The Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), a national advocacy group fighting for an end to the death penalty, is organizing a poetry contest for young adult Catholics wishing to support abolition by means of the written word.

The “Justice and Mercy Poetry Contest” officially began this month and is open to any Catholic between the ages of 18 and 30.

It will award prizes of up to $1,000 in cash. All forms of poetry are accepted, and submissions are limited to one per person.

“Contest winners will be chosen by a diverse group of committee members who bring an array of interest, experience, and skills when it comes to engaging young Catholics, ending the death penalty, and using poetry as a way to nurture the intersection of justice and faith,” the organization notes on its website.

The first-place winner, along with the largest cash prize, will receive an expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC to read their poem at CMN’s 13th anniversary celebration on October 10th at the US Apostolic Nunciature.

The second- and third-place winners will receive $500 and $300, respectively.

All three winners will also be invited to a virtual gathering in summer 2022 “to hear from death penalty abolition leaders and learn about opportunities for education, advocacy, and prayer in the movement to end the death penalty,” according to CMN.

The contest is in its first year, and suggested themes for poems include the racism embedded into capital punishment in the US, the “inherent risk” of executing the innocent, and the contradiction between the modern death penalty and Catholic Social Teaching.

The Catholic Church officially regards capital punishment as “inadmissible”, with Pope Francis in 2018 having revised former protocols that allowed for execution on the grounds of public safety.

CMN itself is the nation’s premier Catholic organization advocating against capital punishment, founded in January 2009 by Karen Clifton. Its predecessor, Catholics Against Capital Punishment (CACP), was founded in 1992 and was folded into CMN roughly a decade ago.

The nonprofit produces restorative justice resources from a Catholic perspective, regularly organizes online petitions against upcoming executions, and livestreams a monthly First Friday Prayer Vigil with clergy, other Church leaders, and activists.

In addition to the new poetry contest, CMN has also begun a new podcast, “Encounters with Dignity”, whose most recent episode features Black Catholics discussing the infamous Buck v. Davis Supreme Court case—in which a convicted murderer was said by a psychologist to be likely to offend again because he is Black.

CMN is also distributing weekly Lenten reflections on criminal justice reform, and is presently petitioning Texas state officials to halt the execution of Melissa Lucio, which is scheduled for April 27th.

She is one of thousands of US death row inmates whose lives currently hang in the balance, as states around the country begin to ramp up executions amidst the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three state-level executions have taken place so far in 2022, and 12 more are scheduled for the year as of Wednesday morning—spread across just four states. The federal death penalty has been on an indefinite moratorium since July 2021.

Submissions for CMN's poetry contest can be submitted on the CMN website until May 31st, and questions should be directed to Emma Tacke at emmat@catholicsmobilizing.org.

The winners will be announced in mid-June.


Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).


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