Reflections of a First-Time Participant at the SOA Vigil

Reflections on the Protest at the School of the Americas

Pat Syoen attended the Vigil to Close the School of the Americas/WHINSEC for the first time in November 2007.  She delivered the following remarks during a worship service at her congregation, Community Unity Church of Christ, in Champaign - - and agreed to let us share them on


"You can jail the resisters, but you can't jail the resistance!"  You might call that the battle cry of the School of the Americas Protest and Prayer Vigil.


Becky and I didn't quite know what to expect when we arrived in Columbus,   Sharon Hunter-Smith from the Chicago Religious Leadership Network and Martha Pierce from the Chicago Metropolitan Sanctuary Alliance and the UCC Illinois Conference Mayan Ministry were there to welcome us and show us "the ropes". 


Our first orientation meeting gave us a taste of what was to come. It was at this meeting that I was hit with the enormity of the situation.  People from all over the country, various denominations and walks of life had come to protest the School. At one point I noticed a young man sporting a purple and pink Mohawk haircut in deep discussion with a Roman Catholic Nun!  It was great!    I was excited to see several Sisters of Providence from St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana including Sister Kathy Desautels.  I was able to tell her that she and the time she spent in prison was the main reason that I had decided to come to the Protest.  We stood and cried together.  I saw her several more times during the two days we were there and found out that one of her good friends was Martha Pierce from UCC.


We spent two days hearing the stories from survivors or relatives of families that were assassinated by graduates of the SOA.  Adriana Bartow of Chicago was there to place a cross on the fence in front of the school in memory of her children ages 9 & 10 who disappeared in Guatemala in 1985. Mary Lena Bustamante celebrated with music and dancing on Saturday. I watched her and thought that she was really having a joyous time.  Later I found out that her brother who was last seen alive at Matamoros military base in Guatemala City in 1982 hasn't been seen since.  We sang out in both English and Spanish our opposition to the torture, massacres, rapes, murders and disappearances that come from the hands of the SOA graduates. 


We celebrated the life of Companera Rufina Amaya, the sole survivor of the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador. Nine hundred people died that day.  Rufina died this past year after a life time of working for justice. Struggles for life and justice in Oaxaca and Colombia and throughout the Americas continue to face ever more brutal repression at the hands of SOA-trained military and polices forces. 


We sang in celebration of the countries that continue to take their soldiers out of the school. For over two and a half hours we remembered and mourned by name the hundreds of men, women and children who have suffered at the hands of the SOA just as we did here this morning. The impressive part was the number of high school and college students who were in attendance.  I know there was a group from the U of I.  I just was never able to catch up with them.  As Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of the SOA Protest said: the crowd is getting younger and larger every year.  We gathered together in a manner that reflects the world we choose to create.


As the time passed I began to understand Mike's passion and empathy for the people of Chiapas, Guatemala and Oaxaca. The suffering and injustice continues in these and other Latin American countries. The Protest and Prayer Vigil will continue each year in this country and I hope that in the future many of us will be a part of it.


I would like to close with a short mediation/prayer from Nan Merrill's Book Lumen Christi ...Holy Wisdom:


Injustice of any kind is NOT a human right.  Let me say that again: Injustice of any kind is NOT a human right. She goes on to pray:

Beloved of all hearts, You call us

to become agents of reconciliation

in this, broken world;

To live according to our divine birthright:

as witnesses to the power

of light over darkness,

of love over fear,

of awakening over a robot life.

Let us humbly acknowledge our arrogance

as a people and a nation;

let us make reparation through sharing

our resources wherever needed.

Let us embrace self-sacrifice over greed,

and co-operation over competition.

Enliven our hearts, O Merciful Healer

and guide us

as we hasten to repair the world

offering ourselves into Your Hands,

our hearts into Your Heart.

Lumen Christi ... Holy Wisdom

Injustice of any kind is NOT a human right.