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Springfield Union-News

Springfield Residents Mark End Of Navy Exercises With Mass


February 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Springfield Union-News. All rights reserved. 

SPRINGFIELD - In a show of solidarity with the citizens of Vieques , local residents yesterday celebrated the Navy's imminent departure from the Puerto Rican island with a Mass at St. Michael's Cathedral.

Organized by the grassroots group Todos Con Vieques (All with Vieques ) of Massachusetts and the American Friends Service Committee, the Mass was an opportunity for local activists to reaffirm their support for the people in Vieques .

The Navy owns two-thirds of the island and has used a small part of it for military exercises and as a bombing range for the past 56 years.

The final bombing exercise was completed last Saturday, and the Navy said it will leave Vieques by May 1.

The local struggle for peace in Vieques gained international support after the April 1999 death of David Sanes, a civilian guard who was killed by a stray bomb.

Celebrated by the Rev. Paul Manship, director of Catholic Latino ministries for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, last night's Mass was attended by about 50 people.

Manship said solidarity is the willingness of people to walk along battle lines and to step out for something better.

"To be in solidarity is to share in tragedy and success. This solidarity is today and forever," Manship said.

Agma M. Sweeney of Westfield, a representative of Todos Con Vieques who organized the Mass, said she was thankful the Catholic Church allowed the group to celebrate the moment.

Jose Adams, also of Westfield and a group member, said it seems almost unreal that the Navy is leaving Vieques .

"The dream has come true now," Adams said.

Adams and his wife, Olga, lived in Vieques for 12 years, but left in 1992 to raise their children in a healthier environment.

While the bombing in Vieques has ceased, the islanders must now fight to ensure that the U.S. government rids its environment of heavy metals and toxic waste, which many say is a result of the military's use of live ammunition.

The Navy switched to inert ammunition after Sanes' death.

While Navy officials have denied that military exercises have harmed the population, cancer and infant mortality rates on the island have increased greatly since the 1970s.

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