A member of the Abolition Action Committee hangs a sign in front of the Supreme Court in Washington during a 2008 vigil to abolish the death penalty. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

PALM BEACH GARDENS  |  With January being Respect Life Month, the Office of Respect Life Ministry for the Diocese of Palm Beach is participating in a variety of advocacy events that embody the Catholic doctrines of honoring life from conception to natural death.

Deanna Herbst-Hoosac, program administrator for Respect Life Ministry for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Palm Beach recently joined more than 2,500 Catholics in a virtual prayer vigil for federal executions for three incarcerated individuals. These vigils were organized by the Catholic Mobilizing Network, a national organization that advocates an end to the death penalty and works to transform the U.S. criminal justice system from punitive to restorative.

Through education, advocacy, prayer and based on the Gospel value that every human is created in the image and likeness of God, the Catholic Mobilizing Network expresses the fundamental belief that all those who have caused or been impacted by crime should be treated with dignity. This organization also works closely with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is a founding member of the Congregation of St. Joseph Mission Network.

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Herbst-Hoosac shared the virtual prayer vigils were held on the day of the scheduled executions and often feature prayers, petitions, and Scripture reflections from Catholic bishops, Church leaders, and other allies from across the pro-life movement. These virtual gatherings also included background on the incarcerated and the victims of their crimes.

“You hear both sides of the story and it’s just incredibly sad. These inmates suffered through horrific abuse and neglect in their past and you come to understand why their lives culminated in the violent act of their crime,” she said.

Herbst-Hoosac explained that the virtual aspect of the vigils allowed Catholics from all over the diocese, as well as the United States, to join in prayer and reflection.

“Instead of having these smaller vigils, we were able to join in one big group — albeit virtually — and stay faithful to our pro-life advocacy during a time where we cannot gather in fellowship,” she said.  

On July 14, 2020, the federal government restarted the practice of capital punishment following a 17-year hiatus from executions. Since then, the Department of Justice has executed 10 inmates, more than doubling the total number of executions administered by the government in the 57 years prior.

“We will take our advocacy one step further and lobby the repeal of the death penalty at the virtual Catholic Days at the Capitol in Tallahassee this February,” Herbst-Hoosac said. “We hope many will join us in respecting life through all of its stages.”