Thousands gather in Canada to end capital punishment, target public opinion in the U.S.

Juan Melendez, a native of Puerto Rico, spent 17 years, eight months and one day on death row in Florida before his release in January 2002. Convicted of murder in 1983, justice officials now say they have found the taped confession of the true killer.

Melendez is just one of thousands of innocents who have sat on death row, awaiting execution in several countries around the world. But he is one of those lucky enough to share his testimony and opposition to the capital punishment with more than 1,000 delegates at the second World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Montreal, which starts today and runs until Oct. 9.

Organizers say the purpose of the conference is not to debate the pros and cons of the death penalty but to target public opinion in the United States and urge neighboring countries, such as Cuba, Jamaica and several Latin American countries, to abolish capital punishment.

In the United States, 3,487 inmates are on death row as of April; 65 people were executed last year. Other countries targeted are China, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

More than 100 speakers will take part in about 25 round tables and presentations. There will be a Christian presence at the conference, including representation from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Counsel of Churches. As well, Msgr. Allan McCormack, legal vicar in Canada, will read a message from Pope John Paul II at the opening ceremonies.

An interreligious ceremony is planned for Oct. 7 at 3:30 p.m. A round table is scheduled on “Ethical arguments, philosophies, and religions in favor of abolition.”

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