Prayer Breaks Spiral of Violence at Waihopai

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 45, Pentecost 2008

By Letitia James

‘It’s time to boil the billy.’ The eager tones of Gilbert’s voice outside the window of our van focused my attention again. I peered from the cab and noted the rain had stopped. The ‘billy’ call indicated our all night prayer vigil was almost over.

With 15 other Catholic Workers, we had driven late Anzac weekend to the Waihopai spybase near Blenheim to pray for the dead of the war in Iraq which we believed this satellite installation helps cause. Like millions of others, we are frustrated at our inability to truly influence the terrible things that continue to happen in the world. We knew that the base played a part in maintaining the global injustice which condemns billions to lives of poverty and violence and was a vital link in the so-called ‘intelligence’ services.

David Lange, former prime minister, had said that the information from Waihopai doesn’t even pass through the hands of the New Zealand Government but goes directly to the US Government in Washington DC. This makes New Zealand complicit in the sins of global capitalism and its oil wars. Pope John Paul II called such practices ‘structures of sin.’ We felt only prayer could help change this situation.

Throughout the night we had prayed each hour for the victims of Waihopai, whose faces we would never see until the Day of Judgment, but whose deaths we were partly responsible for through New Zealand’s connection to the UKUSA military pact. Here at this site was the closest any of us would ever get to confronting a significant part of ‘the principalities and powers’ of this world. Prayer would be our means.

We knew we couldn’t get any closer than the entrance – but prayer is an amazing thing. It penetrates through gates and fences and seeps into the very fabric of its object. Or so we believe. And so it was in the small hours we prayed for the evil that this installation performs would be overpowered by God’s grace and the base would be liberated from any hold that evil has on it and the work it does. It wasn’t an official exorcism – simply prayer for deliverance from evil, as we pray in the Our Father every day. This time it had a focus. Our security we believe comes from trusting in God, not in military hardware or its accessories.

The billy boiled and warmed by a hot drink, we later shared a Eucharist on the deck of our truck, facing the twin domes. Again we prayed that the base be liberated from any evil power which might use its influence to hurt any of God’s people around the world. The sun rose behind the domes and illuminated our gathering. It seemed like a divine blessing, not unlike the rainbow blessing of creation in Genesis. Then we headed home.

Three of our number it seems had made previous plans to return to the base. Only they knew what was to happen. So, three days later, Sam Land, Adrian Leason and Fr Peter Murnane OP, enacting the vision of Isaiah 2 and ‘turning swords into ploughshares’ cut their way into the base and interrupted ‘the preparations for war’ by deflating a satellite cover. With faith, boldness, pliers, bolt cutters and a sickle, they temporarily closed the satellite down.

We were amazed. Most believe that it was nothing short of miraculous that they were able to enter the plant at all much less get to the domes. No one has ever done that in the past. The razor wire and electronic monitoring is extensive, seemingly impenetrable.

We should not have been so surprised. As has happened so often in the 120 previous Ploughshares actions overseas, amazing things happen when people prepare thoroughly with prayer, fasting and planning to do the works of God and disarm facilities which aid death and destruction. Miracles occur, reflecting the divine presence.

And a miracle is what happened. Their truck broke down and they had to go by foot, thus enabling them to get much closer than expected. It was a clear night lit by the moon with no fog. They lowered the dome. No one was hurt. They then knelt and prayed until arrested and took full responsibility for their actions.

Perhaps as a result many lives will be less threatened by the violence of empire. Maybe even lives will be saved. As the Gospels show time and again, when believers pray and act boldly out of faith, anything is possible.

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