January 26, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Six Adrian Dominican Sisters were among hundreds of justice and human rights activists who learned about the injustice, violence, and militarization at the U.S. border with Mexico – and who expressed their solidarity and support with those afflicted by the injustice.
The Sisters had taken personal time for reflection on this eye-opening experience before sharing their experience on January 22.
For the second year, Adrian Dominican Sisters traveled to Nogales, Arizona, to participate in the Schools of the Americas (SOA) Watch Encuentro (Encounter) at the Border, November 10-12, 2017. Participating in the event were Sisters Judith Benkert, OP, Patricia Erickson, OP, Anne Guinan, OP, Michelle Salalila, OP, Helen Sohn, OP, and Marilyn Winter, OP.
The Sisters’ participation in the Encuentro and their recent presentation on the experience were coordinated by Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.
The recent experience at the border “was much more of a witness to our solidarity with people who are coming across the border,” while the annual event at Fort Benning was “much more of a demonstration,” Sister Marilyn explained. For 26 years SOA Watch hosted annual vigils and protests at Fort Benning, Georgia, to protest the School of Americas there that taught Latin American military leaders skills such as counter-insurgency, military intelligence, and psychological warfare. In 2016, the organization begin hosting the Encuentros at the Mexican-U.S. border to call attention to the militarization of the area.
The Sisters began their Encuentros experience at the Eloy Detention Center, where immigrants accused of being in the United States illegally are held indefinitely, surrounded by the desert and four layers of razor-wire fencing. Sister Judith described the sense of solidarity as the group listened to music and poetry readings and, light-sticks in hand, walked in the desert evening to the detention center. In response to their chants of “You are not alone,” the detainees turned their lights off and on, Sister Judith recalled.
The rest of the Encuentro took place at the 18-foot, metal wall between Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico. “I thought I would find the wall much more depressing than I found it because of the space between the bars,” Sister Anne said. The space allows people to reach out and touch one another through the wall.
During the Saturday morning rally – with stages for music and speakers on both sides of the wall – the Adrian Dominican group split up. Three Sisters crossed to the Mexican side to experience the friendliness of the people, as well as artwork depicting the experience of crossing into the United States. They returned to the Hotel Americana in Arizona on time to join the others in attending workshops about the conditions and justice issues in the border area.
In one workshop, “Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico,” Sister Helen learned of the correlation between the increasing sale by the U.S. of ammunition, explosives, gun parts, and military firearms to Mexico, according to a study by the American Friends Service Committee. “The U.S. is not the only country selling arms to the Mexican government, but the U.S. has the biggest role in Mexico’s militarization,” she said.
Another workshop focused on “The Migrant Trail,” a program that helps people to share the experience of migrants who flee into the Sonora Desert in Arizona to find a new life in the United States. Many of the bodies of migrants who died in the desert are never identified, Sister Patricia said. “Participants say there is no way to replicate the experience of the migrants walking through the Sonora Desert, but [the Migrant Trail] does give some idea of what the migrants endured – and reason to advocate for change across the border,” she explained.
The experience culminated on Sunday morning with a rally on both sides of the wall – a time for integration, reflection, and prayer, Sister Marilyn said. After an hour dedicated to poetry and music, participants chanted a long list of names of people who had died while crossing the desert into the United States, or who had been killed by military forces trained by the SOA. The closing session also included scenes with puppetistas – huge puppets on tall poles – including the hopeful scene of two puppetistas shaking hands over the wall.
Referring to the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Mission, Vision, and General Chapter statements, Sister Patricia explained her reason for participating in Encuentro. “As Dominicans of Adrian, we state that we are outraged by the injustices of our day,” she said. “We pledge our lives to work with people who are relegated to the margins. We state we will advocate for systemic change. This is why I participated in the SOA Watch this year. When I do not educate myself on the issues of the day, when I do not demand systemic change, then I am complicit.”
Below, view a recording of the entire presentation made by the Sisters on January 22, 2018.
[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.