The Pope launched a new and important appeal. It is not the first time that Francis speaks of the need to abolish the death penalty in the world, but yesterday’s Angelus sounds like a program for those who want a more livable and humane world, starting from us Christians. Not surprisingly, proposing a moratorium on capital punishment, he addressed above all the Catholic rulers and inserted his appeal within this Jubilee of Mercy.
The Pope’s speech, however, is universal and concerns the whole of humanity. He spoke of “signs of hope” in a public, in the world, increasingly contrary to the practice of the death penalty, and recalled that “modern societies have the ability to deal with crime without removing permanently the chance to redeem one’s self from he who committed the crime.” These are words that make you think about how there will come a day, and hopefully it will come soon, that will mark the abolition of death penalty in the world, at the legal level, in the same way that it came in the nineteenth century for the abolition of slavery.
Today Europe has accomplished the abolition of the death penalty, and there are many positive signals coming also from Africa, which could soon become the second largest continent to be free of this odious practice. More generally, there has been a decrease, year after year, in the number of countries where the death penalty is legal and the number of those sentenced to death through a legal process. The last vote, in 2014, at the Third Committee of the United Nations, with respect to the proposal for a universal moratorium on the death penalty was a success; with 117 States in favor of the motion, three more than the previous vote.
The international conference “For a world without the death penalty” promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio – which the Pope greeted Sunday during the Angelus, expressing the hope that it “will give a new impulse to the commitment to the abolition of capital punishment” – is part of this campaign. Ministers of Justice and representatives of 30 countries attended the conference, which brought together, in an unprecedented way, in the same reflection, both countries that have already abolished the death penalty and those that have not. We can search and find the way to defend life together is we open ourselves to dialogue. Ministers were received by President of the Republic of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, who raised the call for a world without capital punishment.
Campaigns are valuable for everyone because they generate and spread this feeling of a moral duty to never resign in the face of fear, which is always a bad guide. The increase of a feeling of alarm and worry is justified after all of the violent episodes that we have seen in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, but we cannot let this reopen the road to a dangerous return to earlier time. Doing evil in order to obtain good may seem like an appropriate approach and thought, but it is neither fair nor effective. It simply plays in favor of those cultivating violence, precisely because fear is the main weapon of terror.
The dream of abolishing the death penalty in the world is achievable and is becoming evermore concrete. At the same time we must never lower our guard. In Asia and the United States, but not only, there are still many institutions to conquer to attitudes in defense of life and humanity. It is necessary to heal the people from rancor and vengeance because even when the number of executions diminishes, even though it remains too high, people resort instead to extrajudicial killings and lynchings, especially in Latin America and Africa.
Fighting against the death penalty is also fighting for a society where the level of widespread violence is as low as possible. One of the consequences of the abolition of capital punishment is in fact to send a powerful message to all: responding to violence with violence – even if institutionalized – not only does not help, but above all poisons the general climate, generates deleterious feelings between people, and traps us in cages of fierce “retribution.” The global campaign is to achieve a significant leap in the general culture of the world: life is the most important thing.