On September 15 from 6:00-7:30 p.m., 15 people vigiled outside the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at the National Harbor, ten miles south of D.C., to decry the scandalous Air Force Association (AFA) annual “Air & Space Conference and Technology Expo,” what we call an “Arms Bazaar.” Some 150 arms contractors are taking part in this year’s Arms Bazaar. Our vigil coincided with a $310 per plate banquet honoring outstanding airmen. Members of Pax Christi and other peace groups attended the vigil which was organized by the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker.
Our witness began with some of our group processing from the police designated vigil site across the street from the Gaylord to a resort entrance near where the AFA banquet was being held. As we approached the entrance we were stopped by security and police who declared we were on private property and instructed us to leave or face arrest. I responded by saying we were on God’s property and presented them with our leaflet. We appealed to them to address the real crimes that were taking place by the arms merchants inside the Gaylord and to join with us. They carefully listened to our plea but exclaimed that they did not have an opinion about the matter and that we must leave, at which pointed, we returned to the vigil site and conducted a prayer service for peace.
During the prayer service I gave a statement about our witness (see below). Bob More then read the Gospel account of the Beatitudes (Lk. 6:2-28). This was followed by Kathy Boylan reading a selection of Dr. King’s Riverside Church April 4, 1967 speech about why he opposed the Vietnam War. Malachy Kilbride read an account of drone bombing victims taken from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The response to each group of victims listed was: “God Forgive the U.S. For Making and Using Killer Drones.” Bob Cooke then offered a powerful reflection based on Pope Francis’s September 13 sermon during a Mass at the Italian Military Memorial cemetery at Fogliano in Redipuglia, Italy where over 100,000 soldiers are buried who died during the First World War. The pope denounced war as “madness” and declared: “Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction…
Today, too, the victims are many. How is this possible? It is so because in today’s world, behind the scenes, there are interests, geopolitical strategies, lust for money and power, and there is the manufacture and sale of arms, which seem to be so important!
And these plotters of terrorism, these schemers of conflicts, just like arms dealers, have engraved in their hearts, “What does it matter to me?”
It is the task of the wise to recognize errors, to feel pain, to repent, to beg for pardon and to cry.”
(See below complete text of the Pope’s sermon)
Jack Payden-Travers proceeded to read facts about the U.S. war budget and, after each horrifying fact, the gathered community responded: “God forgive US!” Jack McHale then offered a prayer to exorcise the evil of militarism and convert our lives to God’s command to love. This was followed by Pete Perry and Brian Barrett leading a Litany of Repentance and Hope. The witness concluded with singing “This Little Light of Mine” and the lighting of candles to remember all victims of violence and war, the holy cloud of witnesses past and present, prisoners of conscience worldwide, including the Transform Now Plowshares and resisters from Jeju Island. Tom Siemer also gave a beautiful testimony about the late peacemaker Fr. Dick McSorley, SJ, whose 100th birthday is next month. We also remembered Eve Tetaz who was being tried in DeWitt Town Court outside of Syracuse for her resistance action to the killer drones at Hancock Air Base.
As President Obama has ordered new airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq, let us redouble our efforts to do all we can to nonviolently resist the forces of violence and death and witness to the God of Life and Love as we strive to create the Beloved Community.