by Fr. John Dear, S.J.
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Thousands gathered over the weekend in Columbus, Ga., to pray, study, reflect, network, remember and march to the gates of the notorious School of the Americas, the U.S. training camp for Latin American militaries and death squads, officially called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. It was both heartbreaking and heartening, a time of grief and a time of joy.
Speakers came from around Latin America to tell us about ongoing U.S. militarism, human rights violations, poverty and injustice. More than 70 workshops were held on topics that included the various struggles in Latin America and the ongoing U.S. drone warfare.
But the hope and joy came from meeting old and new friends and finding new strength for the struggle for justice and disarmament. I sat in on the Pace e Bene workshop on nonviolence; offered my own workshop based on my new book, The Nonviolent Life; and took part in the public reading of “Project Unspeakable” about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The highlight every year comes Sunday morning, when everyone solemnly processes up to the SOA gates in a memorial service for the SOA victims. The names of hundreds of Latin Americans killed by SOA-trained soldiers were read from the stage. After each name, everyone called out, “Presente!”…