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Inspired by the apostle of peace Good Friday marks a year since Sister Karen Klimczak was slain, and her disciples continue her devotion to nonviolence

Sister Karen Klimczak was slain last Good Friday.

After her funeral, hundreds raised signs toward the sky that read "I Leave Peaceprints" -- a campaign for peace that Sister Karen had envisioned just before her death.

The Buffalo nun's death brought great sorrow and horror, but it also helped spread her message of nonviolence and inspired countless Western New Yorkers and people across the globe to work toward peace.

Today and April 14, the anniversary of Sister Karen's murder, Catholics, peace activists and those she inspired across the region will pay tribute to the woman whose life and death so uncannily parallels the story of Jesus.

Some will remember her at church services. Others will re-enact the Stations of the Cross in her honor. Many will say quiet prayers.

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has produced a documentary film about Sister Karen's life that will air next Friday and April 14 on Channel 7.

>Handing out crosses

Those who have been inspired by Sister Karen will try to continue her work, no matter how mundane the task, to make sure her message of peace and forgiveness lives on.

Matthew Smith recalled walking alongside Sister Karen last Good Friday through the streets of downtown Buffalo, just hours before an ex-convict whom she had taken into her halfway house beat and strangled her.

Sister Karen and Smith were participating in the second "Way of the Cross" Walk here -- where they and other Catholic activists made stops at Buffalo buildings that mirrored places where Jesus suffered.

Police Headquarters, in this context, represented the place where Jesus was arrested; the county courthouse on Delaware Avenue, where he was convicted.

"She thought it was a great way to connect our faith to the issues in the world," Smith said.

To reinforce that, Sister Karen handed out small crosses to fellow walkers that Good Friday, each emblazoned with the name of a recent murder victim.

"We were talking about violence and homicides in Buffalo," Smith recounted of his conversation with Sister Karen.

"She had a kept a running count in front of Bissonette House [the halfway house she ran] of days since the last homicide in Buffalo," Smith said. "She said, 'We're up to 23 days. I get nervous when we get this high, because I know another one is coming soon.' "

"Little did she know," Smith said, "she would become a victim in hours."

Smith, a coordinate with the Buffalo Catholic Worker, said this year's Way of the Cross, which starts at noon at the corner of North Division and Ellicott streets, will be dedicated to memories of Sister Karen and all the other murder victims in Buffalo.

"It's to honor her in part," Smith said. "But she would be the first to say: 'This isn't about me.' "

>Sister Jean's devotion

Sister Jean Klimczak, who bears a striking resemblance to her slain natural sister, is joining Smith for the walk today.

She pointed out that she recently learned that Craig M. Lynch, who has been convicted in Sister Karen's death, had helped the nun last Good Friday to prepare the crosses she handed out that morning.

But the walk will be just the beginning of the ways Sister Jean will honor her sister's memory between now and April 14.

After completing the three-hour "Way of the Cross" Walk, she will head to a 7 p.m. Good Friday service in SS. Columba & Brigid Church, where she will handle a PowerPoint presention on images of Jesus. At 6 p.m. on Holy Saturday, she will participate in a vigil organized by the Stop the Violence Coalition for a man who was murdered last Christmas.

And on Easter Sunday, she will pay visits to the families of others who have lost loved ones to murder.

On April 14, she will attend a small memorial service at SS. Columba & Brigid. The Sisters of St. Joseph, the order to which Sister Karen belonged, as well as members of the nonviolence center opened in her name in February, are all participating. The program includes a performance of the song "Peaceprints" composed by David Granville.

The church is reluctant to publicize the prayer service because it can't accommodate large crowds.

But Sister Jean and the church's pastor, the Rev. Roy T. Herberger, feel that a small service in the church she loved would be the best way to honor her memory.

Sister Jean recalled how her sister loved to dance in the aisles as SS. Columba & Brigid parishioners sang the hymn "This Little Light of Mine."

In a strange twist, it was a single candle that burned down SS. Columba & Brigid four years ago. It has since been rebuilt, with a giant stained-glass window that pictures the dawning of a new day.

"The 'little light' -- that symbol -- was the source of destruction," Sister Jean said, pointing out the parallels between her sister and the church. "It now has become a source of power, a source of restoration and new life."

>'She got things done'

For Maggie McAloon, April 14 will no doubt be a difficult day as she remembers her slain friend.

It also marks a self-imposed deadline to attend to all the projects Sister Karen would have had up and running by now.

"She would be on top of it," McAloon said. "Nothing escaped her, and it was done on time. She was very organized, and that's how she got things done.

"Us mortals," she said with a laugh, "are not as organized. But we've got to get it done."

McAloon had worked alongside Sister Karen at Bissonette House. She is now in charge of the "I Leave Peaceprints" effort, coordinating the printing and distribution of lawn signs, bumper stickers, lapel pins and magnets bearing the image and slogan that Sister Karen designed shortly before her death.

Last month, the giant dove-shaped sign outside the halfway house that counts days between homicides was refurbished. "A lot of the numbers were getting shabby," she said.

Work has begun on the garden outside Bissonette House.

"The daffodils are coming up," McAloon reported.

Now, McAloon is hoping to get out the last batch of mailings to potential donors for the Sister Karen Klimczak Memorial Foundation that will continually fund all of the late nun's projects.

"It's been slow, but it's happening," McAloon said of her tasks. "I think she's just glad it's getting done."

>Continuing her ministry

Like McAloon, Antwan Diggs believes that the best way to remember Sister Karen is to continue her ministry. So he is making sure that the Teen Center she had opened up next to SS. Columba & Brigid will be open tonight.

Diggs came to Sister Karen when he was released from prison and assigned to Bissonette House. The nun required residents of her halfway house to spend time at the Teen Center as a way to help them learn responsibility.

"When you get to know these little kids," Diggs said, "you realize: If we don't intervene, they're going to end up in trouble."

Diggs credits Sister Karen, whom he considers a second mother, with helping him turn his life around. Today, he works at City Hall, heading the Weed & Seed program. He also continues to supervise the Teen Center. He acknowledges that it has been hard since Sister Karen's passing.

"She did a lot of the administration," he said. "I've been able to get a few grants and donations. But we need to keep it going.

"There's not much in that area for kids. We've had some shootings in the area lately. It's important for that to be a safe place for kids."

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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