As the Catholic Church awaits the election of our next pope, the Church has once again become the subject of considerable media attention. As churches continue to close, as the priest shortage increases, and as we acknowledge the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, more and more people are saying that the Church needs to change. One of these is Joanna Manning, a former nun who, after years of struggling to change the Church from within, eventually gave up and converted to the Anglican Church. You can read her story here:

http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/03/03/former_catholics_say_rigid_church_forced_them_to_leave.html

I can certain empathize with Manning and others who have left Catholicism for Anglicanism. I can also empathize with the Roman Catholic Womenpriests who have been ordained within the Church (the first women priests were ordained illegally by male bishops sympathetic to the women’s ordination movement) and have suffered excommunication for their conviction. However, many questions follow from this discussion. The first question I would offer the author of this article would be to what extent the Church’s treatment of women really is the cause of Catholicism’s declining numbers (especially among the young). One comment on the article suggests that the decline Church membership is not particularly due to the hierarchy’s stance on social issues such as gay marriage, women’s ordination and contraception; rather, it is due to a general secularization taking place in the culture. In terms of qualitative, anecdotal evidence, I would argue that young people are leaving the pew behind for both of these reasons. I am wondering…to what extent are  issues related?

My next question is…for those Catholics who want to reform the Church, what would the best strategy be? Joanna Manning and many others like her have their strategy – they vote with their feet. The Roman Catholic Womenpriests have their strategy, but unfortunately, their radical defiance of the Church’s rules threatens to alienate them not only from traditionalists, but also moderate Catholics who might be sympathetic to the cause but hesitate to defy the church authority so boldly. Some moderate Catholics have suggested, for example, that fighting for women’s access to participation in the deaconate might be a good first step (before fighting for full-blown ordination). This point also deserves further discussion and will be addressed in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, your comments are welcome!

 “‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him. ‘For all who live by the sword will die by the sword.'”

– Matthew 26:52

I cannot believe the news today. According to the BBC, the US CIA has been operating a drone base in Saudi Arabia for two years: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-21350437

To this, all I can say is, “Who do we (Americans) think we are?” Do we truly fancy ourselves God? Do we really think it’s acceptable to send these killing machines to places where war has not even been declared?

It’s hard to believe that drone usage has increased exponentially under the administration of our Nobel Peace laureate president Obama. It’s likewise hard (for me) to understand all those voices that have come out defending drone warfare. While they may reduce American casualties in the short term, these drones – which can and do make mistakes – continue to kill innocent civilians abroad. As for us, I firmly believe that the age of American exceptionalism is over. He who lives by the drone will die by the drone. It’s only a matter of time before these machines which we so casually use will be used against us.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Canada/Audio/ID/2318390447/

A 30-minute interview with Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of the Americas Watch and advocate for women’s ordination. It’s worth listening to this inspiring man’s powerful words.

Surprised by Joy

December 18, 2012

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob

 

  • Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1

     

Christians throughout the world are now celebrating the third week of Advent. Two days ago we celebrated “Gaudete Sunday” – the day of rejoicing. I’ll admit that, as I dragged my feet to Mass and skulked into the church halfway through the psalm, I didn’t feel in anything like a joyous mood.

I’ve spent the past several weeks (or perhaps months) in a slight malaise. Lately I feel I’ve been going through the motions of my own life – dragging myself to class or choir rehearsal, but letting my mind wander during every meeting ; gripping the handrail in the subway, my face buried in a book I’m only half-reading, and refusing to notice the people around me.

Meanwhile, the current and projected future state of our world does not provide much cause for rejoicing. I’ll admit that the horrific reality of the Newtown, CT shooting has not quite set in with me. Somehow, any news transmitted by mass media lately has a way of feeling less than real. But unfortunately, rape, murder, torture, cruelty in every form is all too real. I firmly believe that we are all capable of committing these horrific acts, and they are taking place everyday, all around the world.

Where are we to find light amid all this darkness? How can we rejoice even when the reality around us looks so bleak? A partial answer in this past Sunday’s liturgical readings and also from the priest’s homily. Gaudete Sunday – the day of rejoicing. But what does it mean to rejoice? Does it mean the same thing as to be happy?

