By Michael Alexander, Staff Photographer | Published March 22, 2018
On March 14, the day of the National School Walkout, students and faculty across the country left their classrooms to protest gun violence at schools and remember the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, one month earlier. I went to Marist School, Atlanta, that day.
Fourteen students and three faculty members, standing at various points around the school’s Alumni Plaza, held posters with photographs of the victims. For 17 minutes, hundreds stood in complete silence. It was a very surreal and powerful moment.
I’m proud of what I witnessed at Marist School last week. Some of the upperclassmen, motivated by the principles of the Society of Mary and Catholic social teachings, had approached the administration with the idea of how Marist could participate in the National School Walkout. The administration listened, set parameters and the plans for silent prayer and protest unfolded.
Striving for justice and peace is not a new component of the educational experience at Marist and other Catholic schools. At the center of the event last week, I saw something I had not noticed before. It was a Peace Pole. Standing seven to eight feet in height, the white pole bears the message “May Peace Prevail On Earth“ in eight different languages (English, Chinese, Arabic, German, Spanish, Latin, Hebrew and French).
Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School has a Peace Pole, which was blessed back in September 2016 during the campus ministry team’s “Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.” At the school’s old campus on West Peachtree Street, the pole was planted in a small meditation garden. Today, the Cristo Rey Peace Pole is displayed in front of their new building on Piedmont Avenue. Their pole bears the same message in four languages (English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Amharic).
The horrific acts of gun violence we have witnessed in American schools lately have torn at our hearts. But the experience on March 14 left me hopeful. It also reminded me of two Scripture readings. The first one is from Luke 18:16: “Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'” The second one is from Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Read the March 21, 2018, Blue & Gold article, “Prayers for Peace on Thursdays,” by Marist School freshmen, Clare Seymour and Abby Testani.
Read more about the local Catholic school response in Andrew Nelson’s article, “Catholic students mark Parkland tragedy with prayers, activism.”