[Adrian Dominican Sisters are blogging daily about their experience at SOA Watch - Convergence at the Border from November 16-18.]
SOA Watch Encounter at the Border Wraps up with Ritual, Litany, and Celebration
November 19, 2018, Nogales, Arizona – While the first full day of the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch was a time of exploration and of in-depth study of the issues and conditions that have led to so much suffering at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Western Hemisphere, and the world, the closing day on November 18 brought a different set of experiences and emotions.
The final day – with events exclusively at the U.S.-Mexico border and the wall between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonoma, Mexico – wrapped up the weekend with impassioned speeches and music crying out for justice; a bilingual litany of the injustices suffered primarily in the Western Hemisphere.
For more than an hour, groups gathered on both sides of the border listened as the names of those who lost their lives because of U.S. policies in Latin America were announced. To call the people to be present in sacred space through the crowd responded, “Presenté!” Finally, the activists celebrated their hope for a better future with a performance of life-sized Puppetistas portraying an imperialist dictator, the Border Patrol, and monarch butterflies – the quintessential migrants of nature.
Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Coordinator of the Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation, organized the participation of a contingent of Adrian Dominican Sisters. Attending with her were Sisters Joan Baustian, OP, Maurine Barzantni, OP, Janice Holkup, OP, Barbara Kelley, OP, and Susan Van Baalen, OP.
“The litany of disappeared and deceased was longer than usual and was rendered beautifully by the way the names were proclaimed,” Sister Maurine said. The names read were primarily been of people who were found dead in the Arizona desert while trying to migrate into the United States.
Especially moving for many of the Sisters was the fact that many of the people who had died were identified in the litany as “unknown male,” “unknown female,” or “unknown person.” In many cases, the names and ages were called out, demonstrating how many people had died at a young age.
The litany depicted the loss of thousands of individuals not only through the calling of their names. Sister Janice said she was impressed by the paintings of many of the deceased – and by the re-enactment on the Mexican side of the border of their deaths. “As they read out the names of the people who had died, people lay down as if dead,” she recalled.
Sister Susan was also impressed by a new incorporation of a Jewish tradition: placing rocks on the graves of loved ones to show that the deceased had a visitor. Those at the rally were encouraged to find a rock and place it on the fence in front of the wall, as a symbol that the people whose names were called are not forgotten.
But while the reading of the names was sobering, the Puppetistas brought a spirit of hope and celebration to the closing of the weekend. Both Sisters Joan and Maurine marveled at the use of the monarch butterflies – symbols of migration but also of Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
In one telling moment of the presentation, the butterflies overcame the figure of the dictator. “I think it’s [a symbol that] goodness defeats evil – or that gentleness can overcome force,” Sister Maurine said.
In summing up the closing event, Sister Janice described it as “a union of the people on both sides of the wall being together in spirit, activity, energy, and recognition without the ability to physically contact each other.”
Wall Between Mexico and U.S. Looms Large as One Strategy to Divide Communities
November 18, 2018, Nogales, Arizona – The first full day of the 2018 School of the Americas (SOA) Watch Encounter at the Border was, in the words of Sister Janice Holkup, OP, more like two days. It was a day of both intense emotions and intense learning about the many barriers that are intentionally erected between communities by people in power.
Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Coordinator of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation, organized the participation in the Encounter at the Border of six Sisters from the Congregation: Sister Kathleen and Sisters Joan Baustian, OP, Maurine Barzantni, OP, Janice Holkup, OP, Barbara Kelley, OP, and Susan Van Baalen, OP.
The Sisters began their day of discovery by visiting the border of the United States and Mexico, marked by a miles-long, 18-feet-high wall topped by razor wire and surrounded by mesh – to prevent people on either side of the wall from reaching through the parallel metal slats that separates the U.S. and Mexico. At several points along the way, people are prevented from getting close to the wall by a second lower fence.
“It seemed unreal even though it was real,” Sister Janice said. “It was such a shock to see the immensity and the physicality of the wall running right down the middle of the street, dividing neighbors.” The wall divides into two what had been one city with open national borders – Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonoma, Mexico.
