Progressive Catholic Coalition Joins in Solidarity with School of America’s Watch
My 3-day weekend in Columbus, Georgia ended enthusiastically this Sunday, singing one of my favorite Pete Seeger folk songs, Guantanamera, with 1000+ people in front of the gates of Fr. Benning, Georgia. I hugged new friends, and made a last-minute visit to Roy Bourgeois’ apartment while he gathered copies of his book for me, and other members of Progressive Catholic Coalition to take home.
This first School of America’s Watch (SOAW) experience in Georgia may end up my only experience in Georgia, as the 25-year vigil of peace and justice is moving to a to-be named location at the US/Mexico border in 2016. The vigil has dropped in numbers drastically in recent years, and with the discovery that border patrol are being trained at WHINSEC (formerly School of the Americas), located in Ft. Benning, it is a logical transition for the organization whose leader has suffered undeserved scrutiny by his own people—a quasi-reinvention in a new location.
I came to the weekend having known about the SOAW from attending Creighton University, where every year dozens of students organized and took buses to Georgia for the weekend, which was coupled with the Ignatian Family Teach-In. During my undergraduate years I’d seen the die-in on campus, I had friends who attended every year and I knew the name of the Jesuit Martyrs and Romero, more than I knew the name Bourgeois.
What I didn’t know when I arrived was that the Jesuit schools had pulled out of the SOAW in recent years, after Bourgeois was excommunicated in 2012 for his presence at Janis Sevre-Duszynska’s ordination as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest. I spent the weekend with Janis, who represented the Association of Roman Catholic Woman Priests Women with Progressive Catholic Coalition, to which Call To Action and several other progressive Catholic groups belong.
The SOAW weekend brought up many emotions—Disgust, sadness, empathy and rage at the Stewart Detention Center, where there are beds for 1,752 men and transgender inmates, who are detained without due process of law and suffer constant human rights abuses; Community, joy and union in my countless conversations with both other progressive Catholics and inquisitive on-lookers; a renewed curiosity in learning more about US involvement in Latin America, and hope, for the future of the SOAW’s movement of justice.
I also felt grateful—unbelievably grateful—that I was with an organization who stands next to Bourgeois. I am grateful that having the audacity to say that women should have the same opportunities for leadership in the Church won’t kick me out of my job.
There are many people who believe Bourgeois made a mistake by attending Janis’ ordination—that he risked giving up allies fighting for basic human rights, allies to resist Empire together. . . all for the sake of believing in women—in resisting the Empire embedded in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
I considered this stance while standing at Stewart Detention Center, listening to a young Latino man choke up at the microphone as he told us about his 8-month imprisonment at Stewart for his undocumented status in the US. I thought about the dire reality of so many immigrants in the US—the two sisters who stood on stage shaking as they told us about their brother who was detained in Stewart for nearly a year, only to be deported back to Mexico. Stewart Detention Center is one of more than 200 immigrant detention centers across the US that tear families apart and make criminals out of those most eager to begin new lives. (Here’s some good information about the terrifying reality of Detention Centers across the US: Detention Watch Network)
On Sunday I took part in the solemn vigil outside the gates of Fr. Benning—a ceremony to honor those who died at the hands of assassins trained in the SOA/WHINSEC. As names were read on the stage, participants raised their crosses to honor the dead, and said in unison “Presente!” The procession was stunning, as were the people who participated in it. Many had names of people they knew personally on the crosses, who had been murdered. I watched a young man, after the procession ended, shake with tears and grief next to the abundant white crosses which were placed in the fence surrounding Ft. Benning. His grief is the grief of every one of us, whose taxes go to support the schools that teach torture and murder.
In the midst of the sorrow for our country, for Latin America, I also stood with Progressive Catholic Coalition all weekend—I attended an inclusive Eucharistic liturgy co-celebrated by Janis and Jack Wentland, who was my companion for the weekend and organizer of Progressive Catholic Coalition. And during the liturgy, for the first time ever I was asked to be involved in the consecration—everyone who attended was invited to raise our hands in blessing, to say the words, too. That tangible involvement brought a whole new meaning to being a part of the body of Christ, to being in community. It was beautiful, too, to see Janis on the altar and the other women in our coalition participating fully in the celebration. The liturgy also spoke of the female spirit of God, Christos Sophia, which is audibly so very beautiful.
The ordination of women is such a bizarrely taboo topic in our Church—it has been so tainted by drastically harsh punishment that fear is palpable.
I know that religious communities are put in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to supporting the ordination of women. But I am still so disappointed in the Jesuit Universities I attended, slithering away from the “controversy”. What incredible support they could have been. The Jesuit Universities made social justice and SOAW trendy—I was told over 5,000 people used to attend the weekend’s events. All weekend I heard how it “used to be”. Sure, the weekend’s events were important–but what is really scary is that the messages of the weekend can’t be delivered as they were without the strong support.
As the SOAW marches forward toward the border I will be interested to hear from members and partner organizations about how Call To Action and other progressive Catholic organizations can participate.
It is the uniqueness of CTA’s independence, our roots and interwoven themes of justice that make our organization so valuable—the SOAW showed this clearly.
We stand with Roy Bourgeois and School of America’s Watch because we stand strong together, outside of institutional hierarchical fear. For this I am grateful.
by Sophie Vodvarka, CTA-USA Development/Communications Associate