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The Chicago Tribune

Iraq War Protesters Disrupt Chicago Mass

Stacy St. Clair and Erika Slife

Six people were arrested at Holy Name Cathedral Sunday after disrupting an Easter mass to protest the Iraq war.

The group-whose female and male members identified themselves as Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War-stood up at the beginning of Cardinal Francis George's homily and shouted their opposition to the conflict, which marked its fifth anniversary last week. As security guards and ushers tried to remove them from the service, the demonstrators squirted fake blood on themselves and parishioners dressed in their Easter finery.0324 10

The red substance, which one protester later described as "stage blood," initially drew gasps and a few terrified yelps from the 600 worshipers at the mass. The shock, however, quickly transformed into anger as people booed the six while they were escorted from the parish auditorium.

"Even the pope calls for peace," the demonstrators chanted as they left. "Even the pope calls for peace."

"And so should we all," said George, drawing strong applause from the parish.

The protesters were all charged with felony criminal damage to property and two counts of simple battery for squirting the blood around the auditorium and onto worshipers' clothes, authorities said. Chicago police identified the six arrested as Donte D. Smith, 21; Ephran Ramirez Jr., 22; Ryane Ziemba, 25; Mercedes Phinaih, 18; Regan Maher, 25; and Angela Haban, 20.

George returned to his Easter homily without further addressing the disruption. A small number of worshipers, however, followed the protesters into the lobby to berate them for disrupting the service and frightening children in attendance.

"Are you happy with yourselves?" Mike Wainscott of Chicago shouted at the demonstrators as they were being handcuffed. "There were kids in there. You scared little kids with your selfish act. Are you happy now?"

In a statement issued Sunday afternoon by Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War, the group said it protested at Holy Name "to reach both Holy Name's large Easter audience-including Chicago's most prominent Catholic citizens, who commonly attend Easter mass at the church-and the many more viewers and readers of the local press, which usually extensively covers their services."

The statement lauded the protesters' efforts to remind the churchgoers that on Jan. 7, 2008, George and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley met in Chicago with President Bush, described as the "principal public figure responsible for initiating the carnage in Iraq." While the group may have intended to do that, the jeers from an annoyed congregation and the security team's swift response made it difficult for them to deliver a succinct explanation for their disruption.

"If Cardinal George is a man of peace and is walking the walk and talking the talk, he should have confronted George Bush and demanded an immediate end to the war," said Kevin Clark of International Solidarity Movement, who attended the service to serve as a witness for the protesters.

After the service, the cardinal reiterated the Catholic Church's opposition to the war, but he said Easter mass is not the place to protest the U.S.-led invasion.

"We should all work for peace," George said, "but not by interrupting the worship of God."

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

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