CLINTON — A prayer service and send-off for nine Ashford University students who will travel to Columbus, Ga., from Friday to Sunday for the annual prayer vigil and peace march to close the infamous “School of the Americas” (SOA) will be held at The Canticle Chapel, 841 13th Ave. N., Clinton, on Thursday, Nov. 18, beginning at 7 p.m.
“The public is invited and most welcome to join us,” said Clinton Franciscan Sister Anne Martin Phelan, coordinator.
For 15 years, Clinton Franciscans, Associates, and friends have been traveling to Columbus in mid-November along with tens of thousands of other committed peacemakers to stand before the gates of Fort Benning, the largest Army training base in the nation, and pray for the closure of the “SOA.” This year, the congregation is assisting the Ashford students who will represent them.
Now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the “SOA” is where over 60,000 Latin American soldiers have been trained at U.S. taxpayer expense in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Originally founded in 1946 in Panama, the training center was moved to U.S. soil in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty.
The U.N. Truth Commission implicated graduates of the SOA in the Nov. 16, 1986, execution of six Jesuits priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. “That is why the prayer vigil is held in mid-November,” explained Sr. Phelan, “to pray for, to remember, to mourn and to speak for them and for the tens of thousands of Latin Americans who have been murdered by their countrymen, many of whom were trained at the SOA.”