According to the priest celebrating last Sunday’s Mass, happiness and joy are two very different things. The former has to do with our circumstances. As he explained it, happiness is something often very fleeting that comes to us from outside – often from having our needs and desires met. Joy, on the other hand, is internal. It lies deep within us, perhaps buried at times, perhaps intangible when we find ourselves face to face with adversity. And yet, for Christians, this joy is nothing passive. It is a light that shines through every darkness, giving us the courage to keep walking in the night.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a very happy person, and my current profession (if I dare call it that) as a graduate student in the humanities is not the most conducive to happiness (parasitical and privileged as we lovers of learning may be, we inhabit a social space that tends to cultivate and validate the “Woe is me” attitude). But even before I became a PhD student, my moods tended toward the lugubrious, and I’ve often envied my more ebullient friends and acquaintances who, no matter what injustices or difficulties they encounter, never stop smiling.

And yet…I can also say that while I’ve never been particularly happy, I am very familiar with the kind of joy that is celebrated on Gaudete Sunday. It’s not the magical, radiant, festive joy of Christmas. It is much more subdued, a moment of rose amid a season of penitential purple. It’s not the joy of fulfilled desire, but that of eager, patient waiting for a fulfillment that we hope will come.

Just as I’m not a particularly happy person, I’m also not a patient person – especially in this age of instant communication and instant gratification. And yet, the joy we celebrate on Gaudete Sunday is very familiar to me. It was there when, as a teenager, I struggled at finding myself in the middle of my parents’ marital conflicts, and it helped me to give my mother the support she needed during what was a very difficult time. It was there in my last year of college, as I panicked at the prospect of having truly to take charge of my own life and decisions for the first time. It was there during my first job as a high school teacher, in which I found myself unable to overcome my inexperience and anxiety while dealing with some very unruly kids.

“Sometimes you’re happy,” a deeply spiritual Evangelical Christian friend said to me during that time. “Sometimes you’re unhappy. But God is always present.” I initially balked at what seemed like his trivialization of my misery, but as time went by I started to understand. Even when I most dreaded the morning commute to my job, even when I came home in the evening only to collapse on my bed in exhaustion, there were still moments in the day when something – an encouraging word from a colleague or an engaged class discussion – would fill me with the joy that comes in the midst of struggle.

As of this writing, I have not yet read C.S. Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy. And yet, I find the title intriguing. Joy is indeed something that tends to take me by surprise. I was shocked when last night, while reading about a small nonprofit organization’s efforts to save endangered languages in New York City, I experienced a feeling I hadn’t known in quite a long time: excitement. It was a sudden stirring, a sudden bubbling up of a feeling that, though not always felt, is nonetheless present, an underground river rushing below the surface of everyday life.

We are not living in happy times. Violence continues to plague the world; many people are suffering due to the global economic crisis; inequality is increasing; environmental and technological upheavals loom ahead. As for the personal level…I have no doubt that the kinds of personal problems I’ve described in this post are trivial when compared with the ones that you have experienced. However, I am convinced that the joy that Catholic Christians celebrate on Gaudete Sunday is not specific to Christians or indeed to any religious people alone. Surely you can to relate to a moment when, in a time of great personal struggle, you also found yourself surprised by joy.

We are not the first humans to live in uncertain times. To rejoice – to follow that light still flickering within us, no matter how dark the road – has rarely been easy, at least not for the vast majority of human beings. And yet, we are still called to remember this river that sustains us, this nourishment from within that no one can take from us.

 

I really hope God doesn’t turn out to be a computer programmer…That would just be depressing. (No offense to any programmers out there – you are part of a very respectable profession, and I know that without you I wouldn’t be writing this blog post right now…But still, that doesn’t make you God ;)).

TheMoralMindfield

Huffington Post UK has a new very brief article stating that physicists at the University of Washington are going to test the simulation hypothesis – the theory that we are all living inside a giant computer simulation.

The simulation hypothesis has become something of a popular idea as of late, boosted by people such as transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom and atheist author Sam Harris.