The visit to the wall shocked both the Sisters who had never been to the Arizona-Sonoma border and the Sisters who had attended the SOA Watch Encounters at the Border in previous years. Just a year ago, people could stretch their arms through the space between the slats and make a physical connection across the border. The addition of the mesh, the second wall around the wall, and the razor wire made even that physical connection impossible.
However, Sister Susan witnessed a hopeful activity that proved that even a wall such as this could never fully divide people. She described an activist on the U.S. side, after several attempts, lobbing a small piece of candy over the wall, where it was picked up and enjoyed by a man on the Mexican side.
“The wall is dehumanizing just by itself,” Sister Kathleen said. “Now it completely dehumanizes because it totally separates – it makes every attempt to separate the communities.” She added that the wall isn’t really necessary. “The fact that there’s no real evidence of Border Patrol along the wall is evidence of the surveillance that’s going on,” she said. “They don’t have to have people there. They’re watching all the time.”
Sister Joan perhaps spoke for the entire group when she said, “Having stood there and looked at the wall, I thought that if I didn’t do anything else weekend that [experience] would have been worth the trip.”
The Sisters balanced the physical and emotional experience of visiting the wall with an afternoon of workshops to add to their understanding of the situation at the Mexico-U.S. border and throughout the world. Workshops focused on topics such as the connection between the U.S.-Mexican border and the border between Israel and Palestine; the witness of families whose loved ones disappeared after crossing the border; arms trafficking from the United States to Mexico; and the “search and rescue” service of non-profit agencies in Texas and Arizona that help families whose loved ones went missing after crossing the border.
The workshops pointed out to the Sisters the systematic use of surveillance to control people seen as “the other.” Sister Kathleen noted that in one workshop she learned that Israel’s technique of surveillance of the people of Palestine has been used as a model for the U.S. surveillance of the border – and that this has created a new business. “Fifty surveillance companies now exist in Arizona as a result of this strategy,” she said.
The situation of migrants who try to get into the United States through the desert areas of the southern states was a major topic of the workshops. Sister Susan was struck by the enormity of the deaths that take place at the border between the U.S. and Mexico: 8,000 deaths across the southern U.S. border in the past 20 years. But non-profit groups and volunteers strive to help the migrants to survive their journey by putting out barrels of water along the way.
In discussion of what they had learned that day, the Sisters saw humanization as the key to improve the situation along the borders. It is only through dehumanizing or demonizing the migrants, for example, that some Border Patrol agents could have emptied the barrels of water set out to help the migrants – or slash the barrels so that they could no longer be effective.
“The key is to humanize others – respect their humanity,” Sister Kathleen said. Sister Janice, recalling the cruelty she had heard about at some of the check points, said one of the workshop presenters had said, “We must never get used to this, but must always fight such cruelty.”
While much of the experience of the day was disheartening, the Sisters were encouraged by their experiences. “I was struck by the sense of oneness among the people who are here,” Sister Susan said. “It’s almost like family. There was a sense of ease because we’re united in our trust in the mission and united in our care for the people who are suffering.”
Encounter at Border Brings Energy and Anticipation to Participating Sisters
November 17, 2018, Nogales, Arizona – When Six Adrian Dominican Sisters left their homes Friday in Adrian and Warren, Michigan, and Seattle, Washington, they knew they were not only heading to Nogales, Arizona, on the border of Mexico. They knew that their participation in the annual School of the Americas (SOA) Watch Encounter at the Border would take them to an experience of solidarity with immigrants striving to come into the United States – and often being deported or held in detention centers.
This is the third year Adrian Dominican Sisters have attended the event at the border, said Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Coordinator of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation, and who coordinates the effort. Attending with her this year are Sisters Maurine Barzantni, OP, Joan Baustian, OP, Janice Holkup, OP, Barbara Kelley, OP, and Susan Van Baalen, OP.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters began their participation in the Encounter at the Border on the evening of November 16 at a vigil in the Arizona desert outside of an immigration detention center in Eloy, Arizona. Talks, music, and poetry called attention to the presence of the privately-owned detention center, where immigrants are held indefinitely. The vigil was established as a time of prayer for those who are suffering; the desert land on which it was held was acclaimed as sacred.
