TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – A Catholic priest who has exchanged letters and met with Timothy McVeigh urged his parishioners Sunday to forgive -- but not forget -- the Oklahoma City bomber's deadly act.
"Our God, through Jesus, asks us to embrace Timothy McVeigh. Not with judgment, leave that to God. Not with execution, our church is against that. But to embrace him with love, with compassion, with a desire to understand him," the Rev. Ron Ashmore said at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church.
"Trust me -- in that way, God changes us," Ashmore said during a morning service at the stone church, which is allowing death penalty opponents to stage vigils there.
Some parishioners said they took Ashmore's words to heart.
"What I don't like to see, and I see so much, is people wanting vengeance, and I hope their hearts can be changed," Kay Brentlinger said.
While Sunday's service was not structured around McVeigh's Monday execution, Ashmore referred to him and the 168 victims of the 1995 bombing several times. The church program also contained a list of all the victims, along with quotes from death penalty opponents.
Afterward, Ashmore, who has talked with McVeigh at the prison just a couple of miles away, said he believed McVeigh was at peace.
"Personally, I believe Tim will be in heaven, with -- as strange as it may seem -- all of those people who died by his violent act, a horrible act, an act of darkness and what we would call sinful," Ashmore said. "But God doesn't judge us by the worst action of our life, but judges us by the movement of our heart toward him."
Ashmore said he last corresponded with McVeigh a week before his initial May 16 execution date. The priest said he sent a letter to McVeigh about a week ago, but did not expect to receive a reply because of the impending execution.
Ashmore said McVeigh, described as an agnostic by some who know him, believes in God, "but maybe not the God you believe in."
"If I were Tim, and I heard those people who say they are followers of Jesus express such hatred to him, condemning him to the deepest regions of hell, I wouldn't believe in that God either," Ashmore said.
Ashmore said McVeigh was not afraid of death.
"He's dealing with the fact that he is the most hated man in the United States at this time," he said. "He is loved by some, and some people have been able to share that acceptance of love.
"Hopefully that light of those who have loved him -- his father, his sister, myself, his lawyers and some other people -- hopefully that in the end will be what Tim carries through death into the kingdom, not all the hatred that is around."
The Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods held a special 20-minute prayer service early Sunday night for McVeigh in which they prayed for God to be with him in his final hours.