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placeholder Alameda mother forgives her son’s killer

Research shows no connection between death penalty, deterrence

Death penalty opponents: life sentence is more effective, cheaper alternative

Father John Direen named pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Berkeley

Funding cuts hurt Mercy Brown Bag

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Closing Pauline year, pope reveals results of tests on apostle’s tomb

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Iranian actress uses film to fight injustice in ‘The Stoning of Soraya M’

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Sociologist explores generational gaps in Catholic Church

Natural Family Planning, way to responsible parenthood

• Quizzes can help married, engaged couples
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Sister Martha Bendorf, SNJM

placeholder July 6, 2009   •   VOL. 47, NO. 13   •   Oakland, CA
Alameda mother forgives her son’s killer

Troy Lancaster

Sally Lancaster has been practicing major forgiveness for much of her adult life.

Eighteen years ago, Lancaster’s baby girl, Rebecca, was accidentally run over and killed by her grandfather in the driveway. “My dad never forgave himself,” Lancaster said. But she did.

Then on August 4, 2008, Lancaster’s 19-year-old son, Troy, was shot and killed by Michael Edgar, a 20-year-old acquaintance, recently out of jail on parole. Sally Lancaster has forgiven him, too. She told him so, this past May 26, the day he was sentenced in Alameda County Superior Court to serve 51 years to life in state prison for the crime.

Lancaster said she prayed God would show him mercy.

“When we forgive someone, it allows us to release so much anger and pain,” Lancaster acknowledged in a Contra Costa Times newspaper story May 29. “It’s not for us to judge what makes some people do what they do.”

“The world has so much hatred and violence that sometimes people take death lightly, especially young people,” Lancaster told the Times.

“Forgiving him was the least I could do. We all have to work with what we have. I think that’s what is intended for us.”

Ironically, the day of the sentencing happened to be the feast of St. Philip Neri, patron of the Alameda parish where Lancaster and her children worship.

Sally Lancaster

Grieving mother finds
comfort, strength in faith

Sally Lancaster has shared the story of her faith around her son Troy’s murder with St. Philip Neri Parish on several occasions, including this past Good Friday. Here are some excerpts from her talk:

“After my son Troy passed away, I could address our Blessed Mother with the same words as Christ spoke from the cross, ‘Mother, behold thy son.’

“As I reflect and wonder what kind of mother I might have been to Troy, I am both relieved and saddened. Sometimes I got it right, I would think. Yet I look back at the times I could have handled the situation better. We mothers probably all could improve to some degree when it comes to nurturing our children.

“When I think of Troy as a baby, just a few months old, napping upstairs at home, I remember the 1989 earthquake shaking our house. Everyone who could do so ran outside. I ran, too. I went back to get Troy, but I could not make it up the 17 stairs to the room where Troy was napping because the walls and stairs were shaking so much. I had to wait and hope that God would keep him safe for me and take care of him, while I waited with my other six children. When the house stopped shaking, I ran to him. Did I do the right thing?

“The earth also quaked at the time of the crucifixion. There was Mary, staying with her son, no matter what. If she was fearful, one would not know it. She stayed with her son because that’s what a mother does. So, when there are times where we cannot or will not be with our sons when we would want to be, we can always call on Mary and entrust our children to her tender care to watch over them.

“Even when my son may possibly be suffering in Purgatory, his Blessed Mother can offer her tender words to him, ‘There, there, my son, it will all be over soon. Then you can enjoy peace with my Beloved Son, forever in the heavenly Kingdom God made for us all.’

“My prayer now is, ‘Please, Blessed Mother, behold my son.’”

In a Voice interview, Lancaster related the events of her youngest son’s last day on earth. Just hours before he died, Troy had attended an evening vigil Mass, reading over the Scripture passages to himself, “almost like he knew,” recalls his mother.

A 2007 graduate of Alameda High School, Troy had recently started a job at the Alameda Theater and Cineplex on Central Avenue. His mother said her son received a call from Michael Edgar’s girlfriend, asking if he could pick up a theater application from her at the Esperanza public housing complex in Alameda. Both Troy and Michael liked the girl.

According to the Contra Costa Times story, Edgar was angered when his girlfriend told him that Troy had been text messaging her. Edgar was also upset because Troy had chided him for taking a cheap shot at a mutual friend during a physical fight that took place just hours before the slaying, according to prosecutors.

The news story reported that during Edgar’s preliminary hearing, a girl testified that she was watching television with her younger sister when she heard a gunshot and looked into the complex courtyard from her second story bedroom window in the Esperanza building. Lancaster was on the ground and the shooter was standing over him with his arm outstretched pointing down, apparently holding a weapon.

Lancaster was shot with a small caliber handgun around 2:50 a.m. police said. He died several hours later at Highland Hospital in Oakland.

From the very onset of the tragedy, Sally and Cliff Lancaster and their remaining six children have been supported by St. Philip Neri parishioners. Several of them accompanied the family to court.

Greta Rosenberger, director of RCIA and adult faith formation in the parish, said that Sally Lancaster goes to daily Mass and “prays the rosary with us after Mass.” She is also a regular attendee at the Monday evening prayer/Scripture study and a monthly women’s group.

Lancaster’s reaching out in forgiveness to her son’s killer is characteristic behavior, said Rosenberger, noting that the grieving mother sees tragedy as something to surrender to. “She has a great trust in God’s perfect plan and knows that God is using Troy to pray for her entire family right now.”

Lancaster told Rosenberger that she expects that Troy is praying for the young man who murdered him, so that both men may one day be friends in heaven.

Lancaster said she is able to cope with her son’s death in this faith-filled manner because she believes Troy “was at the peak of who he was when he died. He could have spiraled down, but he was trying to pull himself together. I think God permits things to happen and we don’t see the bigger picture.”

Part of the bigger picture might be the impact her son’s death has had on his friends. “They’re starting to change and to better their lives by getting jobs and going to school. That’s really neat.”

Lancaster adds that they’ve “put more value on life and gone deep about spiritual matters because they could be taken away too, like Troy.”

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