On Saturday April 8 at 4:00 a.m., I was one of the nine women who piled into a Loras College van and to start the 18 hour journey to the east coast, which began our alternative spring break to Washington D.C.
The first place we visited and stayed at was the Peace Oasis in Accokeek, Maryland (40 minutes outside of Washington D.C.). It serves as a type of peace-retreat house, and it is completely surrounded by a wooded forest and sheep, lots and lots of sheep … and some cows. It was here where we really grew as a community of peacemakers and were able to come back from whatever we spent our day doing and safely be able to process it at night. It truly was a Peace Oasis.
On Sunday April 9 we attended Palm Sunday Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Washington D.C. where we received some of the most genuine and hearty welcomes that most of us had every experienced in a church before. The choir was movingly soulful and during the Sign of Peace almost every pew was emptied into the main aisle so everyone could offer peace to each other.
The next day on Monday we spent most of the morning weeding the garden at the Peace Oasis and spent our afternoon at Little Friends for Peace in Washington D.C. This is an organization founded by MJ and Jerry Parks, who let us stay at the Peace Oasis for four days, which functions as an after school program for elementary aged children to learn how to resolve conflicts and act in a peaceful, nonviolent manner-which is easier said than done! We played at a park for a few hours with the buddy that we were paired with, and during our time spent with Little Friends for Peace we were all able to gain a little bit of insight into the reality of what these children have to face in their day to day lives.
Tuesday was dedicated to lobbying “on the Hill,” which simply meant that our group decided that we want to bring to our representatives in Washington attention real immigration issues. The morning was spent with NETWORK, a Catholic social teaching organization dedicated to lobbying, and they prepped us for our meetings with Congressman Blum and Senators Ernst and Grassley. These meetings were rather difficult for a variety of reasons but one of the highlights of lobbying was seeing all of us on the trip come together to support one another, to listen to each others frustrations, and to celebrate in the small victories accomplished in our meetings.
Wednesday we said goodbye to the Peace Oasis and stayed the night at the Jonah House in Baltimore, Maryland. The Jonah House is a community dedicated to peace and nonviolence, and it was started by renown peace activists: Liz McAllister, Phil Berrigan, and Daniel Berrigan and their legacy is continued by Joe, Emily, Tucker, Evie, and Augie (the community who lives there now). Our group helped plant seeds and vegetables in their garden as well as organize boxes of food for the food pantry that is run out of their house every week.
Holy Thursday and Good Friday were spent in Washington D.C. mainly at St. Stephen’s Church but then progressed to the Pentagon and the White House as we joined the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker community of Washington D.C. for their annual Faith and Resistance retreat. We spent our time meeting somewhat legendary peace activists, like Sister Megan Rice and others, learning about their dedication to nonviolence and spent time reflecting on how we can replicate their radical love of peace and justice in our own lives. We witnessed outside of the Pentagon and White House with them, saw some of them risk arrest in attempts to spread peace instead of comply with violence, and we all participated in an action of emphasizing who among us in society is still being crucified this Good Friday by dressing as victims of modern day crucifixions and standing in front of giant cross.
Needless to say, this was a full week and I personally am so grateful for the experience that I had as well as the wonderful, and beautiful women I spent the week laughing and crying with. Someone had some wise words that I feel truly sum up the experience of dedicating Holy Week to Nonviolence, “once your eyes have seen the light, there’s no going back”. And I feel that at least for me, after seeing how much our world needs peace and nonviolence-there truly is no going back.