On May 16th, the first federal execution in 38 years is scheduled to take place when Timothy McVeigh is put to death.  This impending execution will, as Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of Indianapolis states, ‘test the mettle’ of death penalty opposition as McVeigh is convicted of killing 168 people in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. 

Archbishop Buechlein further stated, that as a society we must “never forget the victims of crime and their bereaved loved ones.  The truly honorable memorial is to choose life rather than death.” 

Death penalty opposition actions have been scheduled around the world on May 16th.  Pax Christi USA is asking its membership to organize public prayer vigils throughout the country on the day of McVeigh’s execution.  We must not be silent in our opposition to the death penalty even in the face of such a heinous crime.  We must witness to the hope that someday we, as a nation, will find answers in life rather than in continued killing. 

Below is a prepared prayer service, the names of the 168 victims of the Oklahoma bombing and an action suggestion that we hope will be helpful as you plan your event…please feel free to adapt the materials to fit your needs.  Thank you, in advance, for your witness. 


 (Use of candles is optional…adapt service accordingly.) One large Candle of Life should be lit at the beginning of the prayer service.  Smaller candles need to be provided for people to light during the naming of each of the 168 victims of the Oklahoma bombing.  One candle should also be lit for Timothy McVeigh who is to be executed. The candles should burn throughout the service. 

Welcome (Leader 1)

(Informally welcome people, introducing presiders and musicians, invite, and set the tone for the service. If it is a small group, you may want to invite people to introduce themselves to one another.) 

Opening Hymn: “God, Teach Us Peacemaking”  (or some other appropriate song)
(Traditional Irish melody, Harm. by David Evans / Words by Jane Parker Huber / Music from the Revised Church Hymnary, 1927, c. 1980, Jane Parker Huber. Used by permission of Oxford University Press. Taken from
A Singing Faith by Jane Parker Huber, #64) 

Call to Prayer
Leader 1
: (Invite the community to pray using the words below or other appropriate words.)

Let us pray.
Loving God, be with us today/tonight as we gather to pray for all those affected by violence.

We pray for the 168 victims of the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995.
(Read the litany of victims of the Oklahoma bombing using the enclosed list and as each name is read light one candle from the Candle of Life.)

We pray for healing for their families and friends. Comfort and heal all those whose loved ones have died through violence. 

We pray for Timothy McVeigh (light this candle from the Candle of Life.) who, himself, will die a violent death through execution. We pray for his family and friends--for their comfort and consolation. We pray especially for all others on death row across the country. 

Help our nation and each of us to turn from revenge to forgiveness and unconditional love. Bring an end to the death penalty in this country. Hear our prayer. 

ALL: Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Leader 2: Please respond: Forgive us our sin. 

ALL: Forgive us our sin.

Leader 2:

We recognize that the death penalty is part of the violence in our society. We beg forgiveness for state-sanctioned killings by execution and for all acts of violence. We acknowledge the violence we perpetuate in our world: providing weapons; imposing crushing debt payments; withholding food from governments that we call “enemies.”... Forgive us our sin.

We acknowledge the violence within our country: allowing millions of children and elderly to live in hunger and without homes or shelter; depriving the sick of adequate health care; imprisoning and executing racial minorities in disproportionate numbers... Forgive us our sin.

We acknowledge the violence in our communities and homes: battering and neglecting children and abusing women; discriminating against minorities; destroying our environment; building walls of anger and hatred... Forgive us our sin.

We invite you to name the acts of violence that lie heavy on your heart.

(After all have had a chance to respond, leader leads response.)

 ALL: Forgive us our sinfulness, O God. Heal us of the wounds that afflict our society and us. Empower us to erase the hatred and violence that continue to scourge people and creation. Empower those of us gathered here today/tonight to continue our efforts to work for an end to the death penalty.

