There are few issues that so unite the members of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good as does the issue of immigration reform. It is a moral and religious imperative of the highest order for Catholics concerned about social justice. The Fast For Families has garnered unprecedented attention to the pressing need for the House of Representatives to bring the Senate bill to a vote. In this week’s Common Good Forum, Patrick Carolan reflects on his experience with the fasters.

“What is our faith, our words and our history worth if not translated into action, sacrifice and redemption?”  This is the first line of the statement that was issued by the fasters on November 12th, the first day of the hunger fast for immigration reform. It sums up why we were fasting. Jesus tells us that to love God we must love our neighbor and to love our neighbor we must be willing to sacrifice everything.   I joined the fast on the first day and on and off fasted for 13 days during the 30 day fast4families. I finished with a seven day fast. We were joined by many fasters from all faiths and backgrounds including Franciscans from across the country.    

A powerful spiritual transformation took place in the tent. We started out as 6 fasters. By the last day almost 200 people had joined in the tent some for a day or more and three for 22 days. Over 10,000 people joined us as solidarity fasters across the country. We even heard from a congregation of Franciscan Sisters in Zambia who joined us in fasting on December 3.  What started out as a small group of fasters in a tent on the Capitol Mall continues as a movement for change.  Each morning the fasters formed a circle in the tent to pray and share their stories. The fasters came from all walks of life, from national labor and faith leaders, community organizers, to undocumented immigrants. There was even an environmental activist who when asked why he was there replied “As someone who believes all social justice issues are interrelated, and that we are all members of the same human family, I felt moved to take a stand for 11 million of our immigrant brothers and sisters, many of whose families are being painfully ripped apart by an inhumane immigration system that flies in the face of our nation’s immigrant history and the bedrock American value of justice for all.”

 My reason for fasting starts with a very simple answer:  it is how I practice my faith, As the first line of our statement says, “what is our faith worth if not translated into action? “  We are not practicing our Catholic faith if all we are doing is going to Mass on Sunday. St Francis taught us to preach the Gospel and use words only when necessary.  Fasting for peace and justice is part of the Catholic Franciscan tradition. The second reason I fast is the stories that I heard from fasters like Lucy and Gina about their experiences crossing the desert and having families ripped apart. Or the story we heard one evening from a woman who talked about crossing the desert with her husband to seek a better life. They would have preferred to come to the USA legally but there was no possibility of that. They worked hard and had two children.  One day her husband did not come home. When the woman checked she found out he had been caught up in an ICE raid and arrested. He was deported leaving her alone with their two young children. She told us that every night when she is putting her children to bed they look at her and ask: “Mommy when is poppy coming home?”  She looked at us with tears in her eyes and said,”Que les puedo decir?”

My other reason for fasting is because my parents were immigrants. They came to the USA in 1950 from Ireland on a visitor’s visa. They had one child, another on the way, almost no education and no money. Eventually they were able to get a green card and become citizens. I asked my mother why they gave up everything they had to come to a new land where they had nothing. She told me she had a dream that her children could have a better life.  My mother was blessed to live long enough to see her dream come true. She always reminded me that I had a responsibility to work for justice so that other mothers and fathers get the chance to see their dreams of a better life for their children come true. My mom used to say: “Remember this is not our land or country; it is God’s Earth. We are all immigrants, and if we expect God to welcome us home, then we had better welcome all God’s children into our country and home. I fasted because if my mother were alive today she would have been in the tent fasting. 

Each day different folks stopped by the tent. The first day there was only a few, but as word spread more and more came to visit. They came to share their stories, listen to the fasters and pray with us. They were political leaders like President and Mrs.  Obama, religious leaders like Cardinal McCarrick , activists like Dick Gregory and Peter and Paul from Peter, Paul and Mary. There were immigrants and strangers who were just passing by and wanted to stop and offer encouragement. People from all faiths, all races, all sexual orientations, poor and rich, documented and undocumented joined us. A truly amazing thing happened. We transformed that small simple space in the tent to sacred ground. Everyone who came in had the same experience. They could feel the presence of sacredness, of holiness. They all understood that we are all connected we are all brothers and sisters. In the tent there were no Jews or Muslims or Christians, no blacks brown or white, any straight or gay, no men or women. There were just brothers and sisters, all connected and one with God.

Together we created sacred space but that is not enough. We must continue until every inch of this wondrous Earth, until every creature and all creation, are considered sacred. As a Christian I often ask people a simple question: “Do you think Jesus came with a building plan or an evacuation plan?”  When the entire Universe is considered hallowed ground, and all creation is considered sacred, only then will we be following the teachings of Jesus and building the kingdom of heaven on Earth.

Peace and All Good

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