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Back from the School of the Americas

November 23, 2010

By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team

Attending the annual vigil at the School of the Americas was a helpful, continuing orientation into the work of Mercy throughout the world. Just three weeks into my position with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Justice Team, I joined a couple of dozen Sisters, Associates, co-ministers and Mercy college students in a rally and commemorative prayer outside the gates of Fort Benning, in Columbus, GA, where the SOA (now known as WHINSEC) operates.

It was inspiring and humbling listening to the stories of what led them to attend, many for multiple years. They joined thousands of others calling for the closing of the school, whose graduates have included those linked to torture and death in their home countries.

Sister Kathleen Pritty, social justice coordinator for the Northeast Community, explained that she became active with efforts to close the SOA after helping a family from El Salvador who had fled the violence of the 1980s. With the support of some Quakers, the family found sanctuary in Albany, where Sister Kathleen was a school principal at the time. To avoid detention for entering the U.S. without proper documentation, the family moved from home to home and Sr. Kathleen was designated the children’s driver to and from school. After many trips to the annual vigil at the SOA, she says it’s still important to be there as a witness to the suffering of people in Central and South America, often due directly to U.S. government policies.

Angie Giuffre, an associate from Jamestown, NY, and vocations promoter for the New York, Pennsylvania and Pacific West Community, also reflected on her experience with the Sanctuary movement in the 1980s.

John and Zippy Doll, associates from Mobile, Ala., have more recent experiences of El Salvador. They have traveled there 13 times to deepen relationships with residents of a sister community to their parish. The couple is returning next week for the opening of a facility being named in their honor.

Jean Stokan, Institute Justice Team Director, carried both long-time and recent memories with her to the SOA. She has traveled to Central America numerous times over the past couple of decades, most recently in solidarity with Mercy Sisters and the people they serve in Honduras, where human rights violations have been rampant since last year’s coup. During the prayer vigil, which featured a litany of names of those killed by SOA graduates, Jean held a cross bearing the name of Roger Bados; she had met one of his relatives while in Honduras and learned about how he had been killed last year for speaking up for workers.

Others were at the SOA vigil with Mercy for the first time. These included students from St. Joseph College in New Hartford, CT, who expressed both feeling good about attending the event and overwhelmed by the issues presented and the commitment of others.

I look forward to journeying with them all in Mercy as we advance the goals of peace-making and human rights in addition to the breadth of other issues that fall under the Critical Concerns.

To learn more about the School of the Americas, click here.

To contact your legislators to urge them to close the School of the Americas, clickhere.

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