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Letter to the Pastor of St. Patrick's


On Sunday, October 4, 2009, Martha Cone was one of five people who attended St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Armonk in a bannering campaign that has been conducted in Westchester County over the last two years to encourage clergy and parishioners to oppose the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is her letter to the pastor of the church prompted by the grabbing and shoving of two of the group by an usher and the silence of the congregation after what they witnessed.


White Plains, October 8, 2009

The Reverend John F. Quinn
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church
29 Cox Avenue
Armonk, N.Y. 10504

Dear Reverend Quinn:

Enclosed please find the mission statement of the little group that visited your church last Sunday (Oct. 4) with our peace banners. I wrote it because this was not the first time we encountered extreme anger from parishioners. In the confusion that followed the incident I omitted to leave it behind.

When we met you after the service you mentioned several time that the man who wanted us to leave the church was a good man who wanted to protect you. I would like to ask you: what did he think you needed protection from? From two people in their early 70’s and 3 middle-aged women, peacefully holding up signs? One sign had statistics on it about the number of Iraqis and Americans killed, the other was a large cloth banner which simply said : “Peace on Earth, Good Will to All, Luke 2:14”, hardly something to get irate about.

Ironically the person who got the brunt of your parishioner’s anger was Debra, a former Maryknoll nun, who worked for many years in Tanzania. She is the only person in our group who regularly attends church and is a practicing catholic. He pushed her into the pew because she didn’t leave fast enough for him and after the service her shoulder still hurt. She was pretty shaken up by this. Your parishioner may be a good man, but as the saying goes: “All it takes for evil to exist is for good people to do nothing”.

It seemed very appropriate that you started the service with the words of famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever does”. We see ourselves as people living up to these words.

Usually we hold up the banners during the announcement period. We always look at the program and try to find an appropriate moment for our vigil. In catholic churches there is not always an announcement period, which is why Debra chose the moment of penance for us to stand up with our banners.

In some churches the minister has acknowledged our presence, thanked us and invited us to stay for the coffee hour to discuss our views some more. This still has to happen in a catholic church, which is a pity because the Catholic Church has deep roots in the peace movement. Last Sunday, nobody came up to speak to us after the service. Debra, who is the only one who could and wanted (after some reservation) to receive Communion, was almost prevented from entering the line, which saddened her even more.

We were impressed by some things in the church: the bulletin board outside which says: “God bless the world” and the United Nations banner inside instead of the American flag. I myself was raised in the Netherlands and when I first saw the American flag in a church, many years ago, I was shocked. A flag is a very nationalistic, divisive symbol which has no place in church, because a church, any church, promotes all that is good in us and transcends the superficial things that divide us.

And finally, it is nice to collect winter coats for less fortunate children, but one has to ask: why is this necessary in the richest country in the world, why are there many more poor people than in the rest of the western, industrialized world? Isn’t this a disgrace of national order that in a country like this small children have to suffer from the cold?

As Dom Helder Camara, former Bishop of Brasil, once remarked: “If I give food to the poor they call me a saint. If I ask “why don’t the poor have food, they call me a Communist”. I doubt whether in northwestern Europe people are asked to give to the poor in their own country. This isn’t a matter of being less generous, but of a system that distributes wealth more equally.

Our vigils aren’t meant to criticize or embarrass. They are meant to start a process of communication, to get the people of this country to think about the evil done in our name and with our money and yes, it is an attempt to try and get the clergy more actively involved in the public discussion of the wars.

In Peace,

Martha Conte


Enclosure: Mission Statement


“We are a small group of people not belonging to any particular organization but all of us having deep roots in the peace movement. We visit houses of worship with our banner to remind people of the horrors of the Iraq war. This war is carried out in our name and with our money and thus all of us have blood on our hands.

Our banner simply states:

4,155 + U.S. Soldiers Killed – Thousands Wounded

One Million Iraqis Killed – Millions Displaced

Much of Iraq and Its Culture Have Been Destroyed

The U.S. Has Spent Two Trillion – 4 Billion from Westchester


Our “action” is a silent vigil. We never disrupt the sermon or homily and we try as much as possible to show our banner during the announcement period. We do not speak, shout or hand out flyers inside places of worship. When asked to sit down, or to leave, we

always do so immediately. True, in a perfect world there would be no reason for our action, but in a perfect world military would no invade another country which was never a threat to our security. In the year that we have been bringing our message into churches we have sometimes met with extreme anger from parishioners. In all honesty, doesn’t our action pale in comparison with the actions of our troops who have entered and bombed mosques and killed innocent civilians, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but in many other countries as well? This to us is a matter of common human decency, a matter of: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

All of us have protested against this immoral war, which is against international law, since before its start. We have marched in New York City and in Washington. We have stood on street corners in all kinds of weather for protests and vigils. We have gone to military recruitment centers and we have written letters to our elected officials. All to little or no avail. For us this war goes beyond free speech. There is little point in having free speech when it becomes impossible to hear the truth because it is drowned in a sea of propaganda and lies. We now feel obliged to take our take our message to a different level because we feel a deep obligation to obey a higher law, the law of our own conscience.

The truth can and should never be silenced and neither will we. Silence is not always golden. Sometimes it is the voice of complicity and betrayal.

And finally, there is an element of self-interest and self-preservation in our action. The trillions of dollars spent on the war machine should be spent here at home, on housing, education, healthcare, roads and bridges, the building of levies to prevent floods. And yes, self-preservation because although we as a nation may not be outraged by the immense suffering brought about by the actions of government, the rest of the world, especially the victims of our government’s crimes are. For them it is not an issue of free speech or of politics and sooner or later they will retaliate in self-defense. Would we do any different?

The voice of clergy is largely missing in the public discussion of the wars. During the Vietnam War “Clergy and Laity Concerned” was a major force working to end that war.

For more information or if you would like to join us contact: WHY THE SILENCE?:

Nick Mottern or Gayle.

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I am not surprised by the way some members of this church responded to a peace action. I have been glared at with open hostility when standing at a table displaying anti-war materials. I have had church people turn their backs on me to deliberately show their disapproval of my presence at a table with peace materials after a service. I have seen ministers discourage people from calling meetings to ask if the church membership wished to take a stand against the Iraq War.

When we had a box against a wall in a hallway to collect donations to send to Marines in Iraq, church members complained that it "got in the way." After a year of posting occasional notices for films or speakers on war and peace issues, I have seen formerly open bulletin boards removed. The church now requires that all notices be approved prior to posting. I have seen policies regarding scheduling church space become increasingly cumbersome and confusing when attempting to schedule anti-war educational events. Notices for peace events in church publications have been omitted or in error, requiring repeated phone calls to correct them.

From church literature surveying activities and groups, the wide-ranging work of a peace group has been mostly absent. Further, not only have church leaders not attended interfaith peace services held at the church, they did not respond to personal invitations to do so. Again, this from a self-professed "liberal" church.

In addition, I have seen a member walk out of a meeting called by fellow members to discuss the possibility of the church making a public statement against the Iraq War. I have seen many other members not attend several well-publicized discussion forums on this topic.

On the other hand, I have also been inspired by many people who have stood up for peace and justice, even at church, but the numbers seem too small. The silence and lack of courage among clergy is especially disturbing. Does conflict threaten membership and donations? When peace activists in a church are treated as though they are doing something wrong, I am deeply troubled. I know people desire belonging, but at what cost?

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