By Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP
November 13, 2016 – Sisters Maurine Barzantni and Marilyn Winter and I came together recently to put into words for you, the experience of being at Standing Rock with the Native Americans and people from all over the world. We gathered there to bring attention to the need to protect the water and stop the building of the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL). This is no easy task, as being there was such a profound experience.
Driving out to the camp from Mandan, North Dakota – about a 40-mile trek across a wide expanse of prairie, hills, and valleys – gave some impression of the devastation that the building of this pipe line has brought to this particular plot of Earth.
As we approached the largest among the five camps and the one that we would spend our time visiting, we were not prepared for the expanse of this camp. We saw tents, teepees, campers, and flags of every tribal nation represented, waving in the brisk, cool wind. At the entry way to the camp, we were greeted warmly and directed to a place to park. Thus began two days of prayer, ritual, celebration, and conversation.
From the first moments we were invited to enter into the ceremony and prayer, which seemed constant. The Sacred Fire burns continuously day and night and provides a focal point within the camp for people to meet and pray. It was around the Sacred Fire that we celebrated the Native American Veterans on Friday, praying for them and with them as well as thanking them for their service. They, in return, danced the warrior dance to the accompaniment of drums and chant. On Saturday, it was at the Sacred Fire that we were invited into the women’s circle to share in the pipe ceremony.
The community spirit in the camp was palpable. Everyone offered a word of welcome and many thanked us for coming, as our sweatshirts identified us as Dominican Sisters coming in solidarity. Each moment among the campers – young, old, Native American, Black, Caucasian, men, and women – was an encounter with the holy because the sense of unity and peace was so pervasive.
We are so grateful to our Dominican Sisters, Julie Schwab and Toni Harris, who initiated this idea to go and be present at Standing Rock. We thank all of you who were praying with us and those at Standing Rock all weekend. We will continue to be in prayerful solidarity with our brothers and sisters at Standing Rock who will continue their action for the protection of the water for all of us.
[Adrian Dominican Sisters are blogging daily about their experience at SOA Watch - Convergence at the Border from October 7-10.]
October 11, 2016, Tucson, Arizona – Our final day of participation in the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch Convergence at the Border took on a more relaxed pace and some moments of discovery and celebration.
We attended a block party celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day – created as an alternative to Columbus Day. On our way, we came upon a sign for a Jesuit mission, Mission San Xavier del Bac. Our relaxed schedule for the day allowed us to explore the mission, experience a traditional, Mexican-style church in the middle of the desert and sample some Indian fry bread.
The block party was truly a celebration of the indigenous cultures of the Americas. It also called attention to the need for all of us to respect the land and cultures of the native peoples of this continent. We witnessed a beautiful, sacred ritual by members of the local peoples. Out of respect for their wishes and the sacredness of the ritual, photos were not taken, but we were able to absorb the beauty of the rite through our eyes and in our hearts.
During travels home, the Adrian contingent had ample time to reflect in conversation and in our hearts on our five-day experience.
We express our deep gratitude to God for the special blessings of this time; the General Council for allowing us to have this experience; to Sister Kathleen Nolan for organizing the contingent; to the entire Congregation for the support and inspiration through the General Chapter Enactments; to Judy Sender, Associate, and her friend Dan Garcia for helping us with our housing; to the Communications and Transportation Departments; to the organizers of the Convergence on the Border; and to the countless people we met along the way who provided inspiration, support, and companionship.
Holly Sammons, Dominican Volunteer, and Sisters Kathleen Nolan, Maurine Barzantni, Judith Benkert, Mary Ann Dardy, and Barbara Kelley
October 10, 2016, Nogales, Arizona/Nogales, Sonoma, Mexico – A highlight of this year’s School of the Americas (SOA) Watch Convergence at the Border came on Sunday morning, when activists gathered at both sides of the Mexico-U.S. wall for a final rally.
We spent a good deal of the scorching morning listening to musicians and to people who testified to their own experiences with the militarization of the border.
We felt the solemnity and reverence in the air as the names and ages of people who died at the hands of military personnel trained at School of the Americas were chanted. To each name we responded, “Presente,” confirming that the person was with us in spirit.
