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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.