Three Hundred Religious Leaders Hold Prayer Vigil to Close the School of the Americas Print
More than 300 members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) from across the U.S. will hold a solemn prayer vigil outside the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, on Friday, August 16 from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. "It is our hope that this peaceful and public action will call national attention to the urgent need to put an end to an institution of violence by closing the School of the Americas," said organizer Mary O'Brien, a Sister of St. Joseph from Latham, New York.

The vigil is a gesture of solidarity with victims of political and military violence in Latin America and a demonstration of the sisters' opposition to the School of the Americas (SOA), which for years has trained Latin American political and military leaders. The sisters maintain that graduates of SOA have been identified as perpetrators of the assassinations of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the four North American church women, the Jesuit community and their staff at the University of San Salvador, and massacres of many other throughout Latin America. In the most recent finding, a June 28, 1996, Intelligence Oversight Board report says that at SOA, "executions of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment" are condoned in training materials. S.O.A. Watch, based in Columbus, GA, says the school has trained more than 59,000 Latin American soldiers, and that its graduates include some of the region's most flagrant human rights abusers.

"We believe our action is critical in breaking through the wall of ignorance concerning the true nature of the SOA," said Sister O'Brien. "The veil of silence about U.S. financing and training of Latin American militaries that abuse and violate human rights must be lifted," she added.

LCWR members have gathered more than 25,000 signatures in support of Representative Joseph P. Kennedy's House bill (HR 2562) to close the School of the Americas and establish an Academy for Democracy and Civil-Military Relations. These petitions will be presented to Representative Joe Kennedy following the prayer vigil.

The Fort Benning prayer vigil occurs on the eve of LCWR's National Assembly, August 17-21, at Atlanta's Hyatt Peachtree Center. Close to 1,000 sisters are expected at the Assembly, with the theme: "The Fierce Urgency of Now: Leadership for a Nonviolent World." LCWR president Franciscan Sister Nancy Schreck said the sisters' peaceful action at Fort Benning is a perfect introduction to the Assembly. "In his recent apostolic exhortation, Pope John Paul II, calls the world's religious to 'prophetic witness.' It is fitting that we, religious leaders of women in the U.S. stand outside Fort Benning as witnesses to nonviolence, calling on our government to stop exporting violence."

Across the U.S. on August 16, sisters will join in solidarity with their leaders at Fort Benning through local prayer services and vigils.

LCWR is composed of leaders of active orders of Catholic sisters throughout the United States. They represent more than 78,000, or 91 percent of the country's sisters.