Bringing mercy and compassion and the love of Christ among the prisoners on death row: this is the mission of Sister Gerarda Fernandez, 81, who worked with the prisons in Singapore as a death-row counselor for more than 40 years until 2017. At that time, she “walked with” 18 inmates on death row, up until their executions. To the utmost surprise of the local Church, the Catholic nun, a native of Singapore, was included on the annual list drawn up by the BBC among the 100 most influential women in the world.
Sister Gerarda, born in 1938, told Fides News Agency: “I come from a family where faith and music were important. We sang and played various musical instruments; Our meetings and Sunday liturgies were dedicated to prayer in music. Three of my siblings today are consecrated.”
In 40 years spent visiting prisoners in prison, the moment she calls “special” was that of being close to prisoners on death row in Changi prison in Singapore. “God’s love for us goes beyond all understanding: this is the message we leave them,” she said.
Speaking of her work, she noted: “All the people on death row have opposed God’s plans and destroyed their young lives. But, thanks to the mercy of Jesus, God makes himself present and changes this last phase of their life. Many of them lived the miracle of conversion and transformation of their hearts. The Good Shepherd found his sheep. I had the privilege of being with them in the last moments of their earthly life.
“The call of God to walk alongside vulnerable people reminds me every day that God loved us first”, and gives them “healing and forgiveness through his love.”
A murderer, before execution, told her: “Do not worry sister. I know that God loves me. Tomorrow morning I will see him face to face.”
The nun says she “detests the death penalty which is cruel, inhuman and violates the right to life. Every life is always precious, even when punishment is required. Punishment and justice must always include re-education and mercy. We join many voices all over the world by appealing to our leaders to look for alternatives to the death penalty.
“Our prayer was heard: there is a review of the death penalty in Singapore and several prisoners on death row received a suspension from their death sentence.”
And she concluded with a sentence from the foundress of her religious institute, the Sisters of Charity of the Good Shepherd, Sister Maria Eufrasia: “A person is more precious than the whole world.”