Report on Holy Week Retreat
Two Arrested at Pentagon Good Friday Witness
“Put Away the Sword,” was the theme as 40 people from the Atlantic Life Community, the New Jerusalem Community in Philadelphia, Loras College in Iowa and DePaul University in Chicago gathered in Washington, D.C. from March 27-29 for the annual Holy Week Faith and Resistance retreat sponsored by Jonah House and the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker. Remembering the Last Supper, arrest, torture, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, the retreat included time for prayer, reflection, community building and nonviolent public witness.
To begin the retreat, the film “Romero” was shown in remembrance of the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador who was shot while he celebrated the Eucharist on March 24, 1980. As someone who prophetically lived out the passion and cross of Jesus, we beckoned the spirit of Archbishop Romero and the other martyrs of El Salvador into our presence throughout the retreat.
On Holy Thursday morning, in preparation for a nonviolent witness at the Israeli Embassy, there was a presentation and discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the major role that the U.S. plays in the conflict, how some Jews and Palestinians are working together to end the occupation and the responsibility U.S. citizens have to help end the occupation and establish peace in the Holy Land for both Palestinians and Jews. Also discussed was the issue of Israel’s own nuclear weapons capability and the constant Israeli and U.S. threats against Iran because of its alleged nuclear weapons program. Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, was able to shed important light on this subject later during the community reflection at the evening liturgy. He shared that, with respect to the government and media conjecture that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, we should not be deceived by the same misinformation and lies that led to the justification of the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq. Ray made the crucial point that, according to the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees 16 different government intelligence agencies, Iran is not building a nuclear weapon.
In the early afternoon the retreat community held a silent solemn procession to the Israeli Embassy. Retreatants held signs and banners that had biblical quotes from Leviticus: “Do Not Stand Idle While a Neighbor’s Life is at Stake;” “Treat Aliens in Your Land No Different From Your Own;” and “Love Your Neighbor As You Love Yourself.” Other signs included: “The God of Israel Weeps Over the Crimes of the State of Israel;” Put Away the Sword;” and “Jews Must Shine the Light of God in the World. It’s Their Destiny” (Rabbi Abraham Heschel). The witness concluded with a reading of our leaflet, which was accepted by an embassy security guard, and the singing of “Sacred the Land.”
In the evening, the retreatants held a liturgical celebration of Maundy Thursday. Rosemary Thompson led a moving ritual centered on Jesus’ washing the disciples feet. This was followed by Scott Wright offering a powerful reflection about torture survivors held in detention on the border and sharing a statement of apology that was recently offered in El Salvador at the Memorial Wall by representatives of SOA Watch. This apology was made to the people of El Salvador in repentance for the role the U.S. played in contributing to the deaths of over 75,000 Salvadorans. (Go to www.soaw.org to see the entire statement of apology). The liturgy ended with a celebration of the Eucharist.
On Good Friday, the community began with a public witness at the Pentagon. At 7:00 a.m. the community processed silently into the protest zone. Sr. Margaret McKenna (Medical Mission sister and member of the New Jerusalem Community in Philadelphia) and Art Laffin (Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, DC) went out onto the Pentagon sidewalk and held an adoration of the Cross. Before a cross with the inscription: 2013–Suffering Humanity, they prayed: “We Adore You oh Christ and We Bless Thee, For By Your Holy Cross You Have Redeemed the World.” As Sr. Margaret laid prostate on the ground while Art knelt holding the Cross, they were arrested by Pentagon police as the community sang “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” The community witness continued with a huge banner that said: “U.S. Empire Crucifies Humanity” displayed on the grassy slope and a retreatant, dressed in a black robe representing a victim of militarism, standing on a crate with arms outstretched on a large cross. Our leaflet (see below)and a reflection about Jesus being nailed to the cross today, written by Leonardo Boff, were read aloud. Throughout the witness the community sang: “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” Sr. Margaret and Art were charged with “failure to comply with a lawful order,” processed and released. They were given a May 17th court date.
At noon-time retreatants held a “Contemporary Crucifixion” on the street directly in front of the White House as hundreds of tourists looked on and were given Good Friday leaflets for the witness. Descriptions were read for each of the ten crucified victims as they, wearing black robes, took turns with arms outstretched on the cross. We ended our witness and retreat by sharing a sign of peace.
Let us pray for each other during these holy days, and for all those in our world who are experiencing at this very moment the passion and death of Jesus. Let us especially remember the imprisoned Guantanamo prisoners who are on the 51st day of a hunger strike to demand an end to their brutal and inhumane confinement. (For more info on how you can support the hunger-strikers and close Guantanamo see www.witnesstorture.org.) And let us be transformed by the cross and resurrection of Jesus as we seek to practice resurrection and be living signs of hope for our world.