For me, Lent is always a powerful time of reflection and prayer on self-sacrifice. Those who strive to build the beloved Community bring new life out of the ashes of sin and brokenness.
Last winter the “Fast for Families” movement put immigration reform back on Congress’ agenda. This month faith, immigration and labor leaders launched “Fast for Families Across America, a seven week bus tour that will visit 75 Congressional districts to help change the hearts and minds of members of Congress who continue to oppose long overdue immigration reform. Twenty-eight Catholic college and university presidents who fasted on Ash Wednesday reflected: “As we begin this sacred season and remember Christ’s journey of suffering the desert wilderness we pray for immigrants who hunger and thirst for justice.” You can sign up to join the fast here.
Fighting for family wages
Yesterday as I stood with faith leaders and U.S Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) to call for raising the minimum wage, I met a mom who reminded me of the sacrifices mothers and families are making in an economy that fails to honor their work with living wages. The prophet Isaiah said, “My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands,” yet today millions of workers cannot enjoy the fruit of their labor by seeing their families thrive.
A bold rebuke in Arizona
Last week evangelical leaders issued a statement boldly calling on their own communities to oppose legislation like Arizona’s SB 1062, which would have discriminated against gay people in the name of religious freedom. Their statementsaid in part: “We believe that the current position that many Evangelical leaders are taking on issues of discrimination toward the gay community directly contradict that posture of radical love and grace that Jesus so powerfully embodied in his life and teachings.” As other states consider similar bills, they will have to contend with strong opposition across the religious spectrum.
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Catholic college presidents from 28 Catholic college and universities signed a letter committing to fast in solidarity with the “Fast for Families Across America” campaign. “Fast for Families” reignited the immigration debate last November when Eliseo Medina of SEIU, Dae Joong “DJ” Yoon (NAKASEC), Rudy Lopez (FIRM) and Cristian Avila (Mi Familia Vota) fasted for 22 days in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol on the National Mall. Joined by faith, labor and immigrant rights leaders and thousands across the country who fasted in solidarity, the movement drew national attention, including the support of President Obama and both Republican and Democratic Members of Congress.
Students, faculty and administrators at Catholic colleges and universities joined the first phase of the “Fast for Families” campaign in December as a show of solidarity with those fasting on the National Mall. Now, many of the presidents of these universities and colleges have drawn inspiration from the sacrifice of their own students who fasted as well as the national leaders with the “Fast for Families”.
This is only one instance of a spate of actions by Catholic organizations calling for comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans. In February, over 150 students from nine Catholic universities met at Loyola Chicago University for a Student Summit on Immigration Reform. This week, Notre Dame is hosting a conference focused on the Catholic Church and immigration. And this past July, over 100 Catholic college presidents sent a letter to Catholic Members of Congress calling for swift passage of commonsense immigration reform.
As Christians around the world enter the season of Lent this Ash Wednesday, this distinguished group of leaders are joining thousands of fasters across the country in a unified call for addressing the broken immigration system.
The college presidents’ letter reads:
As leaders of Catholic universities, we stand with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in strong support of immigration reform that protects immigrant families and workers, and creates a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans.
We draw encouragement from students on our campuses who work tirelessly to turn this vision into a reality. Brave DREAMers are inspiring their peers to join them in the struggle for justice and dignity. Catholic students are praying, mobilizing and calling on Congress to act.
Immigrant and native-born students alike have joined the Fast For Families, a nationwide movement of fasting and prayer to awaken the consciences of lawmakers who stand in the way of immigration reform. On our campuses, a new generation of leaders is finding its moral voice.
On Ash Wednesday, we pledge to join the Fast for Families and fast for 24 hours as an act of solidarity and prayer for those who still suffer because of cruel and impractical immigration policies. As we begin this sacred season and remember Christ’s journey of suffering in the desert wilderness, we pray for immigrants who hunger and thirst for justice.
We invite our students, faculty and fellow administrators of our respective colleges and universities to join this communal act.
Rev. Michael J. Garanzini
Loyola University Chicago
Fr. Peter Donohue
Dr. Mary Lyons
University of San Diego
San Diego, CA
Donna M. Carroll
River Forest, IL
Dr. Thayne M. McCulloh
Dr. Thomas Keefe
University of Dallas
Rev. Kevin Wm. Wildes, SJ
Loyola University New Orleans
New Orleans, LA
Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.
Rev. Bernard F. O’Connor
Center Valley, PA
Antoine M. Garibaldi
University of Detroit Mercy
Rev. Stephen Privett, SJ
University of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
Dr. Thomas Botzman
Br. Michael J. McGinniss, FSC
La Salle University
Dr. Arthur F. Kirk, Jr.
Saint Leo University
St Leo, FL
Sr. Rosemarie Jeffries, RSM
Georgian Court University
Lakewood Township, NJ
Dr. James Dlugos
Saint Joseph’s College of Maine
Dr. Thomas Foley
Mount Aloysius College
Dr. Jane Gerety
Salve Regina University
Dr. Laurie Harmen
Mount Mercy University
Cedar Rapids, IA
Dr. Julie Sullivan
University of St. Thomas
St. Paul and Minneapolis, MN
Nancy H. Blattner, OPA
James E. Collins
Dr. Mary Meehan
John Smarrelli Jr.
