Civil disobedience was never on my radar. I first engaged with senators and members of Congress through phone calls and letter writing campaigns — I called Sen. Patrick Toomey so frequently I began addressing him as “Senator Pat.” When I began standing with and for Dreamers, I protested outside of government buildings, organized prayer vigils, attended prayer vigils, learned about immigration, and sent students on a border immersion experience in El Paso.
Nothing worked. Congress is still nowhere near a permanent solution that will uphold the human dignity of Dreamers.
Last summer, I interned with Joan Chittister and the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. When they asked if I wanted to join them in the Catholic Day of Action through civil disobedience, I felt a calling from God and a responsibility as a Catholic to take a stand. I did not expect it to be sacramental.
On Tuesday, I was arrested for an act of nonviolent civil disobedience at the Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers. It was incredible, and challenging. My dad taught me that sacraments are outward signs of God’s inward grace. In other words, they are are visible signs of what the USCCB calls an “invisible reality.” Who would have guessed zip ties around my wrists would help me understand the depth and beauty of sacraments?
These visible signs of sacrament where everywhere, like the continued singing and praying in the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda while we were being arrested. Then there were less public moments, like when Sister Anne McCarthy, Breanna Mekuly, Jackie Small, Sam Miller, and I began our day praying in Saint Peter’s Church before mass, and Sister Anne brought a tiny blue bottle of holy water from Saint Brigid of Kildare and Saint Walburga, who were healers.
As I put the water on my forehead, I asked God to use me as healer and a unifier for our nation.
After our prayer, I signed my pledge of nonviolence. The organizers handed me a purple bandana to tie on my arm, to keep track of who was risking arrest. As the piece of cloth tightened around my right arm, I felt it — a pain in my stomach accompanied by a roar in my heart, of courage, of union, of communion with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I was now tied to the Dreamers. I had felt that way previously, but not to this degree, with the sign unapologetically on my arm. For the first time, my fate, as a white, middle class, Catholic woman, was literally tied up in theirs.
Mass was the best way to start a nonviolent demonstration. My protest sign had the chorus of Here I am Lord: The front read, Here I am Lord, the back read, I will go Lord, if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart. Guess what we sang at Mass? Here I am Lord. I have sung that song a million times before, but in the moment it took on new meaning: I will go get arrested Lord, if you lead me, I will hold the Dreamers in my heart.
These sacraments were visible signs of the inward grace which lead to my arrest. The grace I received was true solidarity — not the fluffy kind that makes us feel connected, but the raw kind that sends the resounding, tangible message, I am with you.
At the press conference I met a young woman around my age named Maria. It had taken tremendous courage for her to be part of the demonstration, and she said she was going to be reading the rosary in the Rotunda. A few people interviewed her. When she finished and stood next to me, I asked if she was a Dreamer. She said yes. I looked at her, lifted my arm with the purple bandana, and said, "I’m with you." We both started to cry.
I think that is what happens when you see your sister hurting. I think that is what happens when you feel your sister’s presence, knowing she is ready to help heal some pain, or at least be brave enough to stand in it with you.
I’m with you.
Each sacrament — baptism, eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation, marriage, holy orders, anointing of the sick — is a way for Catholics to show that we are with God, and God is with us. And we are with each other.