I am interested in whether the experiment will conclude anything. I have my doubts, just because metaphysical questions like that don’t tend to be  testable in any conclusive way (that being sort of the definition of metaphysics). And no matter what data they do get, there may be better theories to explain it.We can always come up with more ideas why something is the case – data underdetermines theory

From the perspective of theism, the simulation hypothesis could be either problematic or validating. It does…

View original post 106 more words

November 19, 2012. It’s a sad day for Catholics. Maybe not for all Catholics, but definitely for those who believe the Church’s foundation lies at the bottom rather than the top. Today, a voice crying out in the wilderness, a voice of justice, peace and hope in our turbulent times, a voice calling for openness and inclusion has been silenced. What are Catholics to make of this? All that Father Roy Bourgeois did – other than taking a stand for peace in his twenty-two year-old struggle to shut down the SOA/WHINSEC at Ft. Benning, Georgia – was to listen to his own conscience and publicly express his support for women’s ordination.  Given that the Vatican has declared that this issue should not even be discussed publicly, the decision to remove Father Roy from the priesthood is hardly surprising. Nevertheless, I am indignant. From the time I was very small I was told that WE are the Church – not the priests and nuns, not the privileged few wandering around Vatican City in their big hats, but US – all of us. And I think I speak for many of us when we say that we will not defrock our priest. Father Roy, we will not let your voice be silenced.

To read the official announcement on Father Roy’s dismissal, I invite you to read this article from the National Catholic Reporter: http://ncronline.org/news/people/maryknoll-vatican-has-dismissed-roy-bourgeois-order

And, to read an interview I conducted with Father Roy in September 2012 (coincidentally published by Rabble.ca today, November 19, just a few hours before his dismissal, please read on:

Father Roy Bourgeois never thought that he would one day become a Catholic priest. “I was raised Catholic, but as a boy I really didn’t take the religion very seriously, and I always thought that priests were weird,” says Bourgeois, who grew up in Louisiana during the 1950’s.

He also never imagined that he would become a social justice activist. “As a white male living under segregation, I never questioned the system, nor did any of the Catholics around me … Black Catholics sat in the last four pews, and we referred to segregated schools as ‘our tradition.'”

Indeed, this description hardly seems the profile of the man who would later go on to found the School of the Americas Watch — one of the largest and most vocal components of the anti-war movement in the western hemisphere. But, when he signed up for the U.S. navy in an eager attempt to leave Louisiana, Bourgeois had no idea just how dramatically his life was about to change.

After volunteering to fight in the Vietnam War, he was compelled to encounter realities he’d never considered before. “I went to Vietnam thinking that we Americans would be liberators – the same kind of thought that the US always uses to justify its invasions,” he says. “Instead, I witnessed violence beyond my imagination.”

Faced with constant danger and vulnerability, Bourgeois noticed his faith growing more important to him. By chance he met a Quebecois missionary priest running an orphanage for Vietnamese children, and he began doing odd jobs there when off duty. “This missionary was a true healer; he wasn’t seeking to convert the children to Catholicism, but merely to understand and help them. He was a true inspiration for me … The Vietnam War was pure madness, but in the orphanage my life had meaning.”

On the advice of his new mentor, Bourgeois applied to the community of Maryknoll Missionary priests and was accepted into the seminary. His family was surprised by his decision, but they supported him emotionally and raised funds for his missionary work. Upon his ordination, Bourgeois was assigned to work in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia, where he soon encountered the ideas of liberation theology — a strain of Catholic thought that applies Christian principles to the social realities of the poor and oppressed.

“My spiritual and political awakening began in Vietnam, but it continued in Bolivia,” says Bourgeois. “I’d been raised in a hierarchical, patriarchal, colonial model of the church that said the poor should embrace their poverty and look forward to happiness in the next life. In Bolivia, I encountered a model of God as an all-loving being who’d made us all equal. Liberation theology resists the idea that each individual must seek his own salvation; it’s much more community-based. The struggles of others became my struggle.”

