On Monday, March 24, the “Fast for Families Across America” bus rolled into South Bend, Indiana as part of an 14,000 mile cross-country journey for citizenship and immigration reform.
Two Notre Dame students, Jessica Pedroza and Christian Myers, have been leading efforts on campus through ND’s Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy. From fasting for 24 hours in solidarity with “Fast for Families,” to organizing ‘Immigration Week’ on Notre Dame’s campus, to traveling to Chicago to join the Student Summit for Immigration Reform, they have a great record mobilizing their fellow Catholic students to stand up for humane immigration reform. Both Jessica and Christian joined local leaders at a “Fast for Families” community meeting at Little Flower Church in South Bend. The duo spoke movingly to the crowd assembled about the urgent need for immigration reform and ways this issue has touched their own lives. Here’s what they said:
“The nation has joined the fasting efforts in support of comprehensive immigration reform, including students from Notre Dame, and we all have our reasons for fasting. I chose to fast because living in fear of deportation is not the way to live. Years ago, when my family drove to Mexico to visit extended family, I saw white crosses all over the border representing those who have died on their way to a better life. People leave their lives in their home country and sacrifice everything to come here. Some bring their children out of love—for them to receive an education, for them to have opportunities…Those of us who are not DREAMers and who do not happen to live in limbo like 11 million others, have the responsibility to fight for them, to fast for them, to pray for them. These are our relatives, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates, our business leaders. When we fast, we are hungry for food, but what we are far hungrier for is immigration reform.”
-Jessica Pedroza, Notre Dame freshman originally from Phoenix, Arizona
“In our solidarity fast, 26 members of the Notre Dame community elected to each engage in a water-only fast for 24 consecutive hours during the week of Dec. 2nd through 6th. It was truly powerful to come together in this experience and simultaneously be united with other fast groups around the country…It is my hope that our Congress will look at the “Fast for Families” effort and the numerous other examples of support for our immigrant brothers and sisters, documented and undocumented, “skilled” and “unskilled,” sick and healthy, old and young, regardless of their country of origin, and do everything in their power to enact much-needed reform. Whether you are guided by God, morality, civic duty, or some other ideal, you should be able to recognize that it is our system that is broken and therefore it’s up to us to fix it. And…the time to fix it is now.”
- Christian Myers, Notre Dame student and organizer of Notre Dame’s solidarity fast
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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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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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Former Vatican Ambassador Thomas P. Melady died yesterday at the age of 86. His passing is a significant loss for the Catholic community in Washington and anyone who cares about public service. Tom was a true gentleman who believed in civility, building bridges across ideological divides and finding common ground with Catholic progressives like myself. A moderate Republican from Connecticut, he served his country and the Catholic Church by carrying himself with a gentle dignity that is all too rare in a city of strutting partisan peacocks.
While almost 50 years separated us, Tom became a friend because of our love for the Catholic Church and the conviction that serving the common good means a lot more than whether you voted for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. At times the politics of the Catholic Church can feel even more polarized and nasty than the battles waged on cable news and Capitol Hill, but Tom never let labels or blind partisanship stop him from reaching out to progressives. He even joked with me a few times that he was willing to take heat from his friends on the right for his eagerness to make common cause with more liberal Catholics.
Tom was a man of integrity and clear moral vision. He spoke up as a pro-life Catholic who opposed abortion but also called the scourge of gun violence a sanctity-of-life issue. While some conservatives and a vocal minority of bishops argue pro-choice Catholic elected officials should be denied Holy Communion, Tom rejected turning a sacrament into a political bludgeon. He joined other Christian leaders to denounce Uganda’s shameful efforts to dehumanize gays and lesbians. He spoke out for comprehensive immigration reform. He challenged the powerful and all of us not to forget the growing ranks of the poor and hungry. Tom knew that politics could be a noble calling, not simply a blood sport for the self-serving and ambitious.
I will miss his stories over lunch at The Army-Navy Club and his impromptu phone calls to talk about politics or the Church. Our country will miss his spirit of service.
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Many tears were shed on the National Mall on Tuesday morning when leaders of the Fast for Families who had gone without food for 22 days broke their fast before an audience of faith leaders, Members of Congress, and leaders of the immigration reform movement. Witnessing the commitment and sacrifice of these physically weakened but spiritually powerful leaders was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’m especially proud that my colleagues at FPL have played a key role in planning and carrying out the Fast For Families from the beginning.
And the movement continues. After the outgoing fasters received a blessing from Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, seven more people — including five faith leaders — began their own long-term fasts in the same tent where it all started on November 12th. It’s a sign that our resolve for immigration reform that protects families and builds a path to citizenship is stronger than ever. As my friend Rev. Gabriel Salguero told the crowd, we’re going to win because our cause is just.
At the same time, thousands took part in solidarity fasts across the country, including students on 15 Catholic college campuses organized by Faith in Public Life. If Speaker Boehner had hoped the faith community’s groundswell for citizenship was a last gasp, he was sorely mistaken.
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