2014 SOA Vigil a Place To Be

SOAThirty four years ago just around this time, our Sisters heard urgent news… the disappearance of our Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford.  We knew if anyone disappeared in El Salvador it meant they had been killed by the military death squads.  It turned out that our Sisters had been on an incoming evening flight and their two friends, Dorothy Kazal and Jeanne Donovan drove to the airport to pick them up.  As they started home, they were stopped just outside the airport, taken away, murdered and buried, just like so many of their beloved people.  This was ordered and done by men associated with or trained by the United States at the School of the Americas… the SOA.  Every November, at the Annual SOA Vigil at Fort Benning Georgia, their names are now sung, bringing back the sorrow of what happened thirty four years ago. … Still things have not changed for the better as has been made plain as we see the floods of children fleeing the threat of violence in El Salvador and other Central American countries.  This is an introduction to my blog which follows.  I ask you to sit down and read it in honor of my two friends and their co-workers, four who were so young, courageous and generous; who died December 2nd, 1980. ‘Presente’ and ‘Presente’ to the 75,000 with whom they died.


In the Biblical story of Noah after the floods began to subside Noah sent out a dove and because she could not find a place to ‘put her foot’ she returned to the Ark…

We are like this dove in the middle of a flood: violence in our cities that is exacerbated by police killing unarmed men… if they are black; corruption of electoral systems; wars without end; corporations hell bent on destroying our land, our water and our weather…for profit of course; Immigrants being swept up by Immigration and Border Police who then disappear them before our very eyes; vicious racism still alive and well…  If this is not a flood then we are really in denial, big time.

The problem for us is there is no Ark to return to!  So, that leaves us with a choice… while we still have one:  We either have to change ourselves and our society or live with the consequences!   Who did this to us?  Well, could I say, we were too busy watching football games?  How did this happen when there really were warning signs… and prophets who warned us. Resist the evil of our institutions or we will inevitably come to unending violence. Martin Luther King said it specifically, the six Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, our own Church Women testified to it by their lives.

I know one place to go before the floods get any worse.  It has been a place where memories are held with loving respect and voices are raised in truth and prayer.  It is a place where we can call those to be present with us who were massacred because their existence got in the way of power and wealth.  This holy place reveals the ‘how did this happen’… and is itself a connector of causes of our present day flood.  We call it the SOA.  It is a name that we refuse to change as it holds such tragic memories. It is a school that trains foreign military personnel how to torture, how to perpetrate the successful overthrow of national governments, how to set up the military into power, and even how to massacre locals and get away with it.  If we look at the history of the Central American nations now, the SOA has had a very big part to play in the present numbers leaving behind guns, fear… and man-made poverty.  That the SOA has set off this movement of people is demonstrated by those who murdered the six Jesuits and their housekeepers… by those who both ordered and murdered our beloved Sisters and Church Women. The SOA connects directly to the coup d’état in Honduras and to the present military ruler. Thus this school and its graduates are the dots that actually tie this history to the immigrant children now flooding our borders.

So, we go to the SOA year after year… Whom we met there this year, were people from all over the U.S. and beyond, two thirds of who were there for the first time.  They felt the need to connect the dots, to stand with people just like themselves and with those who were struggling against the flood.  This year those gathered were able to reach out and ‘touch’ one of the ‘dots’ connecting the escaping   ‘undocumented’ immigrants.

Leaving Ft. Benning we drove through beautiful but empty countryside to a little town called Lumpkin.  From there we walked together* the mile and a half to THE detention center… the largest in the nation, made to hold 16,000 immigrants, more people than live in the town. The first thing we saw when we arrived was the huge sign over the entrance of the facility, “CCA”, the company runs it:  As their website says: “Welcome to CCA, America’s leader in partnership corrections. We provide solutions…”  In other words it is a for-profit industry. This is why ICE is so busy collecting undocumented immigrants… CCA needs to fill this prison and others like it to make profit.  Depressing?  It reminded me of the Japanese concentration camps of the 1940’s!

The intention of our SOA Group was to stand in front of this abomination of all we hold sacred.  Here we prayed and sang and heard from a man who had been detained in that prison for one year and a half.  Five of our March volunteered to do civil-disobedience to focus attention on this hidden ‘dot’ and to do penance for our selfish and racist politics and policies, our Industries that negotiate in human lives.

Returning to the gates of Fort Benning we all gathered again to greet those who came to protest ‘The  School’ right there on the grounds of this military base.  On the street, music and talks had already started and booths were ready for the crowd.  We had our own table with Maryknoll pamphlets magazines and books, all hand carried!  Within a very short time all the books were gone.  The crowd, though small, was searching and found something to help ground themselves.  In the evening our Maryknoll Gathering reflected the larger group. The people in our circle came just to be with us as we shared our Maryknoll reality together with our faithful prophet, Roy Bourgeois, Founder of the SOA Movement

Then on Sunday we joined together in the solemn Vigil procession honoring, by name and song, the so many killed by former SOA trainees in El Salvador, Columbia, Guatemala and now Honduras.  All held high white crosses and as the choir sang the names we lifted them up with our sung prayer, ‘presente’.  We planted these crosses on the fence that surrounds the Entrance of Fort Benning and returned a second time to tie black ribbons on them.  Thus we came full circle to the precious ‘dots’ that are our own Sister Martyrs along with the many whose names and ages we hold in precious memory.

The SOA Vigil is a holy place place to be… maybe from among those who companioned us, some might even be able to hold back the flood we experience rising around us.  Where is your ‘place to be’… the solid and safe ground ‘to put your foot’?

* See the scene on http://soaw.org/