Not all Catholic leaders in Bolivia shared this commitment to liberation theology; indeed, some openly favoured the dictatorial regimes that had taken hold of much of Latin America by the 80’s. But Bourgeois, who visited prisoners and learned of documented torture cases, continued to investigate this transnational issue. “Hundreds of churches were talking about the School of the Americas in Latin America, and the more I learned about this horrific abuse of U.S. military might, the more concerned I became.”

Founded in 1946, the School of the Americas is an elite institution of the U.S. army that has trained Latin American military personnel in a variety of areas, including torture techniques. When the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador was exposed as having been completed by SOA graduates, Bourgeois transformed his concern into action.

Since 1990, the organization he founded has fought tirelessly for the closure of the SOA, lobbying government leaders and raising public awareness of the impacts that U.S. military policy continues to have in Latin America. Every November, thousands of concerned citizens from around the Americas gather with Bourgeois and other SOA Watch activists outside the gates of the Institute’s facility at Ft. Benning, Georgia for a vigil commemorating the dead. Although the name of the institution was changed in 2001 — it is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), its faculty and central purposes remain unchanged.

About five years ago, Bourgeois was joined by former Maryknoll Lay Missionary and human rights activist Lisa Sullivan. Together, they decided on a new strategy toward closing the school: removing its students. Travelling throughout Latin America and meeting with multiple political leaders, Bourgeois and Sullivan have found this strategy to be somewhat successful. Beginning with Venezuela, they eventually got Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay to withdraw their troops. Last summer, a meeting with President Rafael Correa ensured Ecuador’s withdrawal. In a September meeting with Bourgeois, Sullivan and a delegation of SOAW activists, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega announced that his military would also be withdrawing its own remaining troops, making Nicaragua the first Central American country to withdraw formally from the SOA.

“When we see an injustice, silence is the voice of complicity,” says Bourgeois, who has served time in the U.S. prison system for entering Ft. Benning during previous vigils. “I’ve always believed in the primacy of conscience, which enables us to discern right from wrong.” This commitment has led Bourgeois to confront not only the state, but also his own church. For the past three years he has spoken openly about what has become a taboo topic in Roman Catholicism: women’s ordination.

“In the old model of the church, preached since the Fourth Century, God speaks to his people only through men,” says Bourgeois, who cannot help but notice a correlation between the structural sexism of the Catholic priesthood and the institutional racism he experienced in 1950’s Louisiana. “But in liberation theology, God speaks through everyone. Don’t we profess that men and women were created equal? Who are we male priests to say that our call to the priesthood is authentic while women’s is not? No matter how hard we try to justify our discrimination against others, it is not the way of God.”

Although Bourgeois’ support of the Catholic women’s ordination movement has drawn censure from the Vatican (to the point of being pressured to “recant” his position or face excommunication), he has remained as passionately devoted to this issue as he has to closing the SOA. “Our conscience is a lifeline to God,” he says. “When I fail to follow it, I feel torn and conflicted. On both of these issues, my conscience has old me to speak clearly, boldly and with love. This is what I have done, and this is what I will continue to do.”

(Original article can be found at http://rabble.ca/news/2012/11/seeking-peace-through-justice-interview-father-roy-bourgeois-founder-school-americas-wa)

Apparently God’s call now comes virtually:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19447164

I certainly hope that he was not. But, even in the case that he was, I am certain that the voices of liberal Catholics, though faint, are not going away:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/was-cardinal-carlo-martini-the-last-liberal-catholic-bishop/2012/09/07/027474a8-f92b-11e1-a93b-7185e3f88849_story.html

Every so often we meet someone whose every word seems to be filled with the divine inspiration. During my recent trip to Nicaragua, I was blessed to meet such a someone. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann: Catholic Maryknoll priest, former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister, former President of UN General Assembly, art collector, revolutionary, sage.  Although he believes strongly in nonviolence, he also believes that the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979, which toppled the forty-year Somoza dictatorship, was a just war against imperialism. As the group I was with (a delegation of US and British citizens working for the closure of the School of the Americas) and I listened to Father Miguel talk, we were all struck by his insight and wisdom. I would like to share with you several quotations from his address to us, interspersed with images from his home (which he is gradually converting into a museum of Nicaraguan art).

