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May 28 2015

The personal story of friendship with Paula Cooper impels us to remember her, along with all those who loved her, like Bill Pelke

IN MEMORY OF OUR FRIEND PAULA COOPER WHO DIED SUDDENLY ON MAY 26TH

by Carlo santoro, Community of Sant'Egidio

 
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Tuesday evening, May 26th our friends from Indianapolis (who have been helping during these 2 years of freedom) called us to say that Paula had died. The police are still investigating the cause of her death. Two years ago, Paula had been released from prison after nearly 30 years and she had started a new life. She was happy and proud to work, she had a house and she lived on her own. Certainly she faced many difficulties as well in her new life. After so many years in prison it is not so easy to get back to ordinary life. Her dream was to have a "normal" life, a family, like everyone else. And first of all she wanted to "disappear". She did not want to be treated as "a case" in the newspapers, having to have interviews where her story had been reported so many times. She just wanted to be forgotten by the media. She did not want to be remembered for the crime she had committed 30 years before. She said: "The person who commits a crime deserves a punishment, even many years of seclusion. But then everyone deserves to have a second chance. So do I." She wanted a new life dedicated to the education of young offenders, as she had been. This would have been her second chance.
Her story was incredibly connected to several members of the Community of Sant'Egidio, particularly during the last 3 years, and even before, when millions of young people in Italy and in the world participated in the mobilization to save her life, through their rallies and petitions.
Thanks as well to the personal intervention of the Pope John Paul II her death sentence was commuted into 60 years, then reduced to 30. We met Paula mainly through Bill Pelke (the founder of the Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation – MVFR and of the The Journey Of Hope), the grandson of Ruth, the victim, who had forgiven Paula and had fought against her execution. With Bill we had been waiting for many years to see Paula free, after 30 years of incarceration. The day that dream was finally realized was a fruit of the forgiveness and reconciliation Bill inherited from his grandmother who died holding a Bible in her hands.
In May 2013, just before her release, I visited her in prison. Our dream was to invite her to Rome for a meeting with the Pope and then we hoped she could give a strong message of hope to young people. In Indiana I realized that several people had just expressed the intention of killing her, simply as an act of revenge. Thanks to the intervention of the Catholic Church she was able to get out on the sly and without notice by journalists. Thanks to the bishops she found a job and a house. After a few months I went back to visit her in Indianapolis and seemed happy in her new life.
**************
Her tragic death is an unexpected epilogue of a very tough life, marked from childhood by violence and poverty. Several times she had been spared from death and protected by the special Blessing of God who has never abandoned her. 

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