Dévora González, field organizer for SOA Watch, thanked participants for coming and for standing in solidarity with the immigrants who are held at the detention center. She spoke of the importance not only of calling attention to the detention center, but also of speaking out against the pain, suffering, and death caused by the militarization of the border.
A young woman who had been detained at different times at the Eloy Detention Center spoke of her own experience. During her most recent stay, she said, she had little or no access to the warden and no way of knowing if her requests for services were received by the staff. Health care was difficult to access, she said, because those who requested it were expected to stand in line beginning at 4:30 a.m. During her time there, she said, her connections with the world outside were the moon and the presence of an owl, which reminded her that her ancestors were watching over her.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters spent time after the first event, reflecting on its impact. “It’s important to come, but there’s a sense of futility about it, too,” Sister Kathleen said. “How many people have to die in the desert? What does it take for people to treat other humanely?” However, she and Sister Maurine also felt encouraged by the large presence of young activists at the rally.
The Sisters also reflected on the suffering of the immigrants – which had led them to participate in the Encounter at the Border. “I found myself reflecting on the fact that I was inconvenienced getting here – getting up early, going through security lines,” Sister Janice said. “And I thought of the caravan of migrants. These people left their homes with all they could carry – they had children. I’ve been reflecting on their desperation. They knew they wouldn’t be welcome but whatever they came from was so horrendous that they had to leave.”
The Sisters also discussed the importance of attending events such as the Encounter at the Border. “Seeing the detention center was important and realizing that they [the detainees] could hear us if we were loud enough was important,” Sister Janice said.
“Something like this energizes me,” Sister Joan said.
“It gives you the will to continue,” Sister Susan agreed. “When you think about it, we’ve been responding to the call for social justice for so many years, and when you go to something like this, you get refreshed.”
Events on Saturday, November 17 – the first full day of the Encounter at the Border – will bring a Veteran’s March to the Mexican Border; a rally; workshops on both sides of the border; a concert; and a vigil.
Feature photo (top): Four of six Adrian Dominican Sisters who are participating in the School of Americas Watch Encounter at the Border in Nogales, Arizona, pause for a photo prior to a vigil near Eloy Detention Center. From left are Sisters Maurine Barzantni, OP, Janice Holkup, OP, Susan Van Baalen, OP, and Joan Baustian, OP. Also representing the Congregation are Sisters Barbara Kelley, OP, and Kathleen Nolan, OP.
November 15, 2018, Toronto, Ontario – Amidst 12,000 delegates from diverse world religions and spiritual beliefs, six women representing the Adrian Dominican Sisters took in the message of inclusion and peace of the Seventh Parliament of the World’s Religions, November 1-7, 2018, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Sister Susan Van Baalen, OP, Associate Joan Ebbitt, and Pastoral Minister Cathy Rafferty were chosen by lot to attend the Parliament as a gift from the Adrian Domincian Congregation. Also attending were Adrian Dominican Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, and Kathleen Nolan, OP.
Sister Esther saw the Parliament as an opportunity for participants to “deepen our understanding of global issues, transcend old barriers, and create loving pathways to inclusive peace, justice and love.”
Sister Patricia said the experience “was the chance of a lifetime.” Now marking its 125th anniversary, the Parliament of the World’s Religions has only been convened seven times since the first was held in Chicago in 1893. The theme, “The Promise of Inclusion and the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change,” articulated the purpose of the Parliament. Delegates represented about 200 faith traditions and spiritual beliefs from 80 countries.
The event began with an opening ceremony. Each of the other days focused on a particular theme in various plenary sessions and assemblies: Indigenous Peoples; women’s dignity; understanding and climate action; justice, peace, and reconciliation; and the next generation. The closing ceremony was November 7.
Sister Kathleen noted the strenuous schedule of the Parliament, and the multiple options for different events – for all groups of people, from children to scholars and activists – at each moment, even during plenary sessions. Typically, she said, she would eat breakfast, attend the plenary session – from 9:00 a.m. until noon – and then attend three or four breakout sessions before meeting others in the group for dinner. The dinner was followed by another plenary session, lasting sometimes until 11:00 p.m.
