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Civilly disobedient Dominican sisters seek to ‘rouse the nation’ for peace, disarmament

By Barbara Hughes
January 7th, 2008
The Catholic Virginian (

NORFOLK, Va. (The Catholic Virginian) - Some regard Dominican Sisters Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert as prophets.

Others have called them “domestic terrorists.”
The two women were recently in Norfolk as part of the Light in the Darkness Festival sponsored by the Tidewater Peace Alliance.
Following the screening of the film “Conviction,” in which the nuns were featured, they shared with the audience their commitment to nuclear disarmament and the dismantling of weapons of mass destruction.

Symbolic trespass

On October 6, 2002 the two nuns along with Sr. Jackie Hudson of the same order cut through a chain link fence and entered a nuclear missile silo site in northern Colorado.
In a symbolic act of disarmament, the nuns painted crosses with their own blood on the silos and, using hammers, tapped against the silo lids. Their intent was to offer a testimony which proclaimed, “No more; not in our names.”
“We have the responsibility to rouse the nation,” Sister Ardeth told the audience.
One hour after they entered the site, the sisters were arrested as they prayed while sitting on a 110-ton concrete nuclear warhead block.
They were the first protestors to be charged and convicted of sabotage in a Colorado District court under the Patriot Act.
This was not the first altercation with the law for the nuns-turned-peace-activists. Sister Ardeth had been arrested more than 30 times which contributed to her being sentenced to 44 months in prison. Sister Carol received a 33-month sentence and Sister Jackie received a sentence of 31 months.

Food for fine

The documentary, produced by Brenda Truesdale, examined the severity of the sentencing in light of the symbolic actions of the nuns. The defense attorney argued that the action taken by the nuns did not interfere with or obstruct national defense.
His argument that the action taken to call attention to the disregard by the United States for the non-proliferation treaties which it had signed was deemed non-admissible in court. Nor was any reference to the more than 30 agreements that have been violated by the United States or the injustice of the use of weapons of mass destruction allowed in their defense.
The nuns made it clear that in good conscience they could not pay the fine to the Air Force. To make restitution, however, they instead collected more than 60,000 food items to be distributed to veterans and military families who depend on food stamps.
The judge refused to accept the food and ordered the trucks off the military base. With the help of the Denver Rescue Mission, the food made its way to needy veterans and military families.
“Our faith leads us to work against war,” explained Sister Ardeth. “Few people realize that we are on high trigger alert every second of the day and that if a weapon is deployed, it cannot be called back.
“The chances of a weapon going off is greater today than it was during the period of the cold war.”

Never a reprimand

Responding to a question from the audience about how their actions were viewed by the Catholic Church, Sister Ardeth said that they have never received any negative responses.
She told the audience, “Carlos Acosta, O.P., the Master General of the Dominican Order, wrote from Rome to thank us for actions that truly reflect Gospel teachings.”
Sister Carol reported that when they visited Bishop Richard C. Hanifen, then bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, he knelt in front of them and asked for their blessing.
In November of 2007, their community of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Mich., asked the U.S. government to adopt a plan “to lock down, dismantle and eliminate nuclear and all weapons of mass destruction.”
The rationale for their stand states: “As women religious, the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids believe all creation including the earth itself to be sacred and we stand in witness to the triumph of life over death, love over hatred and hope over fear.”
The sisters became affiliated with Plowshares at Jonah House in Baltimore, an organization of peace activists who through peaceful actions protest issues of injustice.
“We all live our faith differently,” noted Sister Carol. “I can’t condemn, we’re all on a journey that evolves. And we can’t put up walls around those who disagree with us.”
The former school teachers’ journey as peacemakers began after they attended the Special Session of the United Nations in 1979 on disarmament. As they listened to the speakers, they realized they could no longer remain complicit through silence.
“Jesus poured out his blood, and we would rather give our blood than have others die in vain,” Sister Ardeth said.

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