Last year I was invited to Italy by the Community of SantÉgidio (CSE) to participate in the Cities of Life Campaign to abolish the death penalty, and to speak about my experience as a murder victim family member. This year, from November 29-December 6, I was invited to Spain by the CSE to be part of the same campaign and, like Italy, it has truly been a remarkable experience.
I arrived in Barcelona in mid-afternoon on November 29. David Salas and Manel Alonso, members of the CSE, met me at the airport and gave me a warm welcome. In the evening I attended Mass with the CSE at Saint Just church. This was followed by a dinner where I met many members of the CSE, some of whom would be my escorts and translators during the coming week. Each year on November 30, the Rome-based CSE organizes events worldwide to abolish the death penalty. On November 30, 2008, 970 events were held worldwide in over 70 countries and 52 capitals, calling for an end to the death penalty. At the Cities of Life event held in the historic square in Barcelona, I was honored to be one of the speakers. Other speakers included Jaume Castro, the founder of the CSE in Barcelona, a representative of the mayor, a local news journalist and a respresentative of Amnesty International. Some 300 people attended this outdoor event, which also included a time of remembrance for the executed–1252 people were executed worldwide in 2007–as well as music by a popular jazz band.
Following this program I flew to Madrid for I was asked to speak there the next morning. I spoke to about 50 students who were part of an English class at the Universidad Complutense. After the class CSE member Jesús Romero gave me a tour of special historic sites of Madrid. Jesús and I then had a good visit with Sr. Leonora, a Carmelite sister who knows the Carmelites in Washington, D.C. whom I am good friends with. I then flew back to Barcelona to continue my speaking tour.
During the next three days I spoke to over 700 students and teachers at two universities and five high schools. There were many powerful moments of sharing with the students, including meeting some who experienced the murder of a loved one. On December 3, before speaking at the Escola Joviat in Manresa, which is about one hour from Barcelona, David took me to visit the cave where St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote the famous spiritual exericses. During my time at the cave, which has been converted into a small chapel, I gave thanks to God for the life of St. Ignatius and remembered in a special way all those Jesuits who have helped and inspired me in my faith journey. Before leaving Manresa, I did an interview with the local newspaper. I am deeply grateful for the hospitality I received from Mireia Arrieta and Xavier Najar while in Manresa, and for the heartfelt support of Josep Vilaseca Atset, founder of the Escola Joviat.
Following my return to Barcelona, I learned that Peg McCarthy, my wife Colleen´s beloved aunt, went home to God late in the evening on December 2, the anniversary of the martyrdom of the four U.S. churchwoman who were killed in El Salvador in 1980. Aunt Peg was a holy disciple of Jesus and a reservoir of love for her family and for so many others. I give thanks to God for her great life, and that I had the honor of knowing her. My heart and prayers go out to her beautiful family during this most difficult time. I take consolation in knowing that she is now home with God and is interceding for us along with the entire cloud of witnesses.
My final day in Barcelona included doing an interview with Catholic TV program to be aired on Public Television (the interview included questions about Witness Against Torture and the 100 Days Campaign to Close Guantanamo), visiting Barcelona´s beautiful port, and saying goodbye to members of the CSE.
I am deeply grateful to the CSE for the countless grace-filled experiences I had during my time in Spain, and for taking such good care of me. My Barcelona hosts, Manel and his wife, Meritxell Téllez, provided me with extraordinary hospitality. CSE members David Salas, Mariona Téllez, Jesus Romero, Jordi Vidal, Gloria Abad, Alba Ruiz and others who have escorted me to different events were incredible. Evening prayer with the CSE was very enriching, and I will always be thankful to the community for their prayers for Aunt Pag and her extended family upon learing of her death. Lastly, being able to accompany CSE members in their Thursday evening food sharing with homeless friends living on the streets was a very life-giving experience.
During this Advent time, let us pray for one another that we can deepen our commitment to stand for life wherever it is threatened. Let us seek to make the Word flesh, as we strive to be Jesus´peace and justice makers in our violent yet still beautiful world.
With love and gratitude,