Pope Francis has become a torchbearer of peace and justice, not just for Catholics, but also for many people around the globe. Last week, he appealed directly to public officials, especially those who are Catholic, to “make a courageous and exemplary gesture by seeking a moratorium on executions during this Holy Year of Mercy.”
The custom of celebrating a Holy Year – or “Year of Jubilee” – is rooted in the biblical Law of Moses that established every fiftieth year as a special Holy Year. During this time, debts were forgiven, fields were left fallow, land restitution was practiced, and slaves and prisoners were set free.
Because mercy holds the hope of rehabilitation, this year is an invitation for society to reflect on the central values in our criminal justice system. We must consider the goals of justice: Does the law simply dole out payback? Or is the goal to restore and repair harm caused by violence?
During his recent trip to Mexico, Pope Francis addressed these questions in a visit to a prison in the border city of Juarez. As he addressed a crowd of prisoners, some of whom were moved to tears, the Pope spoke a message that resonated in the hearts of many worldwide:
“We have already lost many decades thinking and believing that everything will be resolved by isolating, separating, incarcerating, and ridding ourselves of problems, believing that these policies really solve problems. We have forgotten to focus on what must truly be our concern: people’s lives; their lives, those of their families, and those who have suffered because of this cycle of violence.”
Pope Francis has challenged public officials to celebrate the Holy Year of Mercy by halting executions. Let us also challenge ourselves to work for a justice system that values healing over punishment.
Megan Ward is Director of Engagement at the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty. She works to promote Catholics in the movement to end the death penalty, with a special focus on imminent legislation.