On the morning of Nov. 25, Los Angeles religious, civic and community leaders gathered in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in public alliance with “Fast for Families” activists in Washington, D.C., who have been abstaining from solid nourishment for comprehensive immigration reform since Nov. 12.“Today we are standing up for those who won’t be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with their families and loved ones — those who are suffering because of our broken immigration system,” Archbishop José Gomez told more than 50 people in the side Chapel of the Relic of the Tilma of St. Juan Diego. The archbishop explained that, according to Judeo-Christian tradition, “fasting is a spiritual sign of penance and a way for us to show our solidarity with those in need. Fasting is an outward sign of interior conversion — a conversion of our heart. And that’s what we need in our country today. “We need a conversion of hearts. Everyone knows our immigration system is broken. But our leaders don’t seem to feel enough urgency to fix it. So we offer our fasting today as a prayer, in the hopes of moving the hearts of our national leaders in Washington.” Archbishop Gomez reported that nearly two million individuals had been deported in the last four years, with one of every four taken away from their families. These, he emphasized, are not statistics but flesh-and-blood people. And the tragic results are children left without parents and parents who won’t see their sons or daughters again for years. “We cannot abandon these families with so much suffering,” he stressed. “And we cannot let our leaders avoid this issue for another year. What we are doing here today is very little. We know that. But we do it with love — love for God and love for those he loves, the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.” The archbishop invited the 4.5 million parishioners in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ 297 parishes spread across Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to join him in fasting for the reform of the nation’s repressive immigrations laws. “Our little acts of sacrifice and self-denial have great spiritual power. So we’re inviting everyone to fast and pray for immigration reform. Let us share our bread with the hungry. And let us make our voices heard for those who have no one to speak for them.”As pastor of Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights, an urban parish that’s a frequent first stop for undocumented immigrants, Jesuit Father Scott Santarosa was doing precisely that. He told The Tidings members of his impoverished struggling flock — after lobbying, marching, holding workshops and other public protest actions for years — were frustrated that Congress still couldn’t pass an overall immigration act with a clear citizenship path for the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States today.“Fasting can be seen as somewhat extreme,” the pastor observed. “But this is a moment that calls for extreme action to show Congress that this is really something that has to happen. I mean, the fact that there actually are enough votes in Congress to pass immigration reform, and yet the speaker of the House [of Representatives] will not bring it to a vote, to me, is abominable. “So, therefore, I think people of faith have to stand up and call it for what it is: unconscionable. And fasting is a way to do that. So I think it’s really important, and at Dolores Mission we’re going to do a water-only fast for three different days: Dec. 3, 11 and 18, International Migrants Day. I’m going to do the best I can, but I can’t guarantee anything,” he said with a chuckle, before adding, “I’m not a spiritual macho man.”Since the Fast for Family kick-off, 225 parishioners at Dolores Mission have already signed up to fast for immigration reform on Dec. 3, 206 on Dec. 11 and 196 on Dec. 18. In addition, at least 247 parishioners will pray for reform on Dec. 3, 237 on Dec. 11 and 228 on Dec. 18. Back in the Capitol, the 17 original fasters and later joiners living in a tent on the National Mall have garnered more attention after the President and First Lady visited them the day after Thanksgiving. President Obama praised members of the group for their sacrifice, while expressing concern about their health. And he held in his hands a shoe, reportedly from an immigrant who died in a harsh desert seeking a better life in America. “The President and First Lady’s visit has reignited our spirits,” said faster Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union. “Their encouraging words reconfirm their commitment to immigration reform and the countless aspiring Americans who seek to come out of the shadows of fear and repression.”Another of the first fasters was Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the social justice lobby NETWORK, which organized the “Nuns on the Bus” cross-country tour this summer to advocate for immigration reform. During that odyssey, she and the other women religious met undocumented immigrants who faced deportation and separation from their families.“Tearing people apart is not who we are as a nation,” the Sister of Social Service said at the start of the Washington fast. “It is wrong and it must be stopped.” At the Los Angeles Fast for Families, Archbishop Gomez was joined by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-Calif.), L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, L.A. Chamber of Commerce Chairman Alan Rothenberg and other civic, labor and community leaders.Ridley Thomas said fasting and praying were “time-tested” social actions that had repeatedly altered history by the inspiration of men like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. “The spiritual grounding is what ultimately has led to significant change in not only our nation but the world,” the supervisor noted. “So today we simply appeal as a statement of solidarity, as a statement of compassion that is grounded not in civil rights, not in constitutional rights but is centered in human rights. “In the final analysis, we are dealing with human beings,” he said. “And we should never forget the fact that this is not a policy when we talk about immigration reform. We’re simply talking about the rights of children and their families. And so I think today, the debate has appropriately shifted and has called on us to look into our inner being — that is to say fast and pray.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/1206/fast/{/gallery}