Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fasting, Praying, and Walking for Immigration Reform

Last Monday (May 14, 2007), I supported those participating in the “Fast of Faith and Hope for Immigration Reform” by joining with approximately 200 people in walking from Spirit of Lakes United Church of Christ in Minneapolis to the Capitol in St. Paul – a distance of nine miles.

The Fast of Faith and Hope for Immigration Reform began on May 5, with ten people committing to a ten-day water-only fast. Many others committed themselves to fasting for part of this ten-day period.

The event was a wonderful example of ecumenical cooperation – with over 20 churches from a number of different faith traditions organizing and/or supporting the fast in one way or another. The primary organizers of the fast were St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, and the Office of Social Justice of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.

Those committed to fasting for the entire 10-day period were lodged at Spirit of the Lakes. In the parking lot of the church, a number of marquees were set up. Under the shade of one of these marquees, a bilingual mass was celebrated each day.

Educational materials, speakers, music, and prayer services were also offered on a regular basis to the fasters, their supporters, and to passersby, curious as to what was going on.

The organizers noted that the fast was not a protest, but the conclusion of a prayer vigil that began 30 days before the fast. The aim of both the vigil and the fast was to educate the wider community about the plight of undocumented immigrant families and the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

“The purpose of the whole thing is to ask God to bless the efforts and move the hearts of American people as well as politicians to pass legislation,” Deacon Robert Wagner of St. Stephen’s told The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis. One-sixth of the congregation at St. Stephen’s is Latino.

“[Our call for immigration reform] flows out of the whole Catholic social justice teaching about the dignity of the human person,” said Wagner. “I think we all forget our own roots and how our own grandparents, great-grandparents, maybe great-great-grandparents came here. We need to allow other people to have that chance, and let’s do it in such a way that we can influence people to begin to see [others] as Christ and to treat them that way.”

The next eight photographs are from last Monday’s nine-mile walk to the Capitol. Amazingly, most of those who had fasted during the previous ten days participated in this walk - one undertaken in 90-degree heat.

What was the genesis of the Fast of Faith and Hope? The Catholic Spirit reports that faster Ireneo Mojica participated in a similar fast for immigration reform eight months ago in Phoenix. When he returned to Minnesota, he brought the idea to Amigos de la Fe (Friends of Faith), a young-adult group at St. Stephen’s, where Mojica is a parishioner.

“I took part because I believe in God, and I’m always trying to find where God fits into this,” said Mojica, who immigrated from Mexico in 1984.

“As a Catholic,” Mojica added, “I feel for these people. I feel it is Christ that is being crucified through the people that are passing through [the border].”

According to the U.S. Border Patrol, more than 500 people died crossing the Mexico-U.S. border in 2005. As a way of acknowledging this tragedy, five-hundred white crosses lined the parameters of Spirit of the Lakes Church during the duration of the ten-day fast. People were encouraged to write on these crosses the names of those who have died crossing the border. The cross I carried during the walk to the Capitol, bore the name of Adolfo Mares Ruiz, who, according to, died on June 5th, 2006. He was 28-years-old.

Above and below: Upon arrival at the Minnesota Capitol, a prayer service was held on the broad steps leading up to the building’s entrance. Afterwards, several state senators and representatives joined us and voiced their support for comprehensive immigration reform.

Above and below: Later that evening, after the walk, the Fast of Faith and Hope for Immigration Reform ended with a prayer service in the parking lot of Spirit of the Lakes Church.

Above: Rev. James Pennington (left) of Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, and Fr. Larry Hubbard of the Sagrado Corazón de Jesús Community (which worships at Incarnation Catholic Church in South Minneapolis).

Above: At one point during the prayer service, candles and all 500 white crosses were placed together on the ground to form one large cross. In light of what each cross represented - i.e., a life lost in an attempt to cross the border - this large pile of crosses was a very poignant sight.

After the prayer service, a simple meal of soup and bread was served in the church. For many, this was their first meal in ten days.

Above: Jose Valencia (at left in striped shirt) celebrates with others the conclusion of the ten-day fast - Monday, May 14, 2007.

Valencia had earlier told The Catholic Spirit that his Catholic faith had motivated him to participate in the fast.

“We are empowered by our faith and united in our dream for true equality here in America,” he said. “We hope this spiritual passage will help bring our nation back to its core values of liberty, justice, and freedom for all.”

Above: Auxiliary Bishop Richard Pates of the Archdiocese of St Paul/Minneapolis and Rev. James Pennington of Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ – Monday, May 14, 2007.

Images: Michael Bayly

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
May Day 2007
Out and About – April 2007
Reflections on Babel and the “Borders Within”

Recommended Off-site Links:
“Fast for Immigration Reform Ends with Rally”
Photos of the Fast of Faith and Hope from the Office of Social Justice
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Now
Justice for Immigrants: The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform

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