Monday, October 24, 2005

Dear Francisca

It is nearly time for the annual School of the Americas protest at Fort Benning, Georgia (November 18-20). Our wonderful pastor has made many trips to this important challenge to our system. Below is a beautifully moving letter Cindy wrote at one of these protests.

Read it and be moved to action:

Dear Francisca Clara,

I don’t know anything about you, really, except that you are the daughter of Julia Clara, that you lived somewhere in Central America, and that you were 11 eleven years old when you and other members of your family were killed by soldiers who were trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

That’s where I learned your name: at Fort Benning, Georgia. I was there with more than ten thousand other people from my country to ask that the school be shut down. It was quite a sight to behold: pierced noses, bare feet, dreadlocks, and nuns everywhere (one of them, Sister Lucille, was 91 years old).

I met up with friends from the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Jane Esdale had made crosses for our group to hold, white wooden crosses, and out of the thousands of names of persons slaughtered by graduates of the School of the Americas, she had, for some reason, chosen yours. There it was, written on the cross, black on white, “Francisca Clara, anos 11, daughter of Julia Clara.” I’m not sure why Jane chose your name, but I chose your name, I chose your cross, I chose you, Francisca, because you were 11 years old when you died, and because I have sons who are close to your age.

I had said goodbye to my sons in the wee hours of the day before. They were still asleep, and as I touched them goodbye, I felt a jolt in my heart at leaving them. But then I said to myself, “But there are other children”…I was thinking of you, Francisca, though I didn’t know your name at the time.

We gathered there in lines of ten abreast, and as the funeral procession began, the leaders would read the names of the dead, and we would raise our crosses, I would raise your cross, and say, “Presente.” Presente: here, present, remembered. The sky was blue and the Georgia pines were green and the sun was shining, and up ahead, the American flag was flying, red, white and blue, and every few seconds, thousands of white crosses would be raised into the blue sky, raised before the American flag, presente, presente, presente. Juan Rodriquez, 35 years old, they would read. Presente. White crosses raised before the flag. Unnamed baby, 15 months old, they would read. Presente. White crosses raised before the flag. Maria Cortez, 72 years old, they would read. Presente. White crosses raised before the flag. I cried for the first fifteen minutes or so, listening to the names. Two hours later, long after I had stopped crying, the names were still coming. Presente. Presente. Presente.

I listened for your name, Francisca. I listened for over an hour, name after name after name. Then, “Francisca Clara, 11 years old.” Presente.

I left your cross on the fence of Fort Benning, there with thousands of others. I knelt there for a while before it, and remembered you, prayed for you, prayed for a different world, for a world where the hearts of the parents are truly turned towards their children, and not just their children, but all the children.

I tell you this, Francisca Clara, because I want you to know that you matter. You were presente, present, remembered and revered that day, and you are present today, and I will carry you in my heart.

Soon, we will celebrate Advent. In our culture, Advent is a time when we prepare for the coming of the Christ, a time of watching and waiting. It is a time when we prepare for and hope for the new thing that God is doing, when we long for God’s revolution to be birthed in our hearts and in our world.

This is what I long for, little Francisca, this is the revolution that I want to see: I long for the day when children like you are still alive at the age of 11, and at the age of 18, and at the age of 35, and on into old age. I long for a world where you would be alive somewhere, a young woman by now, dancing, laughing up into your partner’s face, your brightly colored skirt spinning, spinning, spinning to the music.

This is the revolution that I long for, Francisca Clara, the revolution that I will work for. And as I do, I will remember you. Francisca Clara, 11 years old. Presente.

Your sister,



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