School of the Americas - Reflections of a Vigil

      Two weeks ago more than 60 Boston College students made the trek to Columbus, Georgia for the annual School of America (SOA) protest and Ignatian Family Teach-in (IFT).  It is a trip that has been made by hundreds of BC students over the last 20 years and by thousands of other students at Jesuit institutions across the country.  This year there were more than 3,000 people at the IFT and more than 10,000 people at the protest with the vast majority coming from Jesuit universities and high schools.  

      This was my second venture down to Georgia, and my purpose for going has transformed over the past year.  Last November in my mind the protest was actually a protest and we were going to shout and shout at the government for their oppressive policies in Latin America.  The SOA has trained thousands of soldiers from Latin America who have subsequently, upon graduation, committed human rights violations in their home countries.  The most notable of those atrocities being the catalyst behind the SOA protest, namely the assassination of the six Jesuit priest and their two companions in El Salvador on November 16, 1989.  So my reason for going was to join others in a protest for justice.  To yell catchy slogans (hey, hey, ho, ho, the SOA has got to go) at the gates of an institution in an effort to bring attention to the cause.  And we certainly did some of this, but I quickly learned that this was not the sole purpose, or even the main purpose behind the SOA protest. 

      We call the SOA protest, but this is really a misnomer.  The term vigil is more appropriate for the nature of the event.  As I was standing there in November of 2008 with 10,000 other people around me I realized this.  The Sunday morning vigil is a remembrance of all those who have suffered death at the hand of the graduates of the SOA.  Each and every name of a man, woman, or child that could be traced to an SOA graduate is sung.  Each is a body, a soul, a human being who lived and walked upon this Earth.  And in unison all 10,000 of us respond with a solemn “presente” to signify that while the person may be dead, s/he is not forgotten.  This is the purpose; this is my purpose for being here.  The vigil serves as a reminder to those of us still living on this Earth that we are not alone and that we must not forget.  The entire vigil lasted more three hours because there are that many people who have died, that we know of, who must be remembered. 

      This understanding that I came to is one that many before me have also arrived at. But for me, the power behind the understanding was solidified by the sheer number of Jesuit students who went to Georgia with me.  The realization that I was not alone in my thoughts or actions in a fight to bring justice to a world where it is lacking strengthened my resolve to become more involved.  I believe that there is a fire in the community that once ignited must spread.  This fire burns in the BC community through programs like 4Boston, Pulse, Arrupe, and so many others, but in order for it to ignite in an individual there must be a moment of profound connection.  There must be a spark that strikes to the heart of what a person feels and believes, and from the ensuing fire there will burn hope.  This hope is what becomes contagious; this hope can and must spread.  And those who have this hope will never settle for what is, but will fight for what can be.