First Reading: (Read the enclosed statement, The True Road to Justice, by Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Cap. and/or if family or friends of the person to be executed are present, invite them to tell something about the person and/or if there are members of murder victims’ families present, invite them to offer testimony, as well.)



Second Reading: (Read the enclosed statement from Cardinal Roger Mahony, Chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee, May 25, 2000).


Sung Response: “God, Teach us Peacemaking” (refrain only) or some other appropriate song.

Third Reading:  Matthew 5:43-48 or 7:1-5


Closing Ritual

Leader 1: We live in a time of darkness. Many lives have been ended violently and senselessly. We remember the victims and those executed in retaliation, since the restitution of the death penalty.

(The 168 candles representing the Oklahoma bombing victims and the candle representing Timothy McVeigh are extinguished.  The Candle of Life remains burning.)

Closing Prayer

Leader 2: But darkness has not triumphed. Death and suffering are not to triumph over life. Revenge and anger shall not triumph over forgiveness and love. We pray that God will bless us, and go before us in the flame of these candles that we carry in our hearts as reminders of our burning desire to be co-creators of peace and justice in our world.

(Adapted from a prayer service in Our Prayers Rise Like Incense created by Dr. Kathleen Kenney and Sr. Marilyn Winter, OP, from the Office of Justice and Peace and the Office of Worship, Catholic Diocese of Richmond, VA, on the occasion of executions being held regularly in the State of VA)

