goal, and he never used any tools but humor, humanity and nonviolence to achieve his goals.

To read Bix’s obituary in NCR, click here.

NEWS: Pax Christi USA endorses Spring Rising actions


Pax Christi USA has endorsed Spring Rising: An Antiwar Intervention in D.C. March 18-21. Spring Rising is four days of creative resistance; theater, teach-ins; rallies and marches marking the anniversary of the United States’ “shock and awe” attack on Iraq and its invasion and occupation in a completely illegitimate, immoral war.  Together we will use this time to oppose the plans and calls for growing military intervention.

Click here for more information.

PAX CHRISTI INTERNATIONAL: March 2015 newsletter now online with info on the Peace Award recipient

pcibethThe March 2015 Pax Christi International Newsletter is now out and available! Included in the newsletter is information on the recipient of this year’s Peace Award. And don’t forget about the Pax Christi International 70th Anniversary World Assembly, “Pilgrims on the Path to Peace.” All are invited to attend the celebrations, taking place in Bethlehem, on 13 – 17 May 2015. Bethlehem was chosen as a symbol of Pax Christi’s commitment to peace and reconciliation. The event is open to all Pax Christi members, partner organisations, local and international peacemakers, as well as interested individuals sympathetic with the Pax Christi movement.

Click here for more from the Pax Christi International newsletter.

LENT 2015: Lent isn’t just about fast and abstinence and penance

Bishop Thomas Gumbletonby Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

I’m sure that all of us are aware that since last Wednesday, we have begun a new season in the church’s year. We had been celebrating what we call the ordinary Sundays of the year, and had completed six weeks. But now there’s this break, and we have a new season beginning, and most of us think of it as the 40 days of Lent. But actually, it’s 90 days, this season, not just 40.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio washes feet of shelter residents during 2008 Mass at church in Buenos AiresBut it isn’t all [about] fast and abstinence and penance. In fact, the most important part is what happens after the 40 days, at Easter, when Jesus is raised from the dead and then shares with us his new life. And then it goes on for seven weeks as we prepare for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And so really, this season now is the season of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

And so as we enter into the season, I think it’s very important not just to think of it as this time of penance. That’s very important, but that’s only a means to an end. See, what’s really important, and what we’re preparing for, is a renewal of our baptism. Maybe some of you noticed when you came into church and dipped your hand in the baptismal font in the back, there’s no water there; it’s dry. See, we’re preparing now to bless new water at Easter, the new water that gives us the life of Christ….

To read this entire article, click here.