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Mass for peace turns into stage for various causes


The Mass for Peace concelebrated by 285 prelates at the National Shrine here Nov. 12 was far from peaceful. Demonstrators seeking ordination for women, other demonstrators -- gays and lesbians -- seeking further discussion with church officials and a lone voice calling out “end the killing in Afghanistan” all took their turns disrupting the liturgy and kept ushers and security personnel on their toes.

Several of the bishops may have seen what was coming as they gazed from their bus windows at the eight women wearing purple stoles gathered along Michigan Avenue outside the shrine. As eight busloads of bishops sped by, each escorted by District of Columbia police cruisers, their sirens screaming and lights flashing, the eight women demonstrators hoisted their placards high.

In eight languages their signs called for the ordination of women. Several passing motorists honked, some lowering their windows to cheer the women. Once inside the church at least one of the demonstrators found her voice.

“Justice for women in the church,” shouted the diminutive Janice Sevre-Duszynska as the congregation finished the responsorial psalm: “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.” When ushers spotted her in her white alb and purple stole, they asked her to sit down. “No, I will not sit down,” she protested in a voice louder than that of U.S. Navy Admiral William Fallon, who continued to read from Ephesians despite the ruckus.

As a group of five men -- one a priest -- escorted her out, Sevre-Duszynska shouted, “How dare you sing that song? You’re not on the prophetic message Jesus had for his church.”

A year ago Sevre-Duszynska staged a one-woman demonstration at the bishops’ annual meeting and sat cross-legged until police were called and she was removed. She was later banned for three years from entering the Hyatt Regency Hotel, site of the annual bishops’ meeting. Undaunted, the Lexington, Ky., teacher has spent the 12 months since writing four letters to each of the bishops and making a purple stole for each prelate.

“There’s no purple cloth left in the city of Lexington,” she told NCR. There’s also no bishop who has been seen in the nation’s capitol sporting one of the handmade items. However, a handful of bishops did speak to Sevre-Duszynska and her cohorts during their silent witness outside the Hyatt Nov. 11.

When asked what she expects from the bishops, she said; “I want them to be Easter morning men, to believe in the Good News announced by a woman, Mary of Magdala, the apostle to the apostles.”

But when NCR asked Bishop Wilton Gregory, the newly elected president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, if he might have to deal with the question of women’s ordination during his three-year tenure, he answered: “The issue is not ours to determine.” Protesters show up for “their moment of glory,” he said, but often the questions they raise “have already been decided.”

“We can’t step back from our faith and our discipline,” Gregory said. “The church does not have the authority to change the Sacrament of Ordination.”

Shortly after Sevre-Duszynska was ushered out of the shrine, a gray bearded man, Tom Siemer, rose at the conclusion of Bishop Joseph Fiorenza’s homily on peace. Shouting, “The pope tells us not to kill. So what are we doing in Afghanistan?” Siemer, too, was shown the door.

Later six members of the Rainbow Sash, a national movement of some 150 Catholic gays and lesbians, rose to receive the Eucharist. Two men wearing the brightly colored rainbow-striped sash were refused the host. All six members were offered the cup by an attending priest.

After receiving the wine, they returned to their pew and stood in silence while ushers on either side of the pew asked them repeatedly to sit down. Later, the same priest who had helped to oust Sevre-Duszynska, signaled to the ushers to desist, as their efforts appeared to be disrupting worshippers more than the group’s standing.

Joe Murray, spokesman for the group, said he considered the ushers’ action “a form of harassment.”

On Nov. 20 Murray and Gene Janowski, both members of Chicago parishes, were to have met with Cardinal Francis George, who, they said, had not allowed the group to wear their sashes in Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. Murray called George “courageous” for calling the meeting.

At Pentecost, members of Rainbow Sash entered cathedrals across America to try to bring awareness of their “exclusion” from church life in many parts of the nation, Murray said. Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis and Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, N.Y., welcomed the group, he said. Members plan to visit more cathedrals on Pentecost 2002.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who sat in the first row of prelates facing the congregation throughout the Mass for Peace, said that the bishops had anticipated the demonstrators. “They’re all good people. They’re expressing their concerns,” the cardinal told NCR.

“I don’t agree with them, but I think they, too, are looking for peace. If they are so interested in the Eucharist and the liturgy, I would say, ‘Don’t disrupt the liturgy.’ ”

National Catholic Reporter, November 23, 2001