Clergy from the Archdiocese of Chicago pledged Monday to fast this Lenten season in solidarity with undocumented immigrants after one priest got the ball rolling with a hunger strike last month.
Members of The Priests for Justice for Immigrants, and Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants held a press conference in Holy Name Cathedral’s chapel to advocate for “Dreamers” and encourage politicians to pass legislation protecting the undocumented.
The pledge comes as the U.S. Senate begins open-ended debate on immigration after a budget deal was reached over the weekend without protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors — called Dreamers, AP reported. The Dreamers were protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, called DACA. President Donald Trump rescinded DACA in September with an expiration date of March 5.
The Rev. Gary Graf, pastor at St. Procopius in Pilsen, began fasting on Jan. 15 and has been subsisting on water and protein powder since to show solidarity with Dreamers. Graf said he plans to continue fasting until a decision on DACA is reached.
“The first day was hard, and then since then, I think your body just goes into a special and spiritual dimension of fasting,” Graf said. “It’s been actually a very life-giving experience, and I feel as healthy as I ever have.”
Other speakers at the conference included Elena Segura, of the archdiocese’s immigration ministry, who urged attendees to call the White House and advocate for DACA recipients.
The Catholic religious figures were joined by Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, senior rabbi at Temple Jeremiah in suburban Northfield. He encouraged people to be empathetic to the plight of the undocumented since “we were once all Dreamers ourselves.”
Lent, which begins Wednesday, is a Christian period of religious observance lasting 40 days involving fasting and penance. Judaism doesn’t honor Lent, but commemorates Passover, which will begin as Lent is ending.
Vicente Del Real, 28, a Dreamer who came to the United States at 15 from Mexico, said he was inspired by the community’s support.
“Dreamers are not alone. I believe that we have a lot of people that are . . . with us in this fight across the country,” Del Real said. “I think the Congress might be divided on immigration but the people are not. So I do have hope that something happens soon, and we may see justice happening soon.”