Litany of the 168 Victims of the April 1995 Oklahoma Bombing
     1.      Lucio Aleman Jr.
     2.      Teresa A. Alexander
     3.      Richard Arthur Allen
     4.      Ted Leon Allen
     5.      Baylee Almon
     6.      Diane E. Althouse
     7.      Rebecca N. Anderson
     8.      Pamela Cleveland Argo
     9.      Saundra G. Avery (Sandy)
     10.  Peter Robert Avillanoza
     11.  Calvin Coolidge Battle
     12.  Peola Battle
     13.  Danielle Nicole Bell
     14.  Oleta Christine Biddy
     15.  Shelley DeAnn Bland
     16.  Andrea Yvette Blanton
     17.  Olen Burl Bloomer
     18.  Sgt. Lola Rene Boldon
     19.  James Everett Boles
     20.  Mark Allen Bolte
     21.  Cassandra Kay Booker
     22.  Carol Louise Bowers
     23.  Peach Lyn Bradley
     24.  Woodrow C. Brady
     25.  Cynthia L. Brown
     26.  Paul Gregory Broxterman
     27.  Gabreon D. L. Bruce
     28.  Kimberly Ruth Burgess
     29.  David Neil Burkett
     30.  Donald Earl Burns, Sr.
     31.  Karen Gist Carr
     32.  Michael J. Carrillo
     33.  Zachary Taylor Chavez
     34.  Robert Chipman
     35.  Kimberly Kay Clark
     36.  Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Clark
     37.  Anthony C. Cooper II
     38.  Antonio A. Cooper, Jr.
     39.  Dana Le Anne Cooper
     40.  Harley R. Cottingham
     41.  Kim Robin Cousins
     42.  Aaron M. Coverdale
     43.  Elijah S. Coverdale
     44.  Jaci Rae Coyne
45.  Katherine Louise  Cregan
     46.  Richard (Dick) Cummins
     47.  Steven Douglas Curry
     48.  Brenda Faye  Daniels
     49.  Sgt. Benjamin Davis
     50.  Diana Lynne Day
     51.  Peter L. DeMaster
     52.  Castine Brooks Deveroux
     53.  Tylor Santoi Eaves
     54.  Ashley Morgan Eckles
     55.  Susan Jane Ferrell
     56.  Carol June "Chip" Fields
     57.  Kathy Ann Finley
     58.  Judy J. (Froh) Fisher
     59.  Linda Louise Florence
     60.  Donald Fritzler
     61.  Mary Anne Fritzler
     62.  Tevin D’Aundrae Garrett
     63.  Laura Jane Garrison
     64.  Jamie Lee Lialkowski Genzer
     65.  Sheila Gigger-Drive and Baby Gregory M. Driver II
     66.  Margaret Goodson
     67.  Kevin “Lee” Gottshall II
     68.  Ethel L. Griffin
     69.  Colleen J. Guiles
     70.  Cpt. Randolph A. Guzman
     71.  Cheryl E. Hammon
     72.  Ronald Vernon Harding, Sr.
     73.  Thomas L. Hawthorne, Sr.
     74.  Doris “Adele” Higginbottom
     75.  Anita Christine Hightower
     76.  Thompson E. “Gene” Hodges, Jr.
     77.  Peggy Louise Holland
     78.  Linda Coleen Housley
     79.  Dr. George M. Howard
     80.  Wanda Lee Howell
     81.  Robbin Ann Huff and Baby Amber Denise Huff
     82.  Dr. Charles Hurlburt
     83.  Jean Nutting Hurlburt
     84.  Paul D. Ice
     85.  Christi Yolanda Jenkins
     86.  Norma “Jean” Johnson
     87.  Raymond “Leo” Johnson
     88.  Larry James Jones
     89.  Alvin J. Justes
     90.  Blake Ryan Kennedy
     91.  Carole Sue Khalil
     92.  Valerie Jo Koelsch
     93.  Ann Kreymborg
     94.  Rona Linn Kuenner-Chafey
     95.  Teresa Lea Lauderdale    
     96.  Mary Leasure-Rentie
     97.  Cathy Cagle Leinen
     98.  Carrie Ann Lenz and Baby Michael James Lenz, III
     99.  Donald Ray Leonard
     100.          Lakesha Richardson Levy
     101.          Dominique Ravae (Johnson) London
     102.          Rheta Bender Long
     103.          Michael L. Loudenslager
104.          Aurelia Donna Luster
        105.          Robert Lee Luster Jr.
     106.          Mickey B. Maroney
     107.          James K. Martin
     108.          Rev. Gilbert  X. Martinez
     109.          James A. McCarthy II
     110.          Kenneth Glenn McCullough
     111.          Betsy J. (Beebe) McGonnell
     112.          Linda G. McKinney
     113.          Cartney J. McCraven
     114.          Claude Arthur Medearis
     115.          Claudette Duke Meek
     116.          Frankie Ann Merrell
     117.          Derwin W. Miller
     118.          Eula Leigh Mitchell
     119.          John Clayton Moss III
     120.          Ronota A. Newberry-Woodbridge
     121.          Patricia Ann Nix
     122.          Jerry Lee Parker
     123.          Jill Diane Randolph
     124.          Michelle A. Reeder
     125.          Terry Smith Rees
     126.          Antonio C. “Tony” Reyes
     127.          Kathryn Elizabeth Ridley
     128.          Trudy Jean Rigney
     129.          Claudine Ritter
     130.          Christy Rosas
     131.          Sonja Lynn Sanders
     132.          Lanny Lee David Scroggins
     133.          Kathy Lynn Seidl
     134.          Leora Lee Sells
     135.          Karan Howell Shepherd
     136.          Chase Dalton Smith
     137.          Colton Wade Smith
     138.          Victoria (Vickey) L. Sohn
     139.          John Thomas Stewart
     140.          Delores “Dee” Stratton
     141.          Emilio Tapia
     142.          Victoria Jeanette Texter
     143.          Charlotte Andrea L. Thomas
     144.          Michael George Thompson
     145.          Virginia M. Thompson
     146.          Kayla Marie Titsworth
     147.          Rick L. Tomlin
     148.          Larue A. Treanor
     149.          Luther Heartman Treanor
     150.          Larry L. Turner
     151.          Jules A. Valdez
     152.          John Karl VanEss III
     153.          Johnnie Allen Wade
     154.          David Jack Walker
     155.          Robert N. Walker, Jr.
     156.          Wanda Lee Watkins
     157.          Michael D. Weaver
     158.          Julie Marie Welch
     159.          Robert G. Westberry
     160.          Alan G. Whicher
     161.          Jo Ann Whittenberg
     162.          Frances “Fran” Ann Williams
     163.          Scott D. Williams
     164.          Stephen W.  Williams
     165.          Clarence Eugene Wilson, Sr.
     166.          Sharon Louise Wood-Chesnut
     167.          Tresia Jo “Mathes” Worten
        168.          John Youngblood

