The “Deadman Walking” and the Concept of Communion of Saints
The movie Deadman Walking features a man involved in a complicated murder, whose action is seeking vindication with the help of a nun, Sister Helen, thus, introducing the concept of Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints is a catholic doctrine that refers to the unity of all believers, souls in the purgatory, and saints in heaven under Christ. In the movie “Deadman Walking”, Sister Helen Prejean volunteers to be Mathew Poncelet’s spiritual adviser after establishing a relationship with him. Poncelet is on a death row for killing adolescent lovers. Therefore, Sister Helen goes ahead to find Poncelet a pro bono lawyer who appeals for the reduction of Poncelet’s sentence to life imprisonment, however the appeal is unsuccessful.
Interestingly, Sister Helen does all this to Mathew in spite of the fact that he was arrogant, a racist, a sexist, and unremorseful for his deeds. The belief in the unity of all children of God under the Catholic Communion of Saints influences Sister Helen’s actions. She considers Mathew Poncelet as a child of God and not a murderer. She also convinces Poncelet to confess, and ask the victims’ parents for forgiveness, after learning that the court had rejected the plea to change the sentence to life imprisonment. Despite the Court turning down her appeal, she continues to act as Poncelet’s spiritual guide as he awaits execution. This is an indication that Sister Helen saw Poncelet as a child of God who deserves redemption and forgiveness regardless of the sins he had committed.
Sister Helen’s actions connect with the Catholic history in the U.S, especially concerning charity. The Catholic Church grew rapidly during the colonial era, and the church proceeded to establish charitable organizations such as orphanages, hospitals, colleges, and schools among others. Immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Eastern Europe, and Poland expanded the Catholic Church in America. By 19th Century, the Catholic Church had built impressive infrastructure within the Diocese managed by Bishops chosen by the pope. Before 1900, most of the Priests in the U.S were immigrants from Ireland and France. Women were not left behind, as many of them became nuns like in Sister Helen’s case. Most of Catholics in the U.S were working class before the Second World War. After the war, however, many people gained social mobility and moved into white-collar jobs and suburbs.
Nevertheless, by 1960s, the number of people who were interested in becoming nuns and priest fell. The Catholic Church continued to flourish in the U.S courtesy of immigrants from Latin America and Mexico. The universities and colleges that had been established by the Catholic Church grew, and people started to question the curriculum that adhered to Catholic Theology. In the 1980s, Catholic Bishops participated in politics and aired their views on issues to do with sexuality and abortion. The death sentence is also a political issue that also attracted the interest of Catholic Bishops in the U.S. The Catholic Church is opposed to the death sentence although the practice is still common in some states in the U.S. This explains why Sister Helen appeals to reverse Poncelet’s case from death sentence to life imprisonment.
The movie is a reflection of the Catholic doctrine of Communion of Saints that makes Catholics to consider fellow believers as children of God. The doctrine influences Catholics to engage in charitable acts and desist from judging others no matter what they have done. The doctrine also encourages reconciliation as portrayed by Sister Helen when she arranges a meeting between Poncelet and the parents to the teenagers he had killed.