By Gordon Nary
Gordon: As Director of Communications for Catholic Mobilizing Network, what social media resources do you use?
Alexandra: At Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) we utilize a variety of social media resources to spread our message and mission. Most common, however, are Facebook and Twitter. These platforms are great tools in our effort to mobilize Catholics around the need to end the use of the death penalty. Through our use of Facebook and Twitter, CMN is able to engage and educate our followers on the latest developments around the movement to end the use of the death penalty, as well as encourage advocacy on behalf of people on death row. We even utilize Facebook and Twitter as a way to engage our supporters in prayer and reflection. CMN is also looking at the ways in which we can better use Instagram and other social media platforms to further engage with our supporters.
Gordon: What initially interested you in volunteering with the Catholic prison ministry at the Suffolk County House of Corrections?
Alexandra: I began volunteering at the Suffolk County House of Corrections towards the end of my first year of graduate school at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. I have always been inspired and challenged by the call in Matthew 25:31-46 to live out discipleship through actions for the least among us. When the topic of mass incarceration came up in one of my classes, I felt that call to discipleship and had a desire to get involved. I began volunteering with Catholic Services at the Suffolk House of Corrections through Boston College’s own initiative and soon afterwards continued to go every Sunday. My time as a volunteer at the Suffolk County House of Corrections was an incredible and challenging experience, and inspired me to get involved with the important work that CMN does to end the use of the death penalty and promote a restorative criminal justice system.
Gordon: What are some of the challenges in serving in a prison ministry?
Alexandra: One of the biggest challenges serving in a prison ministry can be the lengthy process involved with volunteering. There is often a lot of paperwork and there can even be a lengthy waiting process to become a long-term volunteer. A prison can also be a very challenging environment. Between the correctional officers present to make sure everyone remains safe, and the chaos that is often occurring throughout the prison it can sometimes be challenging to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. These challenges, while sometimes hard to overcome, are what make prison ministry such a life-giving experience. If you listen carefully and remain patient, if you can provide these men and women with the gift of an encounter, the gift of human dignity, the grace and mercy of God is made known. Within the often challenging work of prison ministry is the chance to experience and encounter God.
Gordon: Based on your experience, do ProLife ministries in parishes in states with a death penalty serve as advocates for eliminating the death penalty?
Alexandra: ProLife ministries at parishes across the country are vital to CMN’s work. These ministries allow Catholics to advocate for the dignity of all life, even those who have committed crimes. By helping to educate Catholics on the Church’s pro-life teaching and inspiring advocacy work to be done, these Pro-Life ministries are important parts of the work to end the use of the death penalty. As a result, CMN works to support these ministries with educational as well as prayerful resources to encourage these Pro-Life ministries to continue their important work. CMN also provide these ministries with advocacy tools to help them implement our faith’s call to uphold the dignity of all life. One great example is CMN’s Mercy in Action project, where we send out alerts about upcoming executions and include everything needed to send letters and phone calls asking for clemency as well as prayer tools to hold vigils for those waiting to be executed.
Gordon: What impact have advocacy initiatives of religious leaders had on reversal of the death penalty in some states?
Alexandra: Similar to the role that Pro-Life ministries have, religious leaders have an extremely important role to play in advocating for an end to the death penalty. Religious leaders have the opportunity to play an influential role in the education of the faithful. They can help their congregants to have a thoughtful conversation around issues of justice and morality, like the death penalty. Religious leaders can also encourage and support their congregants in working for justice by engaging in their own advocacy for such issues. This is why CMN offers great educational, prayerful, and advocacy resources - to enable religious leaders to inspire and inform their communities.
Gordon: Based on your experience, how can individuals opposed to the death penalty have a political impact on reversing the death penalty?
Alexandra: Individuals opposed to the death penalty can have a huge political impact. By writing their legislators, calling their elected officials and using their votes to stand for life, individuals can have a great impact on the task to end the use of the death penalty. 2016, for example, was a year of historic lows for the death penalty. Not only did we see the fewest number of executions in a quarter century, the number of people sentenced to death was the lowest number in modern history of U.S. capital punishment. In addition, public support for the death penalty has also greatly declined: a 2016 Pew report shows opposition to the death penalty at 42%, the highest it has been since 1966, this includes the 46% of Catholics who oppose the death penalty, a significant increase from 2015 data. Americans - in particular Catholics - understand that the death penalty is a broken system. It is because of the dedication, hard work, and unending support of people, particularly Catholics, who are opposed to the death penalty that we saw such historic lows. The death penalty is coming to an end, thanks in large part to the impact of people raising their voices and advocating for the dignity of all life.
Gordon: Your commitment to the infinite value of human life is inspiring. Thanks for a great interview.