Left Justified: ‘Nuns in Jail’ comes to Rockford

I wrote about “Nuns in Jail” last year. Doesn’t that sound like a dirty movie? The federal government has been throwing Roman Catholic sisters into federal prison because they walk onto Fort Benning, an Army base in Georgia. They walk on base carrying signs against murdering Latin American peasants.

The nun whom I know, Sister Kathleen Desautels, just finished serving time in the federal prison in Greenville, Ill., and I invited her to come to Rockford and talk about her experiences, both getting arrested and spending time in jail. She will speak on Monday, Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockford, 4848 Turner St. This program will kick off the fifth season of “Coffee Talks,” the weekly Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee series.

I met Sister Desautels on a trip to Colombia. We were delivering a ruling by an American judge that a small village near Arauca (which is near oil-rich Venezuela) was attacked by the Colombian air force while using American-made weapons. The good sister and I visited the area, met with surviving women and children and memorialized the 27 who were buried. We also protested to the American embassy (a lot of good that did).

Sister Kathleen was arrested while she was carrying a symbolic coffin through the gate of Fort Benning. She wanted to protest a training school established there for Latin American soldiers. It used to be called the School of the Americas (SOA). The name was changed to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, but it’s still the same blood-drenched, torture-teaching university it always was.

The protesters got about 300 yards onto the base before military police arrested Sister Kathleen and almost 2,000 others. (There were close to 10,000 at the gate rooting them on.) She was detained along with 43 activists while most of the 2,000 were “processed” and released. This last July, a federal judge sentenced 37 of the detainees to federal prison. Sister Kathleen got six months. “What we’re going through in prison is really nothing compared to the suffering that people in Latin America have gone through,” says my favorite nun.

The six months are up, and the good nun was released from jail, so I invited her to come to Rockford and speak. Of course, Sister Kathleen will continue to work to close the Army school, and she will try to get us to join her.

The good Sister works at a peace and justice center in downtown Chicago called the 8th Day Center. I believe the “8th Day” refers to the day of peace and justice when God returns to earth. I tell people I’m the only “paid peace activist in Rockford,” and I wish there were more! In Chicago, the 8th Day Center has a staff of 12, and it’s not the only peace organization in town. So I look up to Sister Desautels and her organization for direction and good ideas.

One of the better ideas I’ve stolen from them is the Walk for Justice that occurs every Good Friday. A cross is carried through city streets, stopping at different “stations” that depict the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In Chicago, the Walk takes three hours and attracts more than 2,000 people. At each station, a different community group does a commemoration and uses a modern-day problem as an example. For example, we here in Rockford stop at the Illinois State Building downtown and pray for a just government and against gambling.

Anyway, it’s a good idea, and we stole it from them. Sister Desautels doesn’t mind; in fact, she encourages more groups to get active in raising justice issues in their communities.

The meeting is free and open to the public. I hope you will come and hear this blessed sister, and I pray the government doesn’t throw any more nuns in jail.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!