Toni Rossi, Director of Communications
My last column documented Jeanne Bishop’s determination to follow in Jesus’ footsteps by forgiving David Biro, the teenager who had murdered her sister, believing him to be a repentant and changed man after 23 years in prison. That experience led Jeanne to share other stories of mercy as well, as she does in her Christopher Award-winning book “Grace From the Rubble.” It was inspired by Jeanne’s friendship with Bud Welch, whose daughter Julie was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh in the hopes of inspiring a revolution against the U.S. government, the attack killed 168 people.
Bud was especially close to Julie, whose Catholic faith sustained her. She attended Mass and received the Eucharist daily. After the bombing, Bud was filled with hate for McVeigh and began “blackout drinking” every day, leading the customers at his gas station to say, “You are killing yourself with this hate.” He responded, “The sooner I die, the sooner I get to Heaven to see Julie again.”
During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Jeanne noted that Bud eventually came to see “that grief and rage were consuming him.” After reflecting on McVeigh’s motives, Bud realized that executing him would just be “more retaliation, more revenge, more bloodshed. Where does this cycle end? It has to stop. It has to stop with me.”
That epiphany led Bud to more deeply embrace his own Catholic faith, as well as vocally oppose the death penalty for Timothy. He also felt motivated to reach out to Bill McVeigh, Timothy’s father, who lived near Buffalo, New York, and was also a Catholic. Bud traveled to Bill’s home and came to know him as a quiet, humble man who was shocked and appalled by what his son had done. Timothy had grown up as an unremarkable kid who never got in trouble, but he got radicalized after joining the military and befriending the two other men who would be his co-conspirators.
Bud told Bill, “I don’t hate your son. I don’t want him to die. I don’t hate you. I don’t blame you as a father for what he did, and I’m going to do everything I can to try to stop this killing in my daughter’s name.”
Bill deeply appreciated this. He understood that Timothy deserved life in prison, but his heart broke at the thought of him being executed. In the end, the efforts to spare Timothy from execution proved futile. An argument can be made that he got what he deserved, but Jeanne believes that after several decades in prison, he would have repented of his crime. “Instead,” she added, “we executed him before he had a chance to be sorry, to express that remorse, because he never did.”
The story of Bud and Bill – and Jeanne’s experience with David Biro – find their roots in Jesus on the cross saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jeanne concluded, “Once when I was talking on the radio about this story, this woman called in very angry, and she said, ‘You’re telling me I have to forgive, and I never forgive the person who murdered my brother.’ And I said, ‘I’m not telling you that you have to forgive. I’m telling you I had to forgive.’ I don’t know how people do this without that Holy Spirit of God working on your heart and changing it. I can only tell you, I don’t think I could have done it without that.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note Become A Model Of Christlike Mercy, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org