Father Miguel D’Escoto, M.M.

“To follow Jesus means to live a life of risk. We cannot be Christians and reject risk. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing contact with Jesus.”

“I believe that the gospel of Jesus, my Lord, is radically nonviolent. There is no greater violence than imperialism.”

“The Church has never been in favour of a revolution to benefit the poor. This is because the Church is an old institution that for much of its history, has worked in cahoots with the empires and has accrued many privileges. The privileged classes hate, fear and despise revolution. This has been a lamentable fact.”

“When I was six years old, I asked my father why the Mass was so important. He said it was important because it pleases God. This answer was enough to carry me for a few years. But then, one time while attending morning Mass with my mother, I saw some people looking for food in the garbage. I asked her, ‘Mother, why are they hungry?’ She responded, ‘Because it is not true that we are Christians.’”

“Lord, help me to understand the mystery of your Cross, to love your Cross, to embrace my own cross in whatever form it comes.”

“The Cross was a death penalty reserved for anti-imperialists. The thieves that were crucified on either side of Christ were called bandits. That was the term used to describe people who opposed imperial power. When Christ was crucified, all Palestine was a beehive of anti-imperialism. Christ’s message could not be more subversive; he preached the kingdom of God as a counter-force to the kingdom of empire. The difference between him and those crucified with him was that while they were armed, he was not. His gospel was of nonviolence.”

“The worst crimes in the world have been committed in the name of obedience. Obedience must be to God and to the primacy of conscience, not to man.”

“What the world needs most is spirituality. The church has silenced its own prophets. By ‘prophets’ I don’t mean people who foretell the future, but people who see that humanity has derailed, who call us back to brotherly relationships.”

“Christianity has to do with moving from the logic of I and mine to the logic of we and ours.”

“Spirituality means being constantly ready to give our lives like our heroes and martyrs did.”

“There is no revolution without spirituality, and no spirituality without revolution.”

“Don’t fall into the temptation of not loving your country, or not loving our harlot mother Church. Thank God that we are all sinners, so that we might have compassion for other sinners.”

“If we receive applause, beware – we are betraying Christ. We must be foolish in the eyes of the world. The wisdom of God is foolishness for the worldly.”

“Our encouragement must be in Jesus. Forget everything else; cling to Jesus.”

“The world is in bad shape; we are in need of people inflamed with love. I pray that you all may receive a shot of divine insanity, the insanity of the Cross. It is this insanity that makes us yearn to risk our lives for those people on the other side of the tracks.”

When I think back on my high school years, I remember a community filled with  spirituality. I received an education that encouraged me to think critically about the realities of the world while cultivating an idealism grounded in faith. At the beginning of every school year, our campus minister would ask an artistically inclined student to create a banner conveying a theme for that year. When I began my senior year in the fall of 2000, my classmate Jill made a beautiful banner with an image of two hands holding up the world. The phrase that accompanied it was “Embrace The World With Hope.”

For me, the turn of the millennium was a moment of excitement and joy. So much in the world seemed to be changing for the better. The Berlin Wall had come down; the Cold War had ended; technology was bridging cultural and linguistic divides. Alas, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the two ensuing US-led wars threatened my rosy view of the world, as did my growing awareness of social injustice, violence , mass consumption of precious natural resources, and humanity’s destruction of biodiversity. Suddenly, Jill’s banner took on new meaning for me, and to this day I haven’t forgotten it. What the world needs now, more than anything else perhaps, is hope.

While studying Latin American literature in college I was forced to look at my country from a perspective I’d rarely encountered in my high school history classes. I learned about the many wrongs that my country’s foreign policies had wrought on people across the world, particularly those of the Western Hemisphere.  I learned of the US-funded Contra War in Nicaragua in the ’80’s and the US-backed coup in Chile in 1973; I learned of cash crop producers who’d suffered at the hands of US-dominated multinationals. I learned of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Salvadoran advocate for the poor, assassinated while saying Mass in 1980. Later, I learned that his killers had been trained at a US military institution: the School of the Americas.