The rally ended on a note of hope and celebration, however, with a short play that depicted the story of life in the Americas before and during the arrival of the Europeans. Although the play with the larger-than-life puppetistas showed the death and destruction of so many people, hope was beautifully represented by a flock of monarch butterflies and – in one very touching moment – two hands that clasped one another over the border wall.
After the rally, we continued to make special connections. Our first stop before we left Nogales was to Sacred Heart Parish, an old church standing on a hillside. Sacred Heart Church has significance for the Adrian Dominican Congregation, since some of our Sisters had taught there, and our beloved Mother Gerald Barry had entered the Congregation from this parish.
After the noon Mass, we made connections with two of the parishioners: a relative of our Sister Margaret Karam, OP, and Jerry, who had volunteered at NETWORK, a Catholic Justice Lobby, and worked with Sister Carol Coston, OP, founding director of the lobby.
We connected again with Judy Sender, an Adrian Dominican Associate, who provided hospitality at her home.
During activities on Saturday, we encountered two other Adrian Dominican Sisters: Sister Maureen Gallagher, OP, who selling tote bags and other articles created by the women of a co-op at Centro Santa Catalina in Juarez, Mexico, and Sister Durstyne “Dusty” Farnan, OP, in her new ministry as director of justice and peace for the School Sisters of St. Francis.
Our connections with our Sisters, friends and family members of our Sisters, and – perhaps most importantly – with other activists who are trying to bring justice, peace and unity into our world have made our experience at Convergence at the Border particularly meaningful – and hopeful.
October 9, 2016, Nogales, Arizona/Nogales, Sonomoa, Mexico – Saturday, October 8, brought the Adrian Dominican contingent to the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch Convergence on the Border into special encounters on both sides of the Mexican-U.S. border. In addition, we had the opportunity for deeper study of the conditions of the border and underlying causes of global injustice.
The first formal event of the day was a march to the border, where a rally was planned on both sides. During our march, we were given a choice: go one way to cross into Mexico for the rally and another way to stay in the United States.
Sister Mary Ann, seeing how burdened I, Sister Barb, was with my camera, camera case, and purse, offered to carry my purse. In the course of the march, the group was separated. This was a concern, since my passport was in my purse. While looking for them, we crossed into Mexico, which was amazingly easy; it didn’t even require a passport. Getting back into the United States without a passport, however, would not be so simple.
With the help of many the six of us were reunited. In the meantime, our group wound up waiting on a bench in Mexico, sitting across from the notorious wall. We had ample time to contemplate the rather ugly metal-slatted wall and its effects on the lives of so many people.
Shortly after we were reunited we decided to return to the United States for the rest of the day to attend workshops, allowing us to deepen our understanding of the situation in the world:
During a brief break after our workshops, we discovered to our delight that the people of Nogales – perhaps both in the United States and in Mexico – are pleased with the presence of the SOA Watch Convergence of the Border. Carmen, our waitress, spoke of the excitement of the staff of Hotel Americana about our presence and their hopes that we would return to their city and their hotel next year.
The final formal event of the day was a moving interfaith prayer service on both sides of the border. The candlelight vigil included a special prayer and blessing by an Aztec woman, reflections by representatives of various faith traditions, and music. The prayer service called for the day when people on both sides of the wall would be united – and when the wall would be torn down as people throughout the world come to understand their shared humanity.
October 8, 2016, Tucson, Arizona – The Adrian Dominican contingent to the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch Convergence on the Border began the opening day of the event on their patronal feast day, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. After a hectic travel day, we enjoyed a good night’s sleep and a leisurely breakfast at the hotel.
The first event of the day took us to the Student Union of the University of Arizona to view quilts created by the Activist Quilters for the Migrant Quilt Project, founded in 2007 by Jody Ipsen. The quilts – made of material found in the desert left by migrants who had tried to cross the border – document the number of migrants who died in the Tucson sector desert in a particular year.
