For anyone old enough to remember when the movie Dead Man Walking was released in 1995, they might recall how it became a defining moment in the American consciousness around the issue of capital punishment.

Sr. Helen Prejean’s story of faith and accompaniment on death row woke people up to the injustice of the death penalty, many for the first time. It captivated minds, stirred hearts, and compelled people to take action.

Just Mercy, the award-winning film based on Bryan Stevenson’s memoir of the same name,  broke into our social landscape this winter much in the same way with hard-hitting realities and life-affirming lessons.

Since its nationwide release on January 10th, the film has proved itself a truth-teller for this time, echoing those same Gospel principles that call us to honor the God-given dignity of every person and oppose the practice of capital punishment.

For that reason, Catholic Mobilizing Network, the national Catholic organization working to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice, created a special Just Mercy Catholic Study Guide offering reflection questions, Church teachings, and prayers for people of goodwill looking to deepen their exploration of the film’s important lessons.

More than 10,000 Catholics have examined the study guide since its January release, and many have found creative ways to put it to use. Some incorporated the guide in their parish communities or church small groups for deeper engagement, others used it for solo reflection.

One user shared how the study guide’s reflection questions helped spark a powerful conversation with his family around their dinner table:

“I took my 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son to see the movie. [The study guide] really helped us talk about Catholic teaching, institutional racism, how bad things were in the past, and how some of the same problems remain.

We also talked about how as Catholics, when say we are pro-life it must be all human life at all ages — including those on death row — and unfortunately some do not hold or practice this belief.”

For Catholics, Just Mercy offers an important formational opportunity to understand the structural racism endemic to the United States’ death penalty system and how this broken system devalues and cheapens all human life. You can visit the Just Mercy Catholic Study Guide at catholicsmobilizing.org/just-mercy-guide.

Update: Just Mercy has been made free to rent on digital platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, etc) through June 2020!