Franciscans Fast for Immigration Reform

Maria Hayes In the Headlines

WASHINGTON — A small white tent on the National Mall quietly became the epicenter of a growing national movement that received a wave of support from Franciscans around the world on Dec. 3.

Since Nov. 12, Fast for Families, a group of faith, immigrant rights and labor leaders has been fasting there to encourage Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. On Dec. 3, HNP ministries, other Franciscans and Franciscan-hearted people throughout the nation and world joined them in a Franciscan Fast Day as a sign of solidarity with their immigrant brothers and sisters. Such an act by the Franciscans and others exemplifies Pope Francis’ preference for a Church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty,” when it comes from supporting persons on the margins.

“We want to fast to show some sacrifice and to be a symbol for the suffering that is happening in immigrant communities, because Congress has failed to act,” said Sylvia Ruiz of the Service Employees International Union Immigration Campaign in a Nov. 30 Fox5 News article.

The Dec. 3 Franciscan Fast coincided with a press event on the National Mall, when five of the fasters, who have taken only water for the past 22 days, broke their fasts for health reasons. Their mantle was passed onto others who will continue the fast. Members of the St. Camillus Multi-Cultural Choir provided music for the event.

President Obama Supports Fasters
Juan Turcios, OFM, 
of Camden, N.J., traveled with a St. Anthony of Padua parishioner to Washington to join fasters on the National Mall last week. He told Fox5 that he began fasting on Nov. 29 with plans to continue until Dec. 3. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of Silver Spring, Md., fasted in the tent last month, where a Franciscan has been present since the movement’s beginning.

Jacek was there on Nov. 22 when Vice President Joe Biden stopped by the tent to encourage fasters. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited participants on Nov. 29 to support the cause.

The president told activists that “it is not a question of whether immigration reform will pass, but how soon,” according to a White House statement. “He said that the only thing standing in the way is politics, and it is the commitment to change from advocates like these brave fasters that will help pressure the House to act.”

Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and several members of Congress also have visited the Fast For Families advocates in recent weeks.

HNP Shows Solidarity
Outside of Washington, many HNP ministries along the East Coast — from Massachusetts to Florida — publicized and participated in the Franciscan Fast Day. Among friars who fasted was Provincial Councilor Lawrence Hayes, OFM, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Durham, N.C.

“I took part in the fasting on Dec. 3 in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters seeking just and comprehensive reform of our immigration laws. In particular, in solidarity with all the Latino families of Immaculate Conception Parish suffering the effects of the current immigration impasse,” he said.

Jacek expressed his gratitude “to the many friars who personally got involved in promoting the Franciscan Fast for Families. Our friars spoke about the fast and our Provincial efforts in support of immigration reform in their Sunday homilies. They wrote columns in their parish bulletins. And they made sure the information was posted on their ministry’s website and Facebook page. I’m heartened by such a wonderful collaboration.”

Two weeks prior to the fast day, friars and their partners-in-ministry in Camden, N.J., took part in a 150-mile, nine-day “Pilgrimage for Citizenship” to encourage local congressmen to support or sponsor legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.

Juan, Hugh Macsherry, OFM, and Jud Weiksnar, OFM, joined roughly 50 people on the walk organized by PICO New Jersey, a faith-based nonprofit organization, and Camden Churches Organized for People.

Three travelers completed the entire route from Nov. 18 to 26, with larger groups accompanying them each day. The pilgrimage went from Camden throughout other New Jersey towns, stopping at the offices of New Jersey Reps. Robert Andrews, Frank LoBiondo, Jon Runyan, and Chris Smith.

 Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Research for this story was provided by Jocelyn Thomas.