The Adorers of the Blood of Christ, shown here leading prayers in their cornfield chapel in July, argue that the pipeline that Williams Company is building on this land violates their religious freedom rights. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Months ago, when the nuns and the activists built a chapel in the proposed path of a Pennsylvania pipeline, they said that if the bulldozers came to tear up the nuns’ land and put a pipe beneath it, they might stand in the way of the construction equipment to block it with their bodies and their prayers.

That day arrived on Monday.

In a dramatic showdown in a cornfield, owned by Catholic sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, 23 people stood holding hands and singing hymns until they were arrested and charged with defiant trespassing.

“I feel really frustrated with our courts and our government,” Barbara Vanhorn, a local resident who came to the nuns’ cornfield to join the protest, said to NPR. The oldest of the 23 people arrested at 86, Vanhorn said she worries that the natural gas pipeline, which will carry the products of fracking in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation, will damage the environment. “They’re giving in to these big, paying, lying companies that are trying to destroy not only our country but the world.”

According to the local Fox News station, 11 of the protesters who were arrested are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. NBC News reported that one protester, who suffered an apparent panic attack after his hands were zip-tied behind his back for more than an hour, was taken to a hospital.

Most of the people arrested were local residents; one traveled from Massachusetts and another from West Virginia to join the protest. Mark Clutterbuck, who leads the group Lancaster Against Pipelines, said that almost 100 people participated in the demonstration.

The nuns, most of whom are in their 80s and 90s, did not protest but did hold a prayer vigil in support.

The sisters argue that allowing a fossil fuel pipeline on their land goes against the land ethic that members of their order sign, vowing to protect the earth. They lost a case in federal court fighting to keep Williams Cos. from laying the pipeline beneath their cornfield but are still awaiting a decision on a separate lawsuit that they filed, alleging that the pipeline violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Clutterbuck said he thinks the judge who decided the first case against the nuns should have granted the sisters an injunction so that Williams Cos. would not be allowed to start construction on their land until the religious freedom case is heard in court.

“It’s so infuriating that the courts are so complicit, and just so openly complicit, with the industry against the religious freedom of the sisters,” Clutterbuck said. “To me, it is just so shameful.”

Clutterbuck’s 16-year-old son was the only juvenile protester arrested on Monday; his wife, a Mennonite pastor, was one of three clergy arrested.

Lancaster Against Pipelines said it will hold another prayer service followed by protest in the sisters’ field or at another site where Williams Cos. is working on the pipeline on Saturday. It urged members of its email list: “Come ready to sing, to celebrate the power of communities rising, and to shut down some heavy equipment.”

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