Jesus said to the crowd:
“They will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
When I read these words from Luke this morning, I immediately thought of the people who were indiscriminately arrested by the Columbus police this past weekend at the Scholl of Americas Watch at Fort Benning. These people were a part of a larger crowd that gathered once again to give testimony—the testimony of the nonviolent Jesus. Their witness was against the School of the Assassins at Fort Benning, Georgia. The School of the Americas/Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Exchange Cooperation has trained thousands of military and police from South and Central America. Graduates have been implicated in the deaths of Archbishop Romero, the Jesuit martyrs, and the Maryknoll women martyrs not to mention countless advocates for social justice who have been killed and/or disappeared.
The Gospel compels us to cry out against the injustices perpetrated by the School. As the Gospel witnesses prepared for their nonviolent protest little did they know that undercover police officers sat among them. Little did they know that some of them would be arrested and hauled into court for trying to walk on a sidewalk. Little did they know they would spend 6 hours in court and be fined heavily for bearing witness to the Gospel of Jesus. Like Peter and Paul they would be released from jail in the wee hours of the night. Others, including Fr. Louis Vitale, crossed unto the grounds of Fort Benning and will serve federal prison sentences. Jesus was with them in their ordeal. Two Columbus based lawyers rose to their defense.
I have participated in SOA Watch twice. Nothing is a more powerful witness to the Gospel than the Sunday morning procession of thousands where the names of the victims of the School are chanted with solemnity as the participants raise their white crosses and respind solemnly, “Presente!” This is the ultimate experience of solidarity with our murdered brothers and sisters.
Yet the School goes on. A Catholic congressman from Georgia, Phil Gingrey, serves on the board of directors and unabashedly supports the great injustice perpetrated by the graduates. I tried to discuss my concerns with Phil, who was a high school classmate and friend, two years ago and he told me he would come and play a round of golf with me. I am still waiting on the first tee. Haven’t even heard from him. It is not self-serving to say that people turn against us when we espouse Gospel values, when we speak truth to power. A Catholic bishop serves on the board and likewise supports government sponsored oppression and murder of our brother and sisters who seek justice in South and Central America.
Government seems to be getting more repressive. Offices of peace advocates have been raided. Peace groups are classified as terrorist groups and kept under careful scrutiny. Why? It is because a professedly Christian nation chooses material comfort and maintainenece of a bloated lifestyle over the Gospel values of justice and compassion. SOA/WHINSEC is but one example of the extremes to which we are willing to go to oppress others so that we might live high on the hog.
Francis of Assisi told the bishop, “If we had possessions, we would need arms to defend the.” This is the Christmas season—consumerism run rampant. Before we go off on condemning others, we need to look into our own hearts and see how our STUFF causes pain and misery around the globe. Let there be peace and justice on earth and let them begin with me. Let us then speak with the wisdom Jesus promises and they will not be able silence or refute us.