Faith and the Duke Lacrosse Case
Below is a special letter written by our good friend Joan Collins. The letter was written at the request of Rae Evans based on their recent communications and it looks at an aspect of the Duke Lacrosse Case that, so far, may have been overlooked: faith. Indeed, we find through communications with the lacrosse families that faith was a great source of strength to them and guided them through this most difficult period of their lives.
We would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to and honor a very distinguished lacrosse grandparent who is no longer with us: Raymond Forker. Mr. Forker was a most devoted and proud grandparent of David Evans. He passed away almost a year ago without seeing his grandson declared innocent. May this loving grandparent rest in peace with the knowledge we all have that Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann had been falsely accused! They were the victims of some ‘fantastic lies.’
We extend our best wishes to the Evanses, Finnertys, Seligmanns and Presslers as well as all the other Duke lacrosse families. We are greatly relieved that their ordeal is finally over. These families showed endless courage, patience and hope throughout the lacrosse controversy and came out of it stronger than ever before.
Faith and the Duke Lacrosse Case
Some supporters became interested in the Duke Lacrosse Case because of ties to Duke University or lacrosse. For others it was thoughts that this could be their son, brother or grandchild. For many it was concerns that with the best justice system in the world how could this happen in our country. As for me, it was faith that brought me to this case.
Several players on the Duke Men’s Lacrosse Team were from my hometown. After hearing some of the media reports, I wanted more information, so I began reading the Court TV message board. I had never before read or posted on a message board or blog.
On April 25, 2006, a photo of Collin Finnerty with a priest appeared in the media. I soon learned that Father Peter LeJacq had devoted his life to serving as a missionary in Africa. In addition to being a Maryknoll priest, Father LeJacq, is a physician who has opened hospitals and trained doctors in Africa. He attended grammar school with Kevin Finnerty and has known Collin Finnerty his entire life. When some posters began referring to the priest as a rent-a-priest, I could no longer remain silent. My first post was “What better time for a family to be drawn to their faith than in a time of crisis!” Little did I know that post would draw me into a case that would consume me for more than a year.
On May 15, 2006, Dave Evans gave an inspiring and courageous speech to the press on the steps of the Durham County Courthouse, flanked by seniors of the lacrosse team, with his parents, David and Rae, standing proudly behind him. For me, Dave Evans epitomized Hemingway’s definition of courage namely ‘grace under pressure’. Convinced Evans was being truthful and that he, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were innocent of all charges, the thoughts of his speech remained with me for months.
On the morning of August 20, 2006, I decided to put my thoughts into words and wrote “Profile of Courage - Dave Evans”. I had no idea why, but I felt this sense of urgency to post it immediately. It was posted as a letter to Friends of Duke University (FODU) on August 22, 2006 after which I left on vacation. Upon my return on August 31, I learned that Evans’ grandfather, Raymond Forker, had passed away on the morning the profile of courage about his grandson was written and was posted on the same day as his obituary. The timing was an uncanny coincidence, but I was pleased that it had provided some comfort to the family as they prepared for the funeral.
Whether one believes in miracles or not, if ever a case needed a miracle it was the Duke Lacrosse Case. I decided to pray to St. Raymond Nonnatus, the patron saint of the falsely accused, asking that the case be dismissed. In the spring of 2007, I wrote to Mr. Evans that St. Raymond was the patron saint of the falsely accused. It was another coincidence that Rae Evans and her father, Raymond, shared the same name as the patron saint of the falsely accused. Later, I was touched by Mr. Evans’ testimony at Mr. Nifong’s trial about Raymond Forker and how the family had embraced the patron saint.
Well educated, Raymond was born to a noble Spanish family in 1204. His father had planned a career for him in the royal court of Aragon, but Raymond was drawn to a religious life ransoming Christian captives in North Africa. When his funds were exhausted, he surrendered himself up as a hostage to free another. Imprisoned and tortured, he converted some of his guards. To prevent him from preaching, his captors pierced and padlocked his lips. Raymond remained in jail for eight months until he was ransomed. He became cardinal, although he continued to live as a monk. Raymond died in 1239 and was canonized a saint in 1657. His feast day is August 31.
Over the past year, I encountered remarkable, resolute people in the search for truth and justice in the Duke Lacrosse Case. Their research, writings, poems, videos and cartoons energized us to continue. It was a privilege to meet and speak with some of the lacrosse players, their families and the Presslers. Their courage inspired me. The common theme of the conversations was faith and how it had sustained them, provided them hope, and at times carried them through some of their darkest days. When their university turned its back on them, when the media spewed vile things about them, when our legal system did not seem to be working, what remained were family, friends and faith.
Today I met Rae Evans for the first time. She was wearing a St. Raymond pendant and she gave me a special gift of a St. Raymond medal. Faith has taken me on a journey from that first post on Court TV about faith, to writing the Dave Evans profile of courage on the morning of Raymond Forker’s death, praying to the patron saint of the falsely accused and receiving the medal. The St. Raymond medal reminds me that with faith all things are possible.
None of us will forget the Duke Lacrosse Case. We must move forward and learn from the experience. The Duke Lacrosse team will become better and stronger men, sons, husbands, and fathers because of the case. This is not the end, but the beginning for there is still much work to be done. Hopefully, the players and their many supporters will follow in the generous footsteps of St. Raymond, so that something like this never happens again.
Reflecting on the events of the case, its effect on all those involved and looking to the future, the poignant words of Father Bob Joerger, a mission priest who spoke of the story of Lazarus at my church during the past Lenten season seem most appropriate:
"What seems like weakness becomes strength, what seems like failure becomes new growth, what seems like the end, becomes the beginning, what seems like ultimate depravity, becomes redemption, what seems like powerlessness, becomes power, and what seems like death, becomes the seeds of a new life."
Garden City, NY