St. Scholastica Monastery welcomes Fast for Families

Benedictine sisters at St. Scholastica Monastery and community members in Fort Smith bid farewell to the Fast For Families group as they head for the University of Arkansas Fayetteville for a rally March 13.
Benedictine sisters at St. Scholastica Monastery and community members in Fort Smith bid farewell to the Fast For Families group as they head for the University of Arkansas Fayetteville for a rally March 13.

FORT SMITH — Humberto Marquez, a University of Arkansas Fort Smith sophomore who immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was 4 years old, realized a dream when a big brown bus bearing the words “Fast for Families” visited St. Scholastica Monastery March 12.

“I wanted Arkansas to be a place where our leaders and community members would join us in the fight for immigration reform. Seeing the bus pull up here was very beautiful; it felt amazing,” he said.

The national bus tour, taking two cross-country routes, left Los Angeles Feb. 24 on a 32-state journey to 100 congressional districts to urge legislators to enact common-sense immigration reform, which includes a path to citizenship. The group is led by Eliseo Medina, a retired union leader who worked with César Chavez’s United Farm Workers and who later became executive director of SEIU Local 2028, the San Diego, Calif., public employees group. The idea for the bus tour began after he and other labor and civil rights leaders staged a 22-day fast in November in a tent on the National Mall.

During Lent, participants in the bus tours are fasting each Wednesday and urging others to join them. Several sisters at St. Scholastica Monastery pledged to fast in solidarity with the group and, when they learned the bus would be stopping in Fort Smith to visit Rep. Steve Womack, invited them to stay overnight at the monastery and break their fast the following morning at a breakfast with Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, Father John Antony, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, and other leaders.

“This is the first monastery we’ve stayed at. It’s a much better way to break our fast than the vending machines at Holiday Inn,” Medina said.

Growing serious, he added, “It is difficult for me to see the dreams of young people blocked by bureaucratic inertia and our broken immigration system. Unless we do what we can we will not have lived up to our faith. One thousand one hundred people are deported every day. What happens to our children? The cost of doing nothing isn’t nothing.”

Christian Avila, of Mia Familia Vota, told the group how difficult it is to for him and his peers to give up their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, accountants and businessmen, but said, “It is hardest for us to give up our dreams of seeing our parents live free from the fear of being deported.”

In 2012, President Barack Obama created a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, to give undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children temporary legal status and gives them work authorization, which must be renewed every two years, but does nothing to change the status of their parents.

Lidia Mondragon of Waldron, a senior at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, discussed the many sacrifices her family had made to ensure her education.

“I came to the United States at age 7,” she said. “I started school knowing little English in a school district with few ESL resources. I was the salutatorian at Waldron High School but feared I could never attend college because I didn’t have a Social Security number. With the help of my guidance counselors, I was accepted at University of Arkansas Fort Smith but was ineligible for in-state tuition. My tuition at UAFS was $10,000 a semester, and both of my parents worked overtime to help me realize my dream. I am graduating in December.”

UAFS granted undocumented students in-state tuition for a brief period, but Mondragon just received a letter that she would once again be charged out-of-state rates for her final semester.

Following their stay at the monastery, the Fast for Families group and several sisters visited Womack’s office and headed for Fayetteville for a rally at the University of Arkansas.

Chancellor David Gearhart told the students, “We are with you. We support you. … It’s not easy to take stands that are controversial, but it’s the right thing to do. You always want to be on the right side of history, and you folks are on the right side of history.”

The Fast for Family bus tour plans to end its journey in Washington, D.C., April 9, as Congress reconvenes for a two-week session.

Maryanne Meyerriecks

Maryanne Meyerriecks joined Arkansas Catholic in 2006 as the River Valley correspondent. She is a member of Christ the King Church in Fort Smith, a Benedictine oblate and volunteer at St. Scholastica Monastery.

Latest from News