Oklahoma City, Okla. (CNA) - As the Oklahoma City community continues to heal two decades after the horrific bombing that claimed the lives of 168 people, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley said he hopes people find mercy as well as justice in response to unspeakable acts of violence.
"The demand for vengeance diminishes all of us," he said in a column for Sooner Catholic.
Archbishop Coakley said that like most Americans, he remembers where he was the day of the April 19, 1995 bombing. He was a parish priest in Wichita at the time and followed the story in the news.
He recalled how moved he was by the community's response "to such unspeakable violence and evil."
"Those tragic days brought out the best in this community and its people. A remarkable spirit of kindness, hospitality and care for one another and for strangers was on display before the world," he recalled.
"That spirit of solidarity has come to be known as the Oklahoma Standard. It was a light shining in darkness."
However, the archbishop said, his hope for the community moving forward is even now still shaped by the "deeply disturbing" event of hearing about convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh's death sentence over the public address system of an amusement park he was visiting with a youth group.
"From a reverent silence in which you could hear a pin drop there erupted an outburst of enthusiastic applause," Archbishop Coakley recalled in the moments that followed that the news that McVeigh would be put to death.
While the convicted bomber "deserved a just sentence for his terrible crime," the archbishop warned, there is a "fine and dangerous line" between true justice and vengeance.
He said that the experience strengthened his resolve against the death penalty in today's society, saying that "(w)hile the death penalty may be legitimate in principle, it is hard to find circumstances today when it is legitimate to apply that principle."
"When there are non-lethal means to protect society and exact due punishment for serious crimes we ought to pursue these means," he stated.
Archbishop Coakley said that this anniversary is an opportunity to honor those who were killed 20 years ago and continue to support those who are still grieving their lost loved ones.
"The healing continues," Archbishop Coakley said. "I am so proud to be a part of this community today, even as I so admired it from afar 20 years ago."
As the Church journeys through the Easter season, he reminded Catholics, "God suffers with us" and in doing so has put an end to the "cycle of sin and death."
Quoting Pope Francis' first Angelus address after his election, Archbishop Coakley said in closing, "A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father, who is so patient."