Founded in 1946, the School of the Americas has trained Latin American military personnel in a variety of areas, including torture techniques. When the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador was exposed as having been completed by SOA graduates, Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois decided to take action. Since 1990, his organization SOA Watch has fought for the closure of the SOA, holding a vigil each November outside the gates of its facility at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Although the name of the institution was changed in 2001 – it is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), its faculty and central purposes remain unchanged.

Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch

About five years ago, Bourgeois was joined by former Maryknoll Lay Missionary and human rights activist Lisa Sullivan. Together, they decided on a new strategy toward closing the school: removing its students. Travelling throughout Latin America and meeting with multiple political leaders, Bourgeois and Sullivan have found this strategy to be somewhat successful. Beginning with Venezuela, they eventually got Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay to withdraw their troops. Two months ago, a meeting with President Rafael Correa ensured Ecuador’s withdrawal. Just this past week, on September 4, 2012, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega announced that his military would also be withdrawing its own remaining troops. (At the beginning of Ortega’s presidency in 2007 there were 78 Nicaraguan soldiers studying at the SOA annually; by 2011 there were five, and now there are none). How fortunate I was to be sitting just a few feet away from him when he made this announcement, to share in this moment filled with hope.

The Nicaraguan countryside near Esteli

On August 28, 2012, a delegation of concerned US and UK citizens travelled to Nicaragua under the auspices of SOA Watch as well as the Nicaragua Network. Our objective was twofold: to learn about the country’s current political, social and economic realities and to convince President Ortega to withdraw Nicaraguan troops from the SOA/WHINSEC. My fellow delegates and I saw a lot during our ten days in Nicaragua. We met a cooperative of women who have started businesses due to the current Sandinista government’s Zero Usury Programme. We met a woman who had been given a new start (along with a pregnant cow) as part of the same government’s Zero Hunger Programme. We met a passionate Irish-born activist, editor of news source Tortilla Con Sal, who has lived in Nicaragua for years and led inspiring social projects, including a the formation of a women’s cooperative in the city of Esteli. We visited Managua’s city dump – in recent times nothing short of hell on earth for the poorest of Nicaragua’s poor. Now, a new recycling centre is being built there, and the impoverished people who live there will be given new jobs.

Recycling centre being built in Managua

This is not to say that all is rosy in Nicaragua. We also met with former banana plantation workers who, subjected to the chemical Nemagon by the multinational companies that employed them, are now left with physical illness and moral disillusionment. We met with the Movimiento Renavador Sandinista, which fervently critiques Daniel Ortega’s government as continuing with the neoliberal policies of the 90’s. Meetings with government officials, who spoke of ecologically questionable development projects like the building of a canal along and lauded foreign investment in the country by ethically dubious giants like Cargill, led me to see the shades of truth in the opposition movement’s critiques. “We have to balance things out,” I kept hearing in talk after talk. “It’s complicated.” Indeed, the Sandinistas of 2012 are not the revolutionaries of the 1980’s. Nevertheless, as we drove through Managua’s nameless streets, I saw a different vision of the country than that which I’d experienced ten or even five years ago. It’s hard to put my finger on just what it was, but there was a spark in the air. A newfound optimism. New hope.

One of many murals in Esteli

For me, one of the greatest highlights of the delegation was our visit to two Christian Base Communities. As an eighth grader in my Catholic primary school I’d learned about these small, grassroots Catholic communities that during the 70’s and 80’s were hotbeds of liberation theology – the application of gospel principles to the condition of the oppressed. These communities were once known as the backbone of the Latin American church. But, as the hierarchical, institutional church grew more conservative and liberation theology lost its influence, these communities also declined in some countries.

The Nicarao Christian Base Community’s Liturgy of the Word celebration

But, this is not at all the case in Nicaragua, where they are vibrant and filled with fervour. As we walked into the Liturgy of the Word celebration, which was led by a woman and accompanied by joyful  guitar music, I immediately felt at home. Later, when we sat down in a circle and told them of our mission, we encountered their profound political awareness and insight. All of the members knew about the School of the Americas, and all urged us on in our determination to close it.

