Vatican Embassy Opens Doors to Vigilers Praying for LCWR

Here’s a quick roundup by Sr. Maureen Fiedler about the prayer vigil I attended on May 30 at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., in support of Catholic women religious and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Apparently, I left too early, because Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano not only invited a few representatives inside to talk, but then came outside and spoke with the whole group!

Here’s an excerpt from Maureen’s blog at the National Catholic Reporter:

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the papal nuncio to the United States, meets with people holding a rally in solidarity with U.S. women religious outside the apostolic nunciature in Washington, DC, May 30.

Who would believe it? When a group of protestors supporting the Leadership Conference of Women Religious showed up at the Vatican Embassy on Tuesday, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, welcomed some of the group into the embassy. Two people were actually invited to sit down and chat with him. He received their petition asking that the mandate against LCWR be withdrawn … without any expectation that would actually happen, of course.

In the course of the conversation, he made it known he had been at the beginning of the LCWR board meeting. Later, he invited about 20 people into the embassy to see the chapel and offer prayers.

I don’t have much hope that his welcome represents any new approach from the Vatican to LCWR (or anyone), but it is refreshing in Washington to see any protestors welcomed by any authority for a chat, at least.

Vigano was removed from a Vatican post after cleaning up the Vatican Bank, a process in which he surely made enemies. The recently leaked documents include a letter of his to the pope, asking not to be moved outside the Vatican because of the message it would send. He may have some sympathy for LCWR, given his own experience.

Click here to see great photos and an account of Tuesday’s Vatican Embassy action.

As a fun little feature, see the photo below:

Seven Year Later, D.C. Still Asks: Who Killed Donte Manning?

A shout out to John Muller who published a piece in today’s Washington Informer about Donte Manning’s murder. His killing 7 years ago was the provocation to and lens through which I wrote my book “Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood.” Thanks to John for keeping Donte’s memory alive. Here’s an excerpt from his article:

“More than seven years has passed since the shooting and subsequent death of 9-year-old Donte Manning but the Metropolitan Police Department is still seeking information that will lead to an arrest in the case.

Although Donte’s memory may have faded from the public consciousness, it still looms large to police and local writer Rose Marie Berger, 48, who authored the book, “Who Killed Donte Manning?” two years ago.

“Donte still haunts me,” said Berger of Columbia Heights in Northwest Washington. “Not as a ghost, but as an angel of conscience. His young life and his murder pricks our conscience as a city just like the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida has turned a mirror to the violence at the soul of our nation.”

“The fact that his killer remains free means two things: the first is that there is a young man out there who lives with the murder of a child on his conscience, and he has not made amends to Donte’s family or to society for his actions. The second is that violence is so endemic that police are not able or not willing in some cases to pursue justice,” Berger said.”–John Muller, Donte Manning’s Death Remains a Mystery

Buy a copy of Who Killed Donte Manning? by Rose Marie Berger

The People’s Prayer Breakfast: ‘Enough for Everyone’


I got up early this morning to join the People’s Prayer Breakfast held at The Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, D.C. In order to get there I had to thread my way through police barricades and closed streets around the Washington Hilton Hotel. Thousands of people of faith-based leaders were gathered at the Hilton for the annual National Prayer Breakfast, where President Obama gave the keynote address. The cost is several hundred dollars per plate.

The People’s Prayer Breakfast charged nothing. With signs pointing us to the church basement I walked in to a room twinkling with tiny white Christmas lights. The round tables were hugged tight by chairs–the room was fully occupied. Coffee and tea flowed freely. The Hari Krishna’s provided fruit salad. Someone had boiled mountains of eggs. An abundant table was set for whosoever would come and the banner stretched over head read “Enough for Everyone.”

We were led in prayer and silence by a nun from the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Poolsville, Maryland. And Sweet-Honey-In-The-Rock-great Dr. Ysaye Barnwell sang an earth-groaning rendition of “Kumbaya, My Lord” to a generation who were experiencing for the first time the power of Black church music as a political and social force to be reckoned with.

