The Coliseum in Rome has been lit up to celebrate the abolition of the death penalty in New Mexico. We hear from Governor Richardson and Archbishop Sheehan who attended the ceremony.

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Governor of the American state of New Mexico Bill Richardson,  and Santa Fe Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan stand in front of the lit Rome's Colosseum, Wednesday, April 15, 2009, on the occasion of a ceremony to mark the decision to end the death penalty in New Mexico. Richardson, a Democrat, signed a bill last month abolishing the death penalty for crimes committed after July 1, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

New Mexico abolishes death penalty

In 2002 the Community of Sant’Egidio launched the worldwide movement “Cities for Life – Cities against the Death Penalty” and the Colosseum in Rome, lit up with special effects has become the symbol of the international campaign on behalf of a system of justice capable of respecting life and human dignity.

After many attempts by legislators and civil society, after the Judiciary Committee of New Mexico’s Senate passed the bill repealing the death penalty on March 10, 2009, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed H.B. 285 on March 18, 2009. It is a bi-partisan bill that replaces the death penalty with life imprisonment. New Mexico is the fifteenth state to abolish capital punishment.

To mark the signing, the Community of Sant’Egidio invited the Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, the Archbishop of Santa Fe, Michael Sheehan, together with other local representatives to attend a special ceremony at the Coliseum on 15th April 2009.

Richardson, a Democrat, signed a bill last month abolishing the death penalty for crimes committed after July 1, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“I didn’t want America to continue being isolated with this position, because the world was moving in another direction,” he said. “It’s about time that America starts, along with the rest of the world, following in abolishing the death penalty.”

New Mexico became the second state to ban executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. New Jersey was the first, in 2007.

The ancient Roman arena was illuminated to mark the New Jersey abolition every time a death sentence is commuted somewhere in the world or a government abolishes capital punishment.

Richardson met with the pope at the end of Benedict’s weekly general audience at the Vatican. He said the pontiff was informed of the bill and was “very positive, and thanked me for that.”

Community of Sant’Egidio

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The Community of Sant’Egidio began in Rome in 1968 with a group of high school students who wanted to take the Gospel more seriously. Today it is a movement consisting of over 40,000 Christian laypeople in more than 60 countries throughout the world.

Prayer, solidarity, friendship, peace, ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue are central to the life of the Community. The services of each Community around the world develop through the fostering of intimate friendships with the poor, elderly, immigrants, and children who are our neighbors in the cities in which we live.

Not only have Communities been tearing down the walls of prejudice, fear, and loneliness that separate us from one another within our own cities, but many Communities throughout the world have also realized dreams of friendship across international borders. Friendship, always at the starting point, has led to a peace agreement to cease civil war in Mozambique and to Project DREAM, an HIV/AIDS treatment program in sub-Saharan Africa. Communities have entered prison cells to discover a lasting hope and friendship that radiate past locked doors. Friendship with prison inmates has also led the Community to strongly oppose the death penalty. Communities throughout the world have set up Schools of Peace wherever children need a safe place to learn, to build friendships and strong foundations for peace.

The Vatican has officially recognized the Community of Sant’Egidio as a public lay association.