Perhaps the most moving and disturbing of these quilts depicted human skulls representing each person who died, giving (if possible) the name of the migrant and the cause of death. Causes of death ranged from heat exposure or hypothermia to injuries caused by blunt instruments, hanging, or shooting. Many of the bodies were discovered too late to identify the name or even the cause of death. These precious mothers or fathers, sons or daughters to somebody were labeled simply and starkly as desconocido (unknown).
From there, we traveled to the Capuchin residence for a gathering of about 15 women and men from religious communities who talked about what had drawn us to this activist weekend. One young woman, the coordinator of the AmeriCorps program for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, told her own moving story as the daughter of “undocumented” parents who had emigrated from Mexico. Through her ministry of teaching children immigrant children, she realized her own personal story, encouraged her mother to tell her story of immigration, and recalled the fear in which she lived her childhood.
We heard more heart-breaking and disturbing stories later that afternoon during a rally outside the Eloy Detention Center in a desolate area of the Arizona desert. More than 1,000 immigrants – whose only “crime” was to come to the United States in search of a better or safer life – are detained in the privately-owned center, with little regard for their medical needs.
Former detainees spoke of the treatment they received. One woman lost her baby during her time in the center, and one man did not receive the treatment he needed for his prostate. Members of Puente, an activist group that seeks the closure of the detention centers, read out loud the names of 150 people who died in Elo Detention Center. Yet, as the desert sky began to take on the bright colors of sunset, the rally also included songs, music, and the sense of a celebration of life – with hopes that one day we would all learn to be one united human race.
October 7, 2016, Tucson, Arizona – Our first day of the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch Convergence at the Border weekend was a time of gathering and connection, and anticipation. We – Sisters Kathleen Nolan, OP, Maureen Barzantni, OP, Judith Benkert, OP, Mary Ann Dardy, OP, and Barbara Kelley, OP, and Dominican Volunteer Holly Sammons – came together from Adrian and the West to the High Desert of Tucson.
After a full day of travel, we connected with two of our Sisters now ministering in the Diocese of Tucson — Sisters Lois Paha, OP, and Charlotte Swift, OP — over dinner in a local Mexican restaurant. With us in spirit were Sister Renee Richie, OP; Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, (who could not attend the SOA Watch event because of Hurricane Matthew), and Sisters Mary Anne McElmurry, OP, and Judith Bisignano, OP, who minister in Tucson but were unable to attend the dinner. We also felt connected in a special way with our Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates throughout the Congregation who share our commitment to justice and peace – and a special connection and sense of gratitude to Sisters Mary Irene Walker, OP, and Rosaire McAuliffe,OP, whose generosity provided our festive dinner.
The team concluded the first day with a brief meeting to plan the next day, to ensure that we make the most of our time at the Convergence on the Border. We also took the time to share our feelings of anticipation and of commitment to this weekend. The Convergence on the Border will give us the opportunity to stand as witness with other people who share our commitment to bringing about a just and merciful immigration policy and to drawing attention to the militarization of our borders. We feel our participation in this event, and our Congregation’s support, is one way that we are living out the General Chapter Enactments.
October 6, 2016, Nogales, Arizona – Through the efforts of the Office of Global Mission, Justice, and Peace, a contingent of seven are traveling to Nogales, Arizona, for the first-ever School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) Convergence on the Border, October 7-10, 2016.
Participants traveling to Arizona – Sisters Kathleen Nolan, Maurine Barzantni, Judith Benkert, Mary Ann Dardy, Patricia Erickson, and Barbara Kelley, and Dominican Volunteer Holly Sammons – will join other Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates in the Tucson area for this historic event.
Traditionally, activists have gathered at the former School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia, a military school operated by the U.S. government to train military officers of other countries. SOA Watch has led in the protest of the murders of the people of Latin America by officers trained at SOA.
This year’s Convergence at the Border focuses on the broader issue of the militarized U.S.-Mexico border. Special events include vigils, rallies, speakers and various other events.
Return to this article daily for updates as Adrian Dominican participants blog about their experiences at the Convergence on the Border.
Editor’s Note: We received notice on Wednesday that Sister Patricia Ericson, OP, won’t be joining the group in Arizona because she is helping evacuate 700+ immigrant children from her workplace at Homestead Air Force Base Florida due to the threat of Hurricane Matthew.