 1st Reading

The True Road to Justice
June 11, 1997
By Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Cap.

On the heels of the Timothy McVeigh verdict, a local radio station set up a kind of drive-by jury a few miles from Denver's federal courthouse. The idea, literally, was to honk if you wanted to execute (or "fry") the killer. By the end of Wednesday, June 4, more than 24,000 Coloradans had done so. 

Let's overlook, for a moment, the circus-like indignity this brought to a moment of almost unbearable remembering for those who lost family and friends in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Instead, let's acknowledge a fact: A large majority of Americans support the death penalty. And so do most Catholics. Decent people are understandably tired of the violence in society. They need to defend their children and themselves. They want a deterrent. And even when the deterrent might fail, goes the reasoning, at least it can bring justice and emotional closure for the relatives of murder victims.

These are powerful arguments, especially today, as we grapple with vivid and terrible memories of the bombing. But they are wrong. As a brother, I ask the people of this archdiocese and all people of good will to turn away from the death penalty, not only for the sake of the convicted person, but to protect our own God-given human dignity. Let me tell you why. 

Most arguments against capital punishment demonstrate that it doesn't work as a deterrent—but let's say it does. 

Most arguments against capital punishment demonstrate that innocent people are sometimes convicted and executed; that the legal system discriminates against minorities and the poor; that defendants in many states get disastrous legal counsel unless they can afford otherwise. All these things seem to be true—but let's ignore them. 

Instead, let's assume that a person is guilty of premeditated murder; that he or she gets good legal counsel, with correct legal process, and is convicted by a fair jury after careful and intelligent deliberation. Killing the guilty is still wrong. It does not honor the dead. It does not ennoble the living. And while it may satisfy society's anger for awhile, it cannot even release the murder victim's loved ones from their sorrow, because only forgiveness can do that. 

What the death penalty does accomplish is closure through blood-letting, violence against violence—which is not really closure at all, because murder will continue as long as humans sin, and capital punishment can never, by its nature, strike at murder's root. Only love can do that. 

As we consider the McVeigh verdict, and as we pray for and support the families of the victims, we need to put aside our anger for the sake of our children. And we need to reflect very carefully on the choices we make about the death penalty. Executions in Texas could soon reach 50 a month, nearly two a day. Ponder that through the eyes of a young person reading the newspaper—or driving by a fry-the-killer radio survey on the street. Is this how we define ourselves as a civilized people? Is this really a fitting monument to those who died? 

I am aware, as I write these words, that the reality of capital crime is heart-breaking beyond words. I do not presume to understand the deep and bitter personal wounds suffered by those who lose their loved ones through murder. I would gladly give away whatever I have in life to bring back just one of the children lost in the Oklahoma City bombing. As a people, we must never allow ourselves the luxury of forgetting the injustice done to victims of murder and terrorism who cannot speak for themselves—or our obligation to bring the guilty to full accounting. 

But as Jesus showed again and again by His words and in His actions, the only true road to justice passes through mercy. Justice cannot be served by more violence. "Frying the killer" may sound funny to some, righteous to others. But make no mistake: Capital punishment is just another drug we take to ease other, much deeper anxieties about the direction of our culture. Executions may take away some of the symptoms for a time (symptoms who have names and their own stories before God), but the underlying illness—today's contempt for human life—remains and grows worse. 

