During National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 19-25, 2015, survivors of crime and victims’ families gathered in Sacramento. Meetings and conferences were held throughout this week to honor and support crime victims and survivors, to discuss various victim-related topics and needs, and to promote a justice system that more effectively addresses the needs of survivors and prevents crime.
Among the many activities that took place during this week was a poignant candlelight vigil held at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on Monday night, April 20. The event provided family members who lost a loved one to homicide the chance to come together and share stories remembering their murdered children and to light candles in their memory. Through this forum, a safe space for healing was also created for the families.
The evening began with the recognition that those present at the vigil and all who have suffered the loss of a loved one to crime are a “family” and that by listening to each other’s stories, feeling each other’s pain, and providing love and support, crime survivors can experience the “grace of encounter” as emphasized by Pope Francis.
Prayer intentions were also read invoking the Holy Spirit to assist and provide healing for grieving family members, those offering support to crime survivors and those who have committed violent crimes. In addition, prayers were said asking for reconciliation and justice and for the prevention of future violence by eliminating its causes in neglected communities.
The majority of the evening was spent in listening to tragic testimonies of how families lost a loved one to violence. There were many calls for peace. One mother said that it broke her heart to see other mothers suffer what she suffered and that it was her hope that fewer mothers will have to come next year. Many participants stated that hearing the stories of other crime survivors and being part of a support group has helped them to heal and be comforted and to persevere in being strong for their families. Indeed, some survivors stated that they have forgiven the perpetrators of the crimes so that they can go on with their lives.
The moving and tear-filled vigil closed with the participants joining in a circle to pray together and recite the Restorative Justice Pledge:
“I believe that violence is not a solution to any problem.
I believe that every person is endowed with a sacred dignity.
I believe that every person is capable of changing, healing and being restored.
I pledge to respect the dignity of every person.
I pledge to overcome violence with love and compassion.
I pledge to accompany and support anyone affected by crime on their healing journey.
I pledge to be an instrument of restoration, of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
This evening of remembrance and healing emphasized the importance of ministries that provide ongoing support for those experiencing such a great loss and deep sorrow. One support ministry member explained that this ministry takes patience in listening and when they are ready, an understanding that the pain suffered by families must be given back to God for healing to take place. As they are healed, they are then able to help others.
Learn more at RestoreJustice.com.