The Casa Hogar Christian Base Community

This excitement was compounded by our meeting with Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Maryknoll priest and old friend of Father Roy Bougeois. Refusing to choose between religious commitment and activity in the predominantly secular world of politics, d’Escoto served as Nicaragua’s foreign minister in the 1980’s and President of the UN General Assembly in 2008. “There is no revolution without spirituality, and no spirituality without revolution,” he told us, seated in the back garden of his lovely house which is is gradually converting into a museum of Nicaraguan art. “The world is in bad shape; we are in need of people inflamed with love. I pray that you all may receive a shot of divine insanity, the insanity of the Cross. It is this insanity that makes us yearn to risk our lives for those people on the other side of the tracks.”

Father Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, former president of UN General Assembly

As for our objective of meeting with President Ortega? Thanks to the efforts of Paul Baker Hernandez, a British-born singer and activist who has been living in Nicaragua for over twenty years and who organized our entire itinerary, we were promised a meeting with him at some point during our stay. But, as the days went by, the expected call still did not come. On our last and perhaps busiest day, which included meetings with the Movimiento Renavador Sandinista, human rights commissioner Omar Cabezas, a Sandinista youth environment brigade, and with a women’s commission, we anxiously waited for the phone to ring. It didn’t. As the hours went by, our hope began to wane.

“After all, it’s certainly arrogant of us to go to a country and expect to meet with its president,” one delegate remarked. As night fell, we headed off to our farewell dinner at a lovely restaurant called Mirador de Tiscapa. I was halfway through my second margarita when the call came: we were to be back at Father Miguel d’Escoto’s house by 8 p.m.; there, the president would see us.

The next moments occurred as if within a dream. We quickly finished our dinners, paid our bill, and scrambled back into the vans. Our drivers hurried raced us back to Father Miguel’s house, where we were once again seated in his garden. We talked excitedly among ourselves until it was announced: the President was in the house. We all stood, and then he emerged. “I saw you in today’s paper,” he told us. When we thanked him for agreeing to meet with us, he smiled. “You were very persistent,” he said.

Father Roy minced no words in conveying our mission to President Ortega. “Please join with your friends in Venezuela and Ecuador in saying that the School of the Americas should not exist,” he admonished the president.

As I sat listening, I was not sure of what to expect. My Nicaraguan friends expressed doubt that Ortega would withdraw Nicaragua’s troops from the SOA, and when the president began to speak, those doubts were confirmed. “The economy of Nicaragua is fragile and dependent,” he told us. “Our original economic condition was one of dependence. We had this until 1979 and then again during the 90’s under neliberalism. From the US perspective, we were a ‘banana republic.’ No South American country, nor Mexico, was ever called this.”

Father Roy urges President Daniel Ortega to withdraw Nicaragua’s remaining troops from the School of the Americas

He went on to discuss his government’s plans for ending this dependence – particularly, Nicaragua’s decision to join the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and development plans that aim to allow freedom from the IMF. However, he then began to discuss the challenges of US-Nicaraguan relations. “It would not be possible for us to nationalize our resources,” Ortega said. “We would not be able to handle the US sactions.” He then mentioned the increased US military presence in Latin America, which the American government has justified by citing concerns over narcotics trafficking.

All of these, I expected Ortega to say, are reasons why we cannot withdraw our troops from the School of the Americas.

Instead, the discussion took a completely unexpected turn. Ortega stated that Nicaragua, along with Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela, was in the process of withdrawing from the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. He then stated, “As for the School of the Americas, it has an ethical weight, especially for countries like ours that were its victims. It is a symbol of death and terror. And this year, we are not sending any more troops there, nor will we be doing so in the years to come.”

In that moment, Nicaragua became the sixth country – and the first Central American country – to withdraw its troops from the SOA/WHINSEC.

“Embrace the world with hope.” Even amid war, dictatorship, economic and environmental collapse, rampant consumerism and our cruel destruction of our Mother Earth, there is still hope. I can hardly express how fortunate I was to be there to see it. And now, as SOA Watch takes its campaign to other countries, I feel certain that this little flicker is only the beginning.