In the spirit of Lent


Lenten_Vigil_1Local peace activists use Lenten season to call attention to war

By luke eggleston
Sun staff writer

Each Friday throughout Lent, anti-war activists have been gathering at cathedrals throughout the Northeastern U.S. to demonstrate against the war in Iraq.

These vigils have called upon the patronage of Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, who was beatified by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins in Linz, Austira on Oct. 26, 2007.

Organizer and Pax Christi member Frank Woolever said that the vigils are rooted in the concept of “breaking the silence.”

“The way that it has been framed overall is breaking the silence. Breaking the silence of what war is about, how immoral this war is and with the hope that we will end the war and become more peaceful in ourselves and in others. That’s the whole idea. It’s very simple,” Woolever said.

Woolever explained that the plan for the demonstration originated when several members of the Syracuse Diocese attended Jagerstatter’s beatification, including Dick Keough and Jack Gilroy. While in Rome, Keough and Gilroy met with noted activists Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Father Roy Bourgeois, MM.

“They were looking for a way that they could take their experience over there and move it to a different plan, a plan of prayer and action,” Woolever said.

When Gilroy returned from Jagerstatter’s beatification, he invited 12 others to come to his camp on Cayuga Lake, where the planning began in earnest. Among those from the Syracuse Diocese who attended the impromptu meeting were Fathers Tim Taugher,  Fred Daley and Kevin Bunger, along with Woolever and Keough. There were six other participants from dioceses throughout the northeast, according to Woolever.

The vigils began on Ash Wednesday. Each Friday at 7 a.m., the participants gather at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Syracuse to fast and pray. In the mid-afternoon, they move to nearby Plymouth Congregational Church to continue the vigil through 7 a.m. on Saturday.

Father Taugher explained that the Lenten season was selected because of its spiritual significance.

“Lent is a season of change of heart, of repentance, which is a change of heart, change of lifestyle, change of vision,” Father Taugher said. “And I think in the whole reality of what’s taken place over these five years with the war shows that we really haven’t changed much in that regard and as Catholic Christians we’re called to make a change and repent as well as mourn the dead and what new vision can we bring to this complicity in the war.”

According to the activists, Jagerstatter is a patron of the vigils.

Jagerstatter was an Austrian Catholic conscientious objector who was born and lived in St. Radagund, a small village near Salzburg. During Nazi Germany’s occupation of Austria, Jagerstatter was the only resident of the village to vote against the Anschluss, or annexation.

After spending six months in the German army, Jagerstatter was released to return to his farm and he swore never to raise arms again.

In 1940, Jagerstatter was ordered to return to military duty. Although he reported to the army, he refused to serve, saying that his religion did not permit him to kill.

Jagerstatter was then arrested and subjected to a military trial in Berlin. He was found guilty of treason and was subsequently beheaded Aug. 6, 1943.

When he authorized the beatification of Jagerstatter, Pope Benedict XVI declared him to be a martyr.

“He speaks to us. He’s a person who lived back during World War II and he said no to Nazism. Not only did he say no to Nazism, he said no to an unjust war,” Father Taugher explained. “What we have here is an unjust war that’s taking place in our day and have we really spoken out against this? What risks are we willing to take to keep this from happening again but also to change the environment and the culture in our own Catholic community to be against war.”

St. Andrew the Apostle Justice and Peace community joined the participants in their vigil Feb. 22 and Feb. 23. Members of the Plymouth Congregational Church, along with Pastor Craig Schaub will participate in the vigil March 14 and March 15.

Woolever said that he hopes others will continue to join the vigil, if not in person then in empathy. He also hopes to transmit the group’s hopes for peace on to young people.

“Our hope is that other people will join in. Not necessarily that they come down here but that they get into the spirit of it and pray for the ending of the war and also the thoughts around how are we going to share it with our youth,” he said.

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