The People’s Prayer Breakfast was not a protest against the National Prayer Breakfast, as some have framed it. Indeed, there were some leaders who were attending both. Instead, the People’s Prayer Breakfast extended the circle, opened the table, fired up the prayer, and grounded good spirituality in the lives and experiences of the humble, the poor, the young and the old, the disenfranchised and the powerless.

“To abstain from prayer is to refuse to let oneself be loved,” Brian Merritt reminded us, quoting Gabriel Marcel. I don’t know how folks at the Hilton felt afterward, but OccupyFaithDC, OccupyChurch, OccupyJudaism, OccupyJummah invited the people to breakfast and all went away marveling at the love they felt in the breaking of the bread.–Rose Marie Berger

Rose Marie Berger is a Catholic peace activist and poet. She blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com.

Catch the Vision: Tar Sands Protest Art

Day 1: Sixty-five arrested. Locals were released by 8 p.m. Out-of-towners held in D.C. jail until Monday morning arraignment. The D.C. police seem to want to make an example of the first group in order to discourage the next 13 days of sustained protest.

What we know is that the small but real sacrifice of these few to be held over the weekend will be joined by hundreds of others. In determined peaceableness, we will flood the streets. We will raise the banners. We will fill the jails. Because we can not do otherwise. The cost of inaction is simply too high.

Some highlights from Saturday: Jim Antal, former head of Fellowship of Reconciliation and now president of the Massachussetts Conference of the United Church of Christ was arrested. Kristy Powell, originator of the One Dress Protest, was arrested. Lt. Dan Choi, leader of the protest against the former military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, was arrested. Fr. Jim Noonan, Maryknoll Catholic priest, who spent years in Cambodia under Pol Pot serving AIDS patients was arrested.

Homicide Watch D.C.: Marking Death To Claim Life

Laura Norton Amico walk through an alley in Columbia Heights where a 17-year-old girl was found dead in a garbage container. (Washington Post)

I’ve been doing what I can to support Laura Amico Norton and her work as founder of the blog Homicide Watch D.C. Its mission: Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case. As Laura says, “Their deaths needs to be marked if we are living consciously in this city.”

She’s a 28-year-old former newspaper reporter whose web site chronicles every murder in Washington D.C. Laura supports her work out of her own pocket and is hoping to get grant funding.

Recently, BBC reporter Jane O’Brien met Laura at a Bloomingdale neighborhood prayer vigil for Billy Mitchell. Mitchell was murdered when he, allegedly, tried to intervene in a street altercation between a man and a woman. You can listen to O’Brien’s excellent interview with Laura on BBC Outlook (starts at minute 16).

“I think those people who don’t even get a funeral announcement are just as important as the ones who do get the coverage,” says Laura. “Who they were and how they died say as much about our city as the one’s who do get a news write up.”

By being online, the web site provides a place to form community for the family and friends of murder victims. It becomes a place of solace; a place that meets the need for the victim’s community to get concrete information about the legal aspects of the case and as a place to meet others who knew their loved one, but whom the family might not have met.

As one neighbor put it, “She’s putting a face on every victim who is murdered in DC.”

For more on read Can I Get A Witness?: Laura Amico’s DC Homicide Blog

Can I Get A Witness?: Laura Amico’s D.C. Homicide Blog

Laura Norton Amico walk through an alley in Columbia Heights where a 17-year-old girl was found dead in a garbage container. (Washington Post)

I was asked this weekend why I write so much about the dead. The combination of an earlier article on the bodies of 9/11 victims left in the Fresh Kill Landfill on Staten Island (At the Hour of Our Death), my book Who Killed Donte Manning?, and my recent column for Sojourners Rachel’s Wail for a Murdered Teen appeared to set a pattern.

While the answer could be complicated, it’s actually very simple. In Catholic teaching there are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One of the corporal works is to “bury the dead.” One of the spiritual works is to “pray for the living and the dead.” Through my writing, I’m trying to practice my faith.

