Priests, religious take up Lenten fast for ‘Dreamers’

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Priest, religious take up Lenten fast for ‘Dreamers’

Priests for Justice for Immigrants and the Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants introduced “United in the Cross of Christ with Dreamers,” a 40-day Lenten fast, that will encourage priests and religious brothers and sisters, and their congregations, to stand in solidarity with “Dreamers” during a press conference at Holy Name Cathedral on Feb. 12, 2018.
Father Don Nevins, pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia, reads a statement. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Benedictine Sister Patricia Crowley listens to one of the speakers. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, from Temple Jeremiah, Barb Miller and Sister Dorothy Pagosa of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis, pick up a chain symbolizing the weight of oppression. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Greg Sakowicz, rector of Holy Name Cathedral, Rabbi Paul Cohen and Barb Miller hold up a chain. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Gary Graf, pastor of St. Procopius in Pilsen, holds onto the chain. Graf has abstained from eating since Jan. 15, to support “Dreamers.” During his fast, Graf lived off water and protein powder. Priests for Justice for Immigrants and the Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants will carry on his fast. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sister Dorothy Pagosa and Father John Hoffman, pastor emeritus at St. Francis Xavier Parish in LaGrange, read the intentions. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Participants signed a calendar showing which day during Lent they would fast. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Dozens of priests and religious sisters and brothers promised to fast at least one day a week throughout Lent in solidarity with young people who were brought to the United States without documents as children and now face the possibility of deportation from the only home many remember.

In a Feb. 12 press conference and prayer service organized by the Priests for Justice for Immigrants and the Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants, the group pledged their support to young people known as “Dreamers,” after the proposed DREAM Act, which would have given them a path to citizenship if it had passed.

Many of them received temporary relief from the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, created by executive order in 2012, but President Donald Trump announced in September 2017 that the program would end in March. The prayer service happened two days before Lent started and the same day that Congress began debating a more permanent solution for DACA recipients and young people who would have been eligible for DACA.

“We pray for the Dreamers, for our legislators and for ourselves,” said Benedictine Sister Benita Coffey, who opened the service.

“One of our religious convictions is that prayer, fasting and almsgiving will work against hard hearts,” said Father Don Nevins, pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish. “Fasting is not just about giving witness. It is about joining our sacrifice to the sacrifice of Jesus.”

“We will atone on behalf of our brothers and sisters in this country who might be filled with hatred toward our Dreamers,” said Sister Dorothy Pagosa, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph-Third Order of St. Francis.

Those present signed a calendar, marking the days they would fast to carry on the efforts of Father Gary Graf, pastor of St. Procopius/Providence of God Parish in the Pilsen neighborhood. Graf started a water-and-protein-powder fast in solidarity with the DACA recipients on Jan. 15.

Graf recounted the story of Jesus going out of his way to heal a man possessed by demons and isolated from his community. Like Jesus, he said, those who came forth at the prayer service and those who stand in solidarity with them are offering succor to those affected by the end of DACA.

“Today, we are legion,” he said. “Not possessed by demons but rather the spirit of Jesus Christ, who fasted and prayed. For indeed, as the Catholic faithful of this archdiocese we stand today on the cusp between our Dreamers being either rejected and expelled from the only country they have known or being allowed full access to this great nation they call their home.”

Graf said he intended to carry on his fast, even though others stood ready to carry it forward.

“I feel hopeful that something is going to happen soon,” he said. “The citizens of this country support the Dreamers, and they are going to have an effect.”

Rabbi Paul Cohen of Temple Jeremiah in Northbrook joined in the prayer service. He spoke about God commanding that the Jewish people welcome strangers, and remember that they once were strangers in Egypt.

“In the Torah, we are commanded no less than 36 times to care for the stranger,” Cohen said. “It’s repeated more times than any other command in the five books of Moses.”

What’s more, Cohen said, God makes it clear that there will be consequences for those who do not heed that command.

“If we oppress those in our community who are the most vulnerable, God will hear their cry, just as he heard our cry when we were in Egypt,” he said.

Elena Segura, associate director of the archdiocese’s Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity and senior coordinator for immigration, urged those present to call White House chief of staff John Kelly and ask for him to encourage the president to support a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and for comprehensive immigration reform that would protect the unity of families.

Segura said her office will continue to work for a solution no matter how long it takes.

“Rachel in the Old Testament never stopped crying out to God,” she said. “The little children, the first martyrs, never stopped crying out to God. Neither will we.”


  • immigration

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