WASHINGTON, April 18 (CNS)--The bishops of North Carolina and the Catholic peace group Pax Christi USA have issued new condemnations of the death penalty for Good Friday.

The separate statements drew connections between the execution of Jesus 2000 years ago and pending executions in the United States. Both were released April 17.

A year ago, the U.S. bishops issued "A Good Friday Appeal to End the Death Penalty." That statement asked Catholics and all people of good will to preach, teach, pray and serve as witnesses against the "tragic illusion" of the death penalty.

Pax Christi, a national Catholic peace movement, noted that more than 3,500 people are on death row around the United States, "awaiting the same fate as Jesus."

The statement said the organization bases its opposition to the death penalty in all cases on the belief that "those who are guilty, even of the most heinous crimes, are still sacred in the eyes of our loving God who embraces all sinners as sons and daughters."

It noted: "In the Gospels we see a nonviolent Jesus who taught and exemplified forgiveness, mercy, compassion and justice that was restorative and healing, always seeking to convert and correct rather than to condemn."

In a press release, Tom Cordaro, chair of Pax Christi's national council, said the organization hopes "to challenge our nation to distinguish between justice and revenge. We hope to move the national conversation from punishment of criminals to the restoration of relationships." The release said Pax Christi USA members around the country will walk in Stations of the Cross processions to call attention "to crucifixions that continue in the United States today."

Pax Christi's statement also encouraged governments at all levels to examine and address the root causes of violence and crime.

"Such root causes include a pervasive disregard for human life at all levels of our society; growing child abuse and neglect; breakdown of stable families and communities; growing gaps in income and quality of life; racism and hatred directed at minority populations; and a lack of quality education, work opportunities and social services for millions of citizens."

In their statement, North Carolina's bishops reaffirmed last year's national bishops' appeal.

"We call on all people of good will to join us in working toward ending this cycle of violence in our state and country," said Bishop William G. Curlin of Charlotte and Bishop F. Joseph Gossman of Raleigh.

North Carolina has executed 15 people since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1977. More than 220 people are on North Carolina's death row.

"The death penalty is not a deterrent to murder," they said. "Murder is a crime of misplaced passion, often fueled by drugs or alcohol and made possible by ready access to guns. The possibility of the death penalty as a punishment is never thought of in most murders."

They also noted that recent evidence has uncovered cases of innocent people being convicted and sentenced to death. "The possibility that an innocent person can be executed should be enough, by itself, to cause people of conscience to stand against the death penalty," they said.

The bishops also said they "do not call for the repeal of the death penalty at the expense of the victims, their families or loved ones. We understand the enormous pain those close to a murdered loved one must feel. Our family of faith must stand with all victims of violence as they struggle to overcome their terrible loss and fear and find some sense of peace."

The act of capital punishment "is merely vengeance," they said, which keeps the nation steeped in violence.

"Please join with us to pray for a change of heart, that we may stop this cycle of violence, break the culture of death and seek justice without vengeance," Bishops Curlin and Gossman said. They also encouraged parishes and communities to hold discussion groups on capital punishment and to form ministries to provide assistance to families.

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