Attending to the works of mercy can lead one into some strange places. Over the past few months I’ve been talking with Laura Amico who runs a blog called Homicide Watch DC. Today’s Washington Post ran a feature article on her work and included a short quote from me. See an excerpt below:

On the morning of Nov. 15, Laura Norton Amico found herself penned inside a scrum of journalists who had packed a room at D.C. Superior Court for a glimpse of the lead suspect in one of Washington’s highest-profile murder cases: the 2001 killing of federal intern Chandra Levy.

But while everyone around her was jockeying for the best view of Ingmar Guandique, the man who would later be convicted of Levy’s murder, Amico waited patiently for the clerk to call the unheralded case of Vernon McRae, a 22-year-old Southeast man charged with fatally wounding Michael Washington, 63, during an argument in October.

Amico, 29, a former police reporter from Santa Rosa, Calif., has quietly carved out a role for herself as the District’s most comprehensive chronicler of the unlawful taking of human life. Since October, she has documented her efforts on a blog called Homicide Watch D.C. Her mission sounds simple: “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.” …

Rose Berger, 47, turned to Homicide Watch D.C. to follow the case of Ebony Franklin, a teenager whose body was found just before Christmas stuffed in a garbage can in an alley near Berger’s Columbia Heights home. A slaying leaves “a hole the community,” Berger said. And to be able to follow the case “allows for healing to happen.” Blogger Aims to Chronicle Every D.C. Homicide

Benedictine monastics have understood since the Middle Ages that in times of great social upheaval, economic distress, and environmental disasters that tear apart families and communties, the church can offer a very particular gift: stability. As Gerald Schlabach writes, “Precisely because it contrasts so sharply with the fragility of most commitments in our hypermodern society, the Benedictine vow of stability may speak more directly to our age and churches than anything else in the Rule.”

When I came to the Columbia Heights neighborhood to join Sojourners intentional Christian community (as it existed then), I had no idea how long I would stay. Now, 25 years later, much of that original community has moved away. However,  new communities grows up in the shell of the old, discipled by the witness of those who experimented with the gospel before them. And the Christian work of honoring the dead carries on in an new way.

Dr. King and the ‘Maladjusted’ Prophets

Protesters picketed the racially segregated Glen Echo Park in 1960, near Washington, D.C..
Pacifica radio is playing speeches from Dr. King all day. It’s the best tribute I can think of. It’s like an all day seminar on the very best of American history and religious nonviolence.

The earliest recorded speech in the Pacifica archives is from June 4, 1957, when Dr. King delivered a speech to students at the University of California at Berkeley at the invitation of the Young Men’s Christian Association and Young Women’s Christian Association. His topic was “The Power of Nonviolence”, and in relatively few words King movingly described the principle of nonviolent resistance and the ideals he sought to uphold by using it in his movement. The speech’s conclusion has a famous section on the biblical prophets and “maladjustment.” He says:

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word. It is the word “maladjusted.” Now we all should seek to live a well—adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things. I call upon you to be as maladjusted to such things. I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day cried out in words that echo across the generation, “Let judgment run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

My community e-list today for the Columbia Heights neighborhood has a reflection by one of our local heroes, Kenneth Barnes, founder of ROOT Inc,dedicated to ending gun violence, recalling segregated D.C. He writes:

I was born and raised in northeast Washington, DC, in a section known as Trinidad.   I grew up on Owen Place, a street between Montello Ave and Trinidad Ave, NE.  My family moved to Owen Place in 1945, and, ironically, was the first African American family to move onto the block.

I attended Wilson elementary school on the corner of 6th and K St, NE.  Wheatley Elementary is on the corner of Neal St. and Montello Ave, NE, within two blocks walking distance of my family home.  Yet I had to catch a bus to go to Wilson Elementary over a mile from home and by pass Wheatley every morning.

