St. Patrick Catholic Church members gathered to pray and ring a bell in support of ending the death penalty in Florida.
Surrounding the stage inside the church were more than 270 tealight candles that represented all the people in Florida sitting on death row, and at about 7:30 p.m., Michael Elias, the leader of the ceremony, rang a bell along with 17 other Catholic churches across Florida.
“The Bible says ‘Thou shalt not kill,’” he said. “For the state to sentence one to death is one of the greatest sins.”
About 20 Gainesville residents gathered with Elias at St. Patrick Catholic Church, at 500 NE 16th Ave., Friday night to unite in protesting against the death sentence and to hold a discussion on abolishing the punishment.
The church participated in the event on Cities for Life Day, an internationally observed day wherein Catholic churches across the world advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty.
Getting rid of the death penalty is important to Sonya Rudenstine, an Alachua County criminal defense attorney, because she has defended numerous people that were sentenced to death.
African Americans and poor people are put at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving fair trials, Rudenstine said. This is because they are not provided with the best attorneys to argue their cases.
The death penalty is especially painful for Herb Donaldson, a Gainesville resident who spoke about losing his uncle from the sentence.
“My uncle was more of a brother to me than anything,” Donaldson said. “The memories of him might be old, but he will never be.”
Like others who have lost a loved one to the death penalty, Donaldson said the pain of his uncle’s death stays with him always.
Although the pain felt by family and friends of those sentenced to death often goes unnoticed, Donaldson said he will stop at nothing to share the grief he feels. He said he hopes others who have not experienced losing a family member to the sentence will listen to those who have.
“We are here and have never been invisible,” he said. “You were just told not to look.”
The ceremony ended with church members lighting the candles and saying a closing prayer for inmates on death row.
Susan Johnson bends to light one of the 352 candles in St. Patrick Catholic Church, located at 500 NE 16th Ave., on Thursday night. The candles, which represented the 352 inmates on death row in Florida, were part of the church’s Cities for Life Day event.