The Voice

Blog: Georgia Trip Updates

Elisabeth Russo

Elisabeth Russo

Grace Armstrong

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Day 3

On the last day of the trip, Sunday, the Pres girls joined thousands of social justice advocates at the SOAWatch vigil on Fort Benning Road. Thousands of people gathered on the road leading to the gates to protest and stand “presente” to the victims of SOA graduates. Before the vigil began, four people jumped the fence onto the fort in civil disobedience. These four will face jail time while none of the SOA graduates have ever been investigated for their crimes.

The vigil was more like a parade; each person comes with white cross which has a name of a victim written on it and each person has time to put the cross on the gate of Fort Benning. Because bringing a wooden cross on an airplane is a safety hazard, we made a paper chain with our favorite quotes. The parade marched in U-shape, along the sides of the street and the fence. While the crowd rotated around the fence, the thousands of victims’ names are read and the crowd responded with “presente” and raising their white cross. Vendors with organic-cotton t-shirts and political buttons lined the streets.

When we finally reached the gate, we hung our colorful paper chain with the innumerable white crosses on the gates of Fort Benning. After, I stood back and looked at the white-covered fence. Then, it hit me that each one of those crosses were not just pieces of wood; they were lives, lives taken for no apparent reason by men trained beyond the gates where I stood. At that moment I was overwhelmed with the reality of the proximity of the school, the representation of the crosses, and the numerous names being read in the background.  As I stood there in awe, something inside of me changed. I realized that this school is not something that cannot be ignored and that I was going to be the voice of the voiceless.

On my way home I reflected on the experiences of the trip. I recognized that I emerged from Georgia a different person. My heart and mind was pulled in so many ways over the weekend that I was transformed into a person of better faith and greater love.

Day 2

On November 21, we went to the first full day at the Ignatian Family Teach-In. The day started with a prayer led by the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, guest featuring your very own Grace Armstrong. Although I am no stranger to public speaking, it was an entirely new experience to lead 3,000 dedicated Catholics in prayer. Granted I go to a Catholic school, but I have never been baptized, nor have I been an avid church-goer. The adrenaline rush was of another degree, as I stood on the stage speaking to religious activists about finding the God within us and within our world. Afterward, I realized that there was no turning back; I am now part of the Ignatian family. The prayer was followed by a series of more student speakers and advocates calling for social reform. From my fellow students I realized that change really does come from one because, when the cause is powerful, one quickly becomes many. Each person in that room of 3,000 was one person striving to leave their foot print on the world. Each of those foot prints together create the stepping stones to change.

At the end of the day all of the 3,000+ people gathered for a closing liturgy. The altar was set as any other Catholic altar is set. The procession song was the same as any church hymn. The priest seemed the same as any Jesuit priest. However, the liturgy was not any liturgy. It was a Mass of hope, of love, of change, of true faith. The songs were sung in unison, in adoration, in spirit that I have never experienced in my 18 years of life. In one of the closing songs, “We are One Body,” the body of Christ was wholly present. Every single one of the 3,000+ people at the Mass were singing whole-heartedly. Many schools linked arms and swayed back and forth as Pres girls do when they sing the Alma Mater. The liturgy brought together a community of people from all over the world to bond beyond beliefs, borders, or words. This image will stick with me forever because never before have I seen a group of people so strong in their convictions of faith and beliefs. During this time, I was able to be “presente” to myself and the others in the auditorium; the liturgy was a rejuvenation and revelation.

Day 1

The first day of the trip we woke up and went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, Georgia. At the center we watched a video about MLK’s life and work for social justice. The video was interesting because it illustrated his life in the context of the other civil rights events. The video included many parallels between MLK and Gandhi. I never understood that MLK got much of his inspiration and nonviolent methods from Gandhi. From the video I realized that Martin Luther King Jr. was not just another activist but he was educated about what he was preaching. He was a man that studied what he preached and ensured that learned from others as much as he learned from books. The museum at the Center was filled with pictures of King and other civil rights activists framed by famous quotes of the decade. After, we were able to visit the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr. It was hard to believe that he had actually lived right there!!

We, then, traveled two hours to Columbus. In Columbus, we attended the opening for the Ignation Family Teach-In. For the evening we sat with 3,000 other people from all over the country to listen to the director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, students working for justice and other activists. The theme of the Teach-In is “presente,” calling the community to be present to the voiceless. Therefore, each person brought their own story and perspective on how to be “presente” to the oppressed.

Stay tuned to see how the Teach-In progresses tomorrow!

Background

For the past five years Presentation has been going to Columbus, Georgia to attend the SOAWatch vigil. Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Operations, formerly known as the School of the Americas, is a military training school. Soldiers from South America come to the school to be trained by U.S. military personnel. However, in past, SOA graduates have been known to commit atrocities in their native countries, like the 1980 killing of Salvadoran Martyr Oscar Romero or the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, their maid, and her daughter. The vigil is held at Fort Benning to remember all of those killed by graduates of the School of the Americas/ WHINSEC. This year five Pres girls are visiting the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice and the SOA vigil to celebrate  the 20th Anniversary of the murder of the Jesuit priests. This year is the last year Presentation will be going on this trip because it is the last year the Teach-In will be in Georgia.

If you’d like to know more visit: http://soaw.org/

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