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Issue Date:  September 10, 2004

Catholic antiwar activists join protests

New York

Jesuit Fr. Edward Coughlin blessed a crowd of worshipers attending Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church Aug. 29, praying for their peace, safety and welfare and giving thanks to God for their “generosity of heart.” The crowd, which included more than half of the early Mass attendees, dispersed not into a war zone, but into one of this city’s largest antiwar marches.

Xavier’s associate pastor, Jesuit Matt Roche, said he was not surprised that almost two-thirds of the congregation left Mass to participate in the demonstration. “This is an unusually aware parish. It’s a very political community and a politically aware parish with many interested in politics and committed to actions for peace and justice.”

The parishioners joined a throng of activists estimated at between 150,000 and 400,000, comprising some 800 groups affiliated with United for Peace and Justice -- organizer of the demonstration. They moved from Washington Square and the streets of Chelsea up Seventh Avenue to Madison Square Garden, where that week the Republican National Convention was to nominate George Bush to serve a second term as president.

“I was simply blown away by how many different people and how many different messages were here,” said Frida Berrigan, who was in the lead off section of the march, representing the national committee of the War Resisters League. The league, which prides itself as being the oldest continuous protest group in America, drew many Catholic activists, including Jesuit Fr. Simon Harak, who has served as the anti-military coordinator of the group for a year.

Marching alongside the league were members of the Catholic Worker, the Kairos Community, Plowshares New York, and the Atlantic Life Community, a network of resistance communities stretching up and down the East Coast. Besides New York and New Jersey protesters, others arrived from Boston, Baltimore, Hartford, Philadelphia, Chicago and more than 1,000 from the San Francisco area.

Kairos member and veteran Plowshares activist Elmer Maas told NCR he was not marching just against the “preemptive” war in Iraq, but also against the array of weapons being planned and manufactured by the military to “ensure our global, our almost cosmic dominance of air and space.”

Members of the Kairos and Plowshares contingent remembered in “our hearts, our minds and our statements,” Maas said, Oblate Fr. Karl Cabot and the three Dominican nuns -- Carol Gilbert, Ardeth Platte and Jackie Hudson -- who are all serving time in prisons in Colorado. The sisters hammered on missiles and spilled their blood in late 2002 “to bring to consciousness and to life the fact that the U.S. has more than 10,000 nuclear weapons while it was preparing to go to war against Saddam Hussein who had none,” Maas said. “The sisters exposed the lies behind Bush’s war even before it started.”

Other sisters at the march pointed to the absence of the Catholic hierarchy in the fight to prevent both the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The bishops have not called the faith community to ponder the injustice of these kinds of war,” said Dominican Sr. Arlene Flaherty, director of the 30-year-old Intercommunity Center for Justice and Peace here.

Flaherty said she believes the “incredible increase in poverty and its effects on our children” is directly related to the escalating costs of militarism and the Bush administration’s low regard for the welfare of the poor and of families. It’s “crucial” that the bishops “who talk about the renewal of communities” start to “connect the dots” between the wages of war and the poverty and lack of health care of millions of Americans, she said.

Patricia Lefevere, a frequent contributor to NCR, lives in New Jersey.

National Catholic Reporter, September 10, 2004

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