As a child, I would wonder why but it was one of those mysteries not clearly defined by my family to me and it seemed as a child to be no big deal.  My family was from the south and shielded the inequities of segregation and the evils of racism from my brother, my sister, and me.  Racism and segregation was a part of everyday life accepted by families like mine from the south as part of their existence.

I remember being in the first integrated class of Wheatley when I entered the 5th grade and still was not totally aware of the segregated society that I had been a part of.   I remember studying history and not really seeing or being able to identify with Black people, because all history at that time being taught consisted of the history of western civilization and culture or American (White) history.  We learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,   Davey Crockett and Wyatt Earp were big frontier heroes.  Even God was a white man with a flowing white beard and hair to match, and Jesus Christ was a younger white man with a darker beard and long hair down to his shoulders.

I succinctly remember one black person being taught as being a hero during the American Revolution, and his name was Crispus Attacks.  I remember wondering at the time what made him a hero and why was he singled out.  He happened to be in a crowd of people that were shot by English soldiers and he happened to be black.  I never could figure out what was heroic about that nor, at the time, did I understand the significance of why he, of all the heroic Black people throughout history, was singled out and given to us (Black children) as being a hero.

This naivete of thinking remained with me up until my high school years.  I remember about a black lady refusing to give up her seat on a bus.  I remember about sit-ins and protests, about Medgar Evars being murdered, about a bombing of a church, and civil rights workers being killed.  Even with all that atrocity my most vivid memory is of a remarkable man, a preacher, who began to become prominent as a spokesperson against all of the evils entwined with bigotry, segregation, and racism.  He spoke eloquently yet forcefully and firmly.  He spoke with a gentleness of conviction, and his powerful message of non violent confrontation as a means of battling racism began to resonate throughout America.

He stood up for us as African Americans perhaps as no other before him.  He was, to me, our savior, our Christ.  He led marches and protests against racist and segregation against some of the vilest and most ruthless people in this county.  He was beaten, stabbed, locked up, attacked by dogs, and water hosed.  Yet he seemed to rise, larger than life, above it all.

And he became my first hero.  He opened my eyes like no one before me had.  I began to listen to his speeches, enthralled by his every word.

I remember this great man being able to call a march on Washington and give perhaps the most magnificent speech ever delivered in the history of mankind, with the entire nation as well as the entire world enthralled. …

I encourage you to spend some time today being discipled by the essays and speeches of Dr. King. Listen to just one today and let the words take root in your mind and heart.

Guantanamo: When Will it Get Foreclosed?

Demonstrators with Witness Against Torture march to the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, on January 11, 2011. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Please keep in your prayers the fasters who are in prayer at the U.S. capitol between January 11-21 keeping vigil for the closing of the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo. As an opening to their prayer vigil yesterday, they engaged in a little prophetic street theater in front of the Justice Department.

In August 2007, candidate Obama promised to close Guantanamo, saying “As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.”

In January 2009, one of President Obama’s first official acts was to sign an executive order promising to close Guantanamo within one year. “This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he said.

Christians and others are taking the lead in holding President Obama accountable for his pledge.

A group of 173 human rights activists, each wearing an orange jumpsuit and a black hood and representing the remaining 173 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rallied in front of the White House on Tuesday to mark the ninth anniversary of the detention center’s opening and to protest the Obama administration’s inability to close it.

“Detainees, halt!” yelled Carmen Trotta, a volunteer with the group Witness Against Torture, who wore military fatigues as he gathered the protesters in Lafayette Park. “Turn left. Face the home of your captor.”

The rally and street theater were organized by a coalition of groups – including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows – that are calling on the administration to either try Guantanamo Bay detainees in federal court or release them.

“We believe in and promote the rule of law,” said Valerie Lucznikowska, whose nephew was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and who described the military detention center in Cuba as a “living stain on America.”

Last January 2010 passed and we now move into a second year of with 173 men and boys still held in an extrajudicial setting. Obama has learned that the issue “is complicated.” Indeed it is. But it must be done. America’s democracy requires that we “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.”