More than 1,400 people descend on Capitol Hill for Advocacy Day

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Columbus Circle in front of Union Station in Washington filled Nov. 6 with more than 1,400 people holding signs reading, “End mass incarceration,” “Pass a clean Dream Act,” “Immigrants are welcome here,” and “Families have no borders.”

They were there for a public witness before the start of Advocacy Day, the culmination of the 20th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice held in Crystal City Nov. 4-5. Participants headed to Capitol Hill to speak with elected officials to advocate on relevant topics.

The Teach-In attracts representatives from more than 120 Jesuit and other Catholic universities, high schools and parishes in the United States, Canada, Mexico and El Salvador. Five teens and two adults from Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington attended the weekend conference.

Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network that oversees the conference, said over the years, the goal of the Teach-In has been to make it relevant to the realities of what’s happening here and now.

“We were talking about two main issues this weekend: the realities of racism in our society and the impact of immigration policy on marginalized populations,” he said.

Participants prayed, sang and listened to speakers, including José Cabrera, a senior at Xavier University in Cincinnati, who is undocumented and an immigration reform activist; and Miguel Garcia, a representative from Homeboy Industries, a non-governmental organization in inner-city Los Angeles that provides support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women.

Garcia focused on how to break the cycle of violence. “Why did you profit off of my punishment?  Why didn’t you invest in me?” he asked of his time in prison. “Investment instead of incarceration — invest in the people in the community. How much more worth is a human life than mere monetary success?”

Nearly 2,000 attended the conference, themed “Rowing into the Deep: Magis Meets Justice.” Participants listened to speakers including Father Bryan Massingale, Maria Stephan and Jesuit Father James Martin.

During his keynote address Nov. 4, Father Massingale, a racial justice scholar and theology faculty member at Fordham University in New York, invited the participants to look at the world through the lens of the class of 2018. Since their freshman year, several racial issues have been in the news, including Michael Brown Jr.’s death in Ferguson, Mo., and the riots in 2014; the murder of nine people at a Bible study in Charleston, S.C., in 2015; and Charlottesville in 2017.

Kaitlin Collins Pardo, a teacher at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, brought 25 students to the conference. “We came here to learn how to advocate for specific issues,” she said. “I think we have had deep conversations, especially about race, that I don’t think high school (students) get the opportunity to talk about. They get this opportunity to learn about the issues, and take it a step further and be able to advocate on behalf of those issues.”

Virginia Vanegas, a senior at Rockhurst University in Kanas City, Mo., attended for the second time. “We have so much fire to go and change the world. We have that initiative now,” she said. “I think there’s a lot more work to be done, but the election of 2016 ignited a spark for more people to get involved.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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