Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Lariat Online: Group hopes to raise death penalty awareness

Baylor University's paper The Lariat Online has published an article about the Journey of Hope 's visit to their campus.
By Amanda Allen

The death penalty is reserved for criminals who have committed cruel, inhumane crimes- acts that give their victims and their victims' loved ones little room for compassion. But the members of Journey of Hope find room.

"No other group has power and authority to speak about forgiveness than (the members of Journey of Hope). They have no reason to forgive, but they do," Fernando Arroyo, chair of Waco Amnesty International, said.

Baylor National Association of Social Workers and Baylor Students for Social Justice in association with Waco Amnesty International will join Journey of Hope to speak about death penalty alternatives on campus Thursday morning in Kayser Auditorium.

Step by Step, a documentary about Journey of Hope members will be shown from 8:30 to 10 a.m., and Journey of Hope members will speak from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Each session will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

Family members of murder victims and the executed and exonerated lead Journey of Hope. They conduct public education speaking tours to address alternatives to the death penalty.

Amnesty International, an organization supporting different human rights issues, is the umbrella organization for Journey of Hope. Their main action for human rights is letter writing, but having an event on campus is something Arroyo, said he has always wanted.

Arroyo said Amnesty International has received a lot of help from Baylor students, especially in helping to promote two main campaigns - Journey of Hope and genocide in Darfur and Sudan.

Last semester Amnesty International held six film sessions in Waco that many Baylor students were involved in. This year, they hope more students will be able to take something away from Journey of Hope since they will be speaking on campus.

"We have the privilege of having the founders come," Arroyo said.

Executive Director Bill Pelke will speak to students and answer questions on behalf of Journey of Hope.

"It's a platform for family members of victims to share their story, and, in some cases, prove death row inmates' innocence," Arroyo said. "It puts a human face on the death penalty."

Journey of Hope is not a Christian organization because it's mission is to gather people of all belief systems who share in it's mission.

"It's their faith that's helped them overcome hatred and revenge and it's what has helped them overcome the bitterness creeping into their heart," Arroyo said. "They find healing and the miracle of forgiveness in their hearts and want to pass is around in the lives of victims and their perpetrators."

McGregor senior Flor Avellanedo, president of Baylor's social work association helped to organize the event. "It's a miraculous thing -- that God gives people the power to forgive and speak on behalf of them," she said.

Members of Journey of Hope said they believe there's only an allusion of closure when a murderer is executed.

Arroyo said family members end up destroying true reconciliation that could take place after the murder of a family member.

"It's so sad to think how many innocent people we've sent to death row," he said "Even if it's one, it's too many."

Acknowledging that the death penalty is a controversial issue, Avellanedo said, "We all have our opposing views of the death penalty, but it's always good to be aware of other views so we can reflect and think twice about what we think."

Andrea Brashier, Carrolton senior and association member, said she will attend the event because she wants to support awareness of the justice system.

"I think we have a lot of room to grow in that area so I think this program will open our eyes to thinking about other options, especially as students of a Christian school," she said.

Arroyo hopes the event will start more dialogue about the issue and prompt action.

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