Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Protesters Ponder Next Step on Vieques

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Protesters Ponder Next Step on Vieques

Article excerpt

Inside his tent on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques just before dawn May 4, Feliciano Rodriguez put on his vestments and walked to Mass at the nearby chapel in the middle of the bombing range where the U.S. Navy had for six decades practiced war. Before the celebration could begin, however, armed U.S. federal marshals and FBI agents swooped down on the Catholic encampment.

"It was a spiritual moment for all of us. There was a solemn mood. The agents blocked access to the bread and wine, so we just prayed and sang hymns. As people in other groups were led away, we sang to give them encouragement and courage," said Rodriguez, a priest who has coordinated resistance activities on Vieques for the Catholic diocese of Caguas, which includes the 21-mile long island (NCR, March 10).

Thirteen other priests were arrested with Rodriguez, as well as five women religious and 22 lay Catholics. The government said 216 people in all were arrested during the early morning raid.

Demonstrators were released without charges.

The Navy did its part to encourage renewed resistance, waiting a scant four days before sending two A-4 Skyhawks to drop bombs on the island. The projectiles were inert "dummy" bombs, but protestors were nonetheless incensed. "This changes the panorama completely," declared Puerto Rican Methodist Bishop Juan Vera Mendez, one of several Protestant leaders arrested May 4.

Church leaders, who have emerged as the leaders of the Vieques campaign, spent several days discussing their options. …

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