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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DeSales University organizer Kristen Snyder meeting with Rep. Charlie Dent to lobby for immigration reform.
In coordination with the Fast for Families group fast on the National Mall, Catholic college students across the country have organized rolling, on-campus fasts, eating no food and drinking only water to call for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform to be held.
Creighton University in Omaha began fasting on Nov. 11th, and students and faculty organized nightly prayer services throughout the week.
At DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, students and faculty fasted the week following and led a lobby visit with Rep. Dent to call for immigration reform.
Loyola New Orleans hosted Nuns and Friends of Immigration Reform on Nov. 23rd, where 80 nuns and women religious gathered with DREAMERs and other speakers, despite drizzling rain, to put out a call for immigration reform. The week following, students and faculty fasted.
The first week of December, as the Fast for Families fasters on the National Mallcome into their third week abstaining from food, Saint Joseph’s University, Gonzaga University, Regis University, University of Dallas, St. Edwards University in Austin, Loyola University Chicago, Notre Dame University, Misericordia University (PA), Cabrini College and Villanova University all have fasting teams on campus made up of students and campus ministry and other administrators.
Next week, University of San Diego students are leading a campus fast and other Catholic colleges continue to add fasters to this national movement to call for comprehensive immigration reform.
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