Christian Brothers University
Sister Mary Cecilia Jurasinski
Rev. Msgr. Franklyn M. Casale
St. Thomas University
Miami Gardens, FL
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Last Saturday, more than 150 students from nine Catholic universities across the Midwest came together for Lighting the Pathway: Student Summit on Immigration Reform. The day long conference, co-organized by Faith in Public Life and the Ignatian Solidarity Network, was hosted by Loyola University Chicago and brought together students, administrators and DREAMers from DePaul University, Dominican University, Lewis University, Loyola Chicago, Marquette University, Notre Dame University, St. Mary’s College, John Carroll University and St. Xavier University.
From coast to coast, Catholic colleges and their students have been a vital part of the escalating campaign for immigration reform. Student leaders have put their faith into action by urging fellow students to act, fast, and pray to move the hearts and minds of members of Congress who continue to oppose immigration reform. Showing true moral courage and leadership, more than 100 Catholic college presidents have led the movement on campuses and late last year released a letter demanding Congress act to pass reform legislation.
In addition to workshops focused organizing skills, grassroots advocacy, and building a stronger movement, students heard from several inspiring speakers.
Veronica Soto, a DePaul student, spoke eloquently of her personal journey as a DREAMer and the obstacles undocumented status presents for her education, her family, and all those who aspire to a better life.
In the keynote address, Sr. Mary Ellen Lacy of Nuns on the Bus echoed the words of Pope Francis when she spoke of the clear call of the Gospels to be ‘our brother’s keeper.’
Students also heard from the legendary Sisters Pat Murphy and JoAnn Persch, who have led a weekly prayer vigil outside the Broadview Deportation Facility for 8 years. “We are always very polite and respectful and we never take no for an answer.” the Sisters said of their unique brand of prayerful activism.
In addition, Faith in Public Life presented three ‘Moral Courage’ awards for leadership on behalf of aspiring Americans:
- Srs. Pat Murphy and JoAnn Persch, of the Sisters of Mercy and Interfaith Committee for
- Loyola University of Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine for it’s decision last year to admit DACA-eligible students. The award was accepted by Dr. Mark Kuczewski, Chair of Medical Education, who was one of the catalysts of the change.
- President Donna Carroll of Dominican University for her leadership in making Dominican one of the first Catholic universities to openly welcome undocumented students.
Their collective work shows in stark terms that Catholic Social Teaching truly means welcoming the stranger among us. It was a humbling moment.
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Saturday’s Moral March to the North Carolina state capitol was a watershed moment in the faith community’s long movement to build a more perfect union in the face of injustice. More than 80,000 people cheered in joy as Rev. William Barber II invoked the Gospel and the prophets in a message far more bold and profound than any stump speech you’ll ever hear. This was no political rally, it was a faithful call to higher ground.
In an era of political paralysis, it takes a deep moral critique such as this to change the terms of debate in the halls of power and in the media.
For example, until very recently politicians could dismiss the discussion of economic inequality – one of the defining issues of our time — as class warfare. Now, thanks in part to the witness of faith leaders like Rev. Barber, the Nuns on the Bus, and most recently Pope Francis, it’s a debate that cannot be silenced.
Instead of stale arguments about the size of government and overwrought rhetoric about austerity, political leaders must now confront a much more important issue: the soulless way our economy excludes families while showering an elite few with near boundless wealth.
The conviction that a moral economy must strengthen families and allow all people to live with dignity has taken hold, and it will only grow stronger as we continue to preach and march.
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This op-ed by Faith in Public Life CEO Jennifer Butler originally appeared at NC Policy Watch’s blog, The Progressive Pulse.
The recent criticisms leveled by newspaper columnist J. Peder Zane and others against Rev. William Barber II for using religious and moral language to inspire political change displayed a disregard for history and even contempt for the role of faith in public life.
As we commemorate the 54th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in that sought to end legal segregation, let’s never forget that the Civil Rights movement was a religiously inspired, prophetic movement led by pastors and diverse people of faith. The late Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro Four, said the question that inspired him and three other students at the Agricultural and Technical College (AT&T) of North Carolina in Greensboro was this: “At what point does a moral man act against injustice?”
Religious leaders have been central to movements that drive political change. The struggle to end the evil of slavery, create fair labor practices and secure equal rights for all citizens were profound moral causes. We are stronger as a country because determined people of faith challenged political and social threats to human dignity. The unfinished task of living up to the ideals of our democracy and stirring the conscience of Americans continues today.
Rev Barber is raising important and often uncomfortable questions about educational disparities, voting rights and economic injustice that impact not only North Carolinians, but the entire nation. Here are some telling signs of the times. CEOs often earn as much in a single day as their workers make in an entire year. Minimum wage jobs don’t pay enough to keep many hardworking Americas out of poverty. Half of all workers are not allowed to take a sick day without being docked pay or potentially losing their job. Congress is slashing food nutrition programs for struggling families even as corporations are coddled with tax breaks. These are moral scandals. Faith leaders will continue to speak truth to power.
The separation of church and state is meant to protect both religion and democracy. Because our government does not enforce an official religion, America has a diverse religious marketplace. Speaking from deeply held beliefs about the issues that affect us all is a healthy sign of pluralism and strength, not confining moralism. Those who argue that religious leaders should be silent in public debates have not only failed to learn the lessons of the past, they deprive us of powerful voices that can help forge a more just future.
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