Pope praises efforts to ban death penalty


VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI gave a special greeting of encouragement to delegations meeting in Rome — including a group from Illinois — to promote the abolition of the death penalty.

During his weekly audience Nov. 30 at the Vatican, Pope Benedict said he hoped the work of the delegations would “encourage political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a number of countries to eliminate the death penalty” and promote progress in penal law that speaks equally to “the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order.”

The 12-person Illinois group, members of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, was led by state Rep. Karen Yarbrough. Under Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty in March.

Following the audience, Yarbrough told Catholic News Service that the papal audience represented a capstone to an intense year of efforts that paid off with legislation banning capital punishment in Illinois.

The Nov. 29-30 Rome meeting, sponsored by the Sant’Egidio Community, encouraged people in cities around the world to join a public demonstration of opposition to the death penalty. In Rome, for example, the Colosseum was to be lit up Nov. 30 to show the city’s adherence to the initiative.

Yarbrough said that “lighting the Colosseum, once a place of death, means a lot.”

The main part of the pope’s audience talk dealt with the significance of prayer in the life of Jesus Christ and in his relationship with God, a continuation of his series of reflections on prayer.

The pope said that Jesus, by his own example, “most fully reveals the mystery of Christian prayer.” He said this was particularly evident with the prayer Jesus said after his baptism in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist. The pope said this prayer “reflects his complete, filial obedience to the Father’s will, an obedience which would lead him to death on the cross for the redemption of our sins.”

Through prayer with God, the pope said, Jesus “received the confirmation of his mission” among men.

Jesus learned to pray from his very devout mother and the Jewish tradition, but the real source of his prayer was his “eternal communion with the Father.”

Pope Benedict said Jesus teaches today’s Christians that prayer must be constant, profound and characterized by “self-surrender and complete openness to God.”

Contributing to this story were Sarah Delaney and Kristin Gobberg in Rome.