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Mercy at the School of the Americas

November 19, 2010

By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team

It was five years ago that I first stood outside the gates of Fort Benning with thousands of other people calling for closing of the School of the Americas. Now I’m returning with about a dozen members of the Mercy family.

On my first trip I recall that for a full day we listened to speaker after speaker talk about human rights abuses that have been linked to graduates of this school, where the U.S. military trains officers from countries through Central and South America. This prepared us for the slow, contemplative walk the next day to the litany of names of the hundreds of killed children, women and men. The only sounds were the calling out of those names and the response following each one: “presente,” to acknowledge that we remember and honor them.

I’m returning this year in my new role on the Justice Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. At least 11 of us – Sisters who minister to the newest members of the congregation, coordinators of Mercy Volunteer Corps (a volunteer program for laypeople interested in serving the poor alongside the Sisters), and advocates furthering the Sisters’ justice goals – will arrive today in Columbus, GA, the home to Fort Benning.

Our witness throughout the weekend continues a decades-old legacy of Mercy concern for the activities at the school, whose name Congress changed a few years ago in hopes that would ease pressure on them to actually cease operation. The school is now officially known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), but that hasn’t erased the concerns.

Mercy presence protesting the School of the Americas (SOA) dates back to the early 1980s in Panama, the previous home of the facility. Some Sisters of Mercy were serving in that country at the time and stood in steadfast witness at the gate of Fort Gulick, the U.S. military compound there.

Sisters, those ministering with them and Mercy College students – often wearing colorful purple Mercy t-shirts — have come out in force since the facility moved to Georgia. They walk with our Latin American brothers and sisters, victims and family members of persons tortured, raped, assassinated, massacred and forced into refugee camps at the hands of SOA-trained troops who waged war against their own people.

This year, we especially remember the people of Honduras who have been affected by human rights abuses and we remember the blood sister of a Sister of Mercy who was kidnapped in early June.

We also remember the four women who were brutally murdered in El Salvador 30 years ago for their work among the poor and oppressed. A delegation of Mercy Sisters and co-workers will be carrying on their memory during a pilgrimage to El Salvador just a couple of weeks after the SOA vigil.

While we physically travel to Georgia this weekend, you can join us in spirit in any of several ways:

• Follow news of the vigil through SOA Watch, the organization that sponsors the annual event

• Pray for all those participating in the vigil and for legislators to open their minds and hearts to close the facility. You can find a sample prayer service here.

• Tell your legislators to vote for closing the SOA/WHINSEC. An email message to legislators returning for the 112th Congress resuming in January can be foundhere.

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