By Nicole Pellicano
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — Rome’s Colosseum was lit in honor of the U.S. state of Nebraska’s attempt to abolish the death penalty and as part of Cities for Life Day, a worldwide event that supports a global end to capital punishment.

The Rome-based lay Community of Sant’Egidio, which is active in a worldwide campaign to eliminate capital executions, sponsors the lighting event every Nov. 30 to highlight its cause. The Colosseum has been a symbol against the death penalty because of its history as a site for gladiatorial combat and executions.

Cities for Life Day is held every year to commemorate the first abolition of the death penalty by a European state — the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1786.

This year, 2,031 cities around the world expressed their support for the Cities for Life initiative, and nearly 400 special events were held worldwide.

Sant’Egidio invited to the event at the Colosseum Nebraska State Sens. Colby Coash and Mark Kolterman, who supported the state’s repeal of the death penalty, and Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph and longtime opponent of capital punishment.

Also invited was Miriam Thimm Kelle from Nebraska who is active in the fight against the death penalty. Her brother, James Thimm, was murdered 30 years ago, and his killer was given the death penalty, which she has said has offered no opportunity for true healing for victim’s families.

Nebraska ended the use of the death penalty in May, becoming the 19th U.S. state to abolish capital punishment. However, state residents gathered enough signatures to temporarily reinstate the death penalty until it can be voted on in a referendum in November 2016.

Meanwhile, bishops in Australia have been renewing their call for a worldwide ban on the death penalty.

While capital punishment has been prohibited in Australia since 2001, Archbishop Denis Hart, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference recently wrote to the federal parliament offering assistance in achieving a global moratorium.

Recalling the firm opposition of the church to the death penalty, the bishops’ conference said in late October its members were available to work with the Holy See and other national bishops’ conferences to influence governments on the issue.

In mid-November, Indonesia declared a temporary moratorium on the death penalty, saying the temporary ban was meant to help the country focus more on fixing the nation’s economy.

The Indonesian bishops had been asking the country’s president to reconsider the use of capital punishment, calling it an inhuman form of punishment that was not effective in deterring crime.

The death penalty is applied both in law and practice in about 37 nations, including the United States, Japan and China.