Giving My ‘Yes’ to Civil Disobedience

August 20, 2019

By Sister Janet Korn

I signed up for the Catholic Day of Action July 18 in Washington, D.C., before thinking through all the details. I just knew that I wanted to be there. The purpose of engaging in civil disobedience was to draw more attention to the plight of migrant children in El Paso, Texas.

Sister Janet Korn (right) with Sister Mary Marvin (center), Marianne Comfort (left), during their act of civil disobedience.
Sister Janet Korn (right) with Sister Mary Marvin (center), Marianne Comfort (left), during their act of civil disobedience.

A couple of days later, I found myself asking the practical questions. Can I handle the 400-mile drive by myself from Rochester, New York, to Washington, D.C.?  Where will I stay when I get there, and how much will it cost? Where can you park in D.C.? What bus, subway or train do you take to get to the Russell Senate Building? Where is that anyway? I sent in my “yes” before I had any answers to these questions. I just wanted to go! I knew I needed to be there.

I had sent out a general invitation to all sisters and associates to participate in this Catholic Day of Action with me. Initially, no one responded, but as the days passed, Sister Mary Marvin sent me some general questions about civil disobedience and the trip. I didn’t think that she was seriously considering participating, but as she looked for more answers to her questions, I realized that she really meant it. After her own discernment, she, too, was ready to give her “yes” to civil disobedience. Then there were two of us, which makes everything less daunting.

It was easy for me to say “yes” right away to participating in civil disobedience and then worry about the details. Mary, my partner in crime, was a wonderful companion and much better with the particulars.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to minister in Chile when that country was going through a military coup. Those were challenging times, but they offered an opportunity to minister side by side with men and women who were part of the resistance. Some had been incarcerated, beaten and tortured, yet they remained steadfast in their efforts to bring truth, freedom and justice to the country.

Protest signs at the Catholic Day of Action

The people fleeing their countries today are running for their lives, searching for safety and jobs that will sustain them. The uniting factor in both situations is the fact that the United States is responsible for much of their pain and suffering, what we call the “root causes.” In the United States, we tell migrants that they can’t come here even as American companies are removing their minerals and destroying their waterways. When migrants attempt to enter legally, they are treated poorly and often separated from other family members or turned away at the border.

As Catholics, we desire to search our souls, our beliefs and our teachings and put them into action. We realize that what our country is doing is immoral and we must respond so that our voices are heard. Civil disobedience is one means of drawing attention to the immorality of what our nation is doing in our name. We believe that some decision-makers heard our pleas for sanity, civility and humanity at the border and beyond.

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  1. Patricia McMahon, osf.

    Thank you for your witness.


  2. Virginia Fifield

    Thank you for your reflection and thank you for your ever present witness


  3. Mary Ellen Twist

    Thank you, Janet and Mary, for accepting this call to public witness.


  4. Anne Heath, RSM

    I’m grateful for your service and sharing.


  5. Natalie Rossi

    Thanks I am grateful that you were there.


  6. Vicky Arndorfer, RSM

    Thanks for your witness.


  7. Maribeth Edmonds

    Thank you, this is what I hoped it meant to be Catholic. You are restoring my faith.


  8. Kay Schwenzer, RSM

    Mary and Janet, thank you for your public witness of the Mercy support given to immigrants and against the immoral actions of our government.


  9. Carren Herring

    Amen, Sister!


  10. Kathleen McClelland

    Thanks, Janet.


  11. Mary riordan

    I am so proud of your courage and persistence. I do not have that kind of fortitude. I would love the hear the rest of the story- what it was like, were you arrested and how was that. Keep up the civil disobedience. Love


  12. Dorothy Lindsay

    Janet and Mary,

    Thank you for your courage and commitment. You are an inspiration!


  13. Dr Turlock O’Mordha

    What is your alternative plan? Think you could do this and still teach little ones about the King of Peace? You sisters have been listening to MSNBC too much.