“You would have to send 50 people to get everything covered,” Cathy noted.
For the delegation from the Adrian Dominican Congregation, the Parliament was an eye-opener. Sister Patricia took the opportunity to attend programs and listen to a variety of speakers and people she met along the way. She encountered Wiccans and female Buddhist monks, listened to a presentation by a man who had physically transitioned from being a female, and spoke to two college women.
“The biggest surprise was the mass of diversity we have among us on so many levels – language, food, clothing, religion – and at the same time we’re trying to become one,” Sister Patricia said.
Joan was struck by the many presentations she attended and the encounters she had with others: a documentary on the experiences of three people who suffered through the U.S. immigration process; a panel of high school juniors and seniors who advocated for effective sexual education; and an elderly woman from Afghanistan who spoke of the constant violence and distrust in her country and the need for women to speak out. Joan said the woman’s message was that “when women are included, we’ll probably have peace. Women are wise and they must speak – and these women will change the world.”
Sister Susan said she loved the richness of diversity – both religious and cultural, along with the opportunity to “engage in rituals and serious dialogue with our indigenous North American brothers and sisters, and to participate with Hindus and Buddhists in their rituals. The inclusion of the fine arts reinforced the place of music, drama, poetry, and dance in the appropriate expression of religious beliefs.”
She added that she was struck by the inclusiveness of the more than 7,000 people there. “It was clear that those present were committed to making a better world through cooperation on issues as vast as climate control and world peace,” Sister Susan said.
The participants were also impressed by the qualities of the individual people they encountered. Joan takes hope in people like Vandana Shiva, an activist from India who has worked hard to heal Earth and was active as a member of the consciousness leaders during the 2009 Paris Climate Accord Summit, and in the many women recently elected to the U.S. Congress. “I think there’s great hope in that women are coming forth – they’re not standing down, Joan said.
People who stayed the course through dark and dreary moments impressed Sister Esther. She gave the example of Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician whose daughters were killed when an Israeli tank attacked their home in Gaza. He founded The Daughters for Life Foundation, a Canadian-based charity to educate Middle Eastern girls.
Likewise, Sister Esther recalled Sakena Yacoobi, a woman from Afghanistan, who is Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning for women and girls. She continues her commitment to educating girls, in spite of seeing some of the girls murdered and schools bombed. “I saw example after example of people living lives of compassion and love,” Sister Esther said.
“Everyone who spoke came from such a deep whole-heartedness,” Sister Esther added. “Whether they were working for the United Nations or nonprofits, there was such a whole-heartedness about following through what you say is important to you and believing that who you are and what you do and how you are in this world truly makes a difference.”
Cathy was impressed by her realization that the “vast issues and problems” of the world have a profound impact on individual lives. She gave the example of boarding schools of the past, in both the United States and Canada, in which Native American children were forced to conform to standard U.S. languages and culture and lost their own.
“We have a lot of head knowledge, but we haven’t brought it to our hearts,” Sister Kathleen said. In the case of climate change and its impact on the environment and the future of Earth, “we know the urgency, but we don’t have the will [to take action to protect Earth]. We haven’t brought it down to the heart as much as we need to, to have conversion.”
The Adrian Dominican participants came away from the Parliament with messages that they would like to bring to the rest of the world.
Sister Patricia has a greater sense of the need to listen and to “establish ongoing trust and respect for others. … I would like to bring people to a sense of respectful tolerance and appreciation for the other.”
Joan said the message she brings to others is the need to “pay attention to the suffering people and the suffering world. … My greatest learning was to recognize even more how much the Earth and the people are suffering and how we seem to have slipped backward.”
Sister Esther expressed the idea of going to the deeper message of our spiritual traditions. “If we do, we will be able to build a human community,” she said. “On the surface we’re different, but not in the depths. If we could go to that place, we might survive as a species and help our planet to thrive and flourish.”
Waiting at the Windsor Station for the train to Toronto are, from left, Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP; Associate Joan Ebbitt; and Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, and Susan Van Baalen, OP. Photos by Cathy Rafferty