In an essay for The New York Times last November, Pope Francis exhorted us to “dare to create something new.” With the coronavirus pandemic reaching new heights, he challenged us to reject a strain of selfishness fed by a distorted ideology of personal freedom.
For this reason, the primary audience for Let Us Dream includes ordinary citizens and the institutions in which they organize. The book was written in collaboration with Austen Ivereigh, who previously worked with Citizens UK—which is a sister organization of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the largest and longest-operating community organizing coalition in the United States. (Listen to an interview with Mr. Ivereigh about the book on America’s “Inside the Vatican” podcast.) The “inclusive populism” of community organizing is a practical embodiment of Pope Francis’ vision.
In Let Us Dream, Francis urges the church to be more receptive to such popular alliances—accompanying them both practically and spiritually, without seeking to dominate. He identifies “labor” and “lodgings” as two of the key issues for grass-roots action. The success of the I.A.F.’s Living Wage campaigns, and its renewal of whole neighborhoods in New York and Baltimore through the Nehemiah Housing program, demonstