March 2, 2018, Washington, D.C. – Four Adrian Dominican Sisters were among about 200 Catholic priests, Sisters, lay leaders, and Dreamers who on February 27 gave public witness to the Catholic call for a clean Dreamers Act that would allow a path to citizenship for young immigrants who had come to the U.S. with their parents.
Sister Elise García, OP, General Councilor, was among about 40 participants who were arrested in a nonviolent act of civil disobedience, staying in the Capitol Rotunda to pray for just and compassionate immigration legislation after the Capitol Police had warned them three times to disband. Standing in solidarity with her and with the other arrested protestors were Adrian Dominican Sisters Attracta Kelly, OP; Corinne Sanders, OP; and Heather Stiverson, OP.
The national Catholic event was organized by Faith in Public Life, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, PICO National Network, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, NETWORK: Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, and other Catholic organizations. Events included Mass, followed by talks by two Dreamers; a press conference; the civil disobedience action; and the opportunity for participants to meet with their legislators to lobby for the passage of a clean Dream Act to protect the young immigrants from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – established under the administration of President Barrack Obama – offered the Dreamers temporary safety from arrest and deportation. President Donald Trump had set March 5 as an expiration date for the program, but the move has been blocked in court.
Sister Elise described her experience of being arrested as very sobering. “As I was being handcuffed and taken away, I knew that I would be free within a couple of hours and could get on with my life,” she said. “But I was also aware that arrest for the Dreamers, without legislation providing them legal status, would have disastrous consequences for them and their families for their entire lives.”
Sister Elise described civil disobedience as a “nonviolent form of action undertaken to draw attention to an injustice.” During her arrest and processing afterward, she said she felt the support of the Adrian Dominican Congregation. “Our three other Sisters participated in solidarity their presence, further symbolizing and giving witness to this action as one that is communal.”
Sisters Corinne, Attracta, and Heather also expressed their solidarity with the Dreamers and their commitment to ensuring that the Dreamer Act is passed. “I wanted to do anything that might help change [the legislators’] minds so they could … take a stand and get the Dream Act passed,” said Sister Attracta. An immigration lawyer and an immigrant from Ireland, she directs the Congregation’s Office of Immigration Assistance.
“The Dreamers didn’t choose to come to this country, but once they got here, they embraced it and it’s now their home,” Sister Heather said. “Those who graduated from college are now working and contributing to our country. They just want to stay here and give back to our country.”
Sister Corinne also recognized the plight of immigrants. “People immigrate not necessarily because they want to, but because of violence, lack of food and water, and justice issues” in their home countries, she said. “I have come more and more into an understanding of immigration and a desire to work more closely on behalf of those who are in our country, and to look for more comprehensive and just immigration reform.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters said the Day of Action gave them a sense of hope and a feeling of solidarity with the Dreamers and other participants. Sister Attracta said she felt hope just from seeing the faith and hope of the people attending the action. “Everyone was there to be of help, and young people were there trusting us older people that we would help them get some safety here in the U.S.”
For more about the action in Washington, D.C., read articles in Spanish by Telemundo and in English in America Magazine, The National Catholic Reporter, and the Catholic News Agency.
March 10, 2017, Modesto, California – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters – Sisters Cheryl Liske, OP, and Mary Priniski, OP – were among 800 grassroots community representatives to gather at the U.S. regional meeting of the World Meeting of Popular Movements. (WMPM). The first such interfaith gathering in the United States was February 16-19 at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, California.
The WMPM is a series of gatherings of grassroots people, organizers, and activists who have been called together by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to advise the pope and the world on how to meet the needs of two “fragilities” named by Pope Francis: the poor and the Earth. The U.S. regional gathering was organized by the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Pacific Institute for Community Organization (PICO) Network.
Sister Cheryl, a member of the planning team for the regional meeting, had attended the WMPM gathering in Rome to get a feel for the gathering and to meet with others to structure the regional meeting in Modesto. A community organizer, she ministers at Gamaliel of Michigan, one of 44 affiliates of the national organization. Gamaliel’s mission is to “empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social, and economic decisions affecting their lives.”
“I worked with our Gamaliel staff in various states and produced a delegation to Modesto of over 80 leaders and organizers,” including 19 from Michigan, Sister Cheryl said. The diverse group met beforehand and will meet as a follow-up on March 23, she added.
Sister Cheryl also invited Sister Mary to the regional meeting. Sister Mary ministers with the Catholic Community of the South, a “network of clergy and laity who are compelled by faith to solidarity with those on the margins,” according to the organization’s Facebook page. Sister Mary took the opportunity to engage with 11 Southern Catholic bishops about the issues involved in the gathering, and to meet with several grassroots community groups as well.
While the world meeting focused on issues such as land, labor, and lodging, the U.S. regional gathering focused on domestic issues of specific importance. “Right now immigration is the most pressing, and something we’re all working on,” Sister Cheryl explained. “Related to that is mass incarceration. We’re working on a strategy in Michigan to reduce prison [population] by about half.”
The gathering resulted in a document that included eight proposed actions, including the call to faith communities to establish themselves as sanctuaries for people facing deportation; bold, prophetic leadership from faith communities; state and regional meetings of popular movements; and the establishment of International Week of Action on May 1-7, 2017.
Both Sisters Mary and Cheryl came away from the gathering energized and inspired by their experience – from the talks they heard and the commitment of the people involved. Sister Cheryl was impressed by the “great speeches, great panels,” not just by bishops and other Church leaders, but by grassroots activists.
Sister Cheryl was moved by the talk from Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who challenged leaders to “get out there and do the work. We can’t just be praying and hoping for change,” Sister Cheryl said. Cardinal Tobin called for Catholics to work for the poor, to work for those who have been excluded from our society and in our economy, she added.
Sister Mary, for her part, was impressed by the talk given by Bishop Robert McElroy, of the Diocese of San Diego. Bishop McElory’s talk, widely discussed in U.S. Catholic newspapers, was also described in an article in the National Catholic Reporter.
A key point for Sister Mary was the encouragement she gained from the gathering, knowing that may people are working for justice and peace. “We are not alone,” she said. “If you feel alone, you are not. There are a lot of people around the world” working to bring about justice and peace. “The pope is very much supporting the work that we’re doing to stand with those who are suffering.”