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Reflection on lives lost

Jesuit Social Services condemns the execution of Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and their companions in Indonesia.

Every day from March 6 to April 29, when the executions occurred, we held a vigil at St Ignatius Church to provide an outlet for all members of the community to stand in solidarity with Andrew and Myuran. The response shown at the vigil from thousands of attendees was one of shared emotion and later grief.

Jesuit Social Services opposes the death penalty anywhere and everywhere. We believe that the value of every human life should be held in the upmost regard and with love and compassion.

Andrew and Myuran had changed, grown and rehabilitated. They were two young men with a great deal to offer society. We mourn their loss.

Following the executions of Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and their companions, Andy Hamilton SJ wrote this reflection:
A wedding and an execution

The last days of Andrew Chan spoke more powerfully than words can about the meaning of execution. On Monday he married Febyanti Herewila. On Tuesday he was taken out and shot. In the wedding service he may have heard the words, ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’. A few hours later men had sundered man from both wife and life.

If you look at life in a purely calculating way executions may have a point. Do the crime, cop the punishment; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; drugs cost lives, and drug runners forfeit theirs.

But there is more to human beings and society than can be caught in calculation. A wedding expresses a commitment to another person that goes beyond the limitations and circumstances of either person. It expresses a love that transcends the merits of either person. It expresses a hope for giving and receiving life that rises above all the things that make for death. It is a new beginning, a twining of two people with society. If the conventional trappings of weddings are heavenly, almost mythical, that is so because they image the inalienable value of the two human beings that enter marriage and the possibilities of their union. They suggest that hope will be victorious over the abrading of experience, a hope needed in any decent society.

The execution of Andrew Chan so soon after his marriage shows what is at stake in the killing of each of the eight prisoners. Killing ends all living commitments that bind the victims and those who survive them. Killing reduces people to the limitations and circumstances of the time of their crime. It denies the humanity of those killed. It is an ending, a separation of the person from society. Its trappings are chap – a board, a painted heart, rope ties and a blindfold and a few bullets. These image the lack of worth perceived in the victims, and the conviction that death is the ending of hope for them.

So, what is gained by an execution? For the executed newly-wed, only the secret knowledge that his own love, dreams and hopes are far more noble than those of the society that scorns them. For society, the passing satisfaction that it can do worse to wrong doers than they do to society, and the comfortable illusion that killing one lot of people will deter others from crime.

What is lost by an execution? In a word, humanity. All that is good in the human life of the victim will be lost to society – the love, the creativity, the reflectiveness gained during imprisonment, the dreams of a better life given to others, the possibilities of family and of nurturing, and the irrepressible gift of humanity that flowers in all these ways.

Also lost is all that blesses a society, all that might take it beyond calculation, might make it entertain possibilities, might embrace forgiveness, might move beyond retribution to reconciliation, might face fears and build trust. Having scorned the fire of relationships and of possibility it is left with the ashes of what can be counted and of delusion that out of killing will come life.

Of course in religious tradition out of an execution did come life. But that was found in the victim, not in those who killed him. And life will be sustained by honouring his memory.