We may find some wisdom by praying over Genesis 4:10-16. Humanity's first murderer, the man who brought blood-letting into the world, was spared by the God of justice. May that same merciful God, Creator of us all,  grant us the grace to withstand this test of our convictions.  (This paragraph was slightly adapted from the original text to make it more timely and to honor Pax Christi USA’s commitment to inclusive language.)

2nd Reading

From Cardinal Roger Mahony, chair of the U.S. Bishops' Domestic Policy Committee, May 25, 2000:

"...In reflecting on Catholic teaching, we must conclude that 'even the most hardened criminal remains a human person, created in God's image, and possessing a dignity, value and worth which must be recognized, promoted, safeguarded and defended.'  Simply put, we believe that every person is sacred, every life is precious - even the life of one who has violated the rights of others by taking a life.  Human dignity is not qualified by what we do.  It cannot be earned or forfeited.  Human dignity is an irrevocable character of each and every person....

The Catholic Bishops of the United States join with Pope John Paul II in a recommitment to end the death penalty.  Our faith calls us to be 'unconditionally pro-life.'  We will work not only to proclaim our anti-death penalty position, but to persuade others that increasing reliance on capital punishment diminishes society as a whole.  In addition, we recommit to work with our community of faith to combat crime and violence, to run our prisons from warehouses of human failure and seedbeds of violence to places of rehabilitation and recovery.  We will stand with victims of crime and seek real justice and accountability for them and their families.

 Simple solutions rarely address difficult problems.  What is needed is a moral revolution that results in genuine respect for every human life - especially the unborn and the poor, the crime victims and even the violent offender.  In the end, our society will be measured by how we treat 'the least among us.'  It challenges each person to defend human life in every circumstance and situation.  It calls on our leaders and the media to seek the common good and not appeal to our worst instincts.

 This is a time for a new ethic - justice without vengeance.  Let us come together to hold people accountable for their actions, to resist and condemn violence, to stand with victims of crime and to insist that those who destroy community answer to the community.  But let us also remember that we cannot restore life by taking life, that vengeance cannot heal and that all of us must find new ways to defend human life and dignity in a far too violent society. 

This will be a long struggle.  It begins by raising new doubts about the death penalty.  It will require new and more serious efforts to address crime and reform prisons.  But in the end, we cannot practice what we condemn.  We cannot defend life by taking life.  We cannot contain violence by using state violence."

Additional Action Suggestion:

Sr. Dorothy Briggs, O.P. of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the National CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants) organization are  promoting the ringing of church bells for two minutes across the nation on the evening of Timothy McVeigh's execution on May 16.  The ringing of the bells is to protest his execution, which is being done in the name of all U.S. citizens, and also as a remembrance of his victims and their surviving families.  

 For more information on this program, email Sr. Dorothy at dotbop@juno.com or contact CURE at www.curenational.org/bells  .  

Death Penalty Resources:

Breaking The Cycle of Violence (Death Penalty Packet)
This death penalty issue packet pulls together valuable information for those who want to take action on this important issue.  The packet contains educational information, including relevant Catholic social teaching, information on the consistent life ethic, a prayer service, a sample letter-to-the-editor, actions suggestions and a list of resources from other organizations.  

(Item 525-410………$5 plus s&h) 

Death Penalty Backgrounder
Sentenced to Die. Still Children of God
(Item No. 525-411………$8/100 or .50 each plus s&h) 

Death Penalty Card
Written by Helen Prejean, CSJ that the death penalty will be abolished. 
(Item #525-281………$8/100 or .50 each plus shipping and handling.)

To order:  814-453-4955; ext. 231; fax: 814-452-4784

Pax Christi USA
532 W. 8th Street, Erie, PA 16502
Ph. (814-453-4955)
Fax: (814-452-4784)
Email: info@paxchristiusa.org
Web: www.nonviolence.org/pcusa