By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published November 26, 2015
ATLANTA—On the Nov. 12 feast day of St. Josaphat, the faithful gathered at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to pray for abolition of the death penalty in Georgia.
Bishop David P. Talley celebrated the special Mass upon his return from the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. Bishop Talley had celebrated Masses earlier in the day for the general prison population and for inmates on death row.
The archdiocesan Office of Life, Dignity and Justice, and Prison and Jail Ministry sponsored the evening Mass. The choir of St. Anthony of Padua Church provided music.
Stepping in, Bishop Talley shared a homily written by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory on St. Josaphat, as the archbishop was unable to attend.
The saint, a bishop who worked to unify the Orthodox and Catholic faiths, was martyred in 1623. He was killed by a mob filled with hatred.
“Josaphat was a compassionate man who paid for his kindness with his life,” read Bishop Talley. “The Orthodox and Catholic Christians of his time were not willing to admit that they could and should pause in their hostility for one another.”
Bishop Talley said he heard two messages for those gathered that evening from the archbishop’s words—“to be reconciled, but also to stand strong as witnesses in faith to the sacredness of life.”
The bishop encouraged those attending, although small in number, to be part of the work of fighting injustices.
Bishop Talley talked about injustices he had witnessed over the years as a young boy raised in the South, including racial segregation.
At the prison in Jackson, Bishop Talley found himself thinking of the redemption of Jesus Christ before celebrating Mass.
“These are pretty much lonely men who made big mistakes and pay for it with their lives,” he said.
To fight unjust laws and injustice in the culture, Christians must do so “not with anger in our hearts but with power in our hearts; the power of the risen Christ,” said Bishop Talley.
One must never “take violence and turn it into violence,” said the bishop, but rather should fast, pray and call attention to the dignity of human life.
During the prayers of the faithful, petitions were offered for victims of crimes and their families, as well as for death row inmate Marcus Ray Johnson.
Johnson, convicted in the 1994 murder in Dougherty County of Angela Sizemore, was put to death late on Nov. 19 by lethal injection. The State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied his bid for clemency and all legal appeals were exhausted.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1973, there have been 58 men and one woman executed in Georgia. There have been four executions in Georgia in 2015.
Deacon Richard Tolcher, head of the prison ministry for the archdiocese, issued an invitation to worshippers to attend events hosted by the Interfaith Coalition to End the Death Penalty on Thursday, Dec. 10, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta. Speakers will include Ambassador Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor, Bishop Robert Wright of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, and Kayla Gissendaner, whose mother, Kelly, was executed in September.
Due to prison protocol at the time of an execution and the Thanksgiving holiday, it will be December before the inmates at the prison will be able to attend Mass, Bishop Talley said.
Before leaving the prison, he encouraged the inmates by telling them about the long periods that early Christians experienced without receiving the Eucharist.
“Every power we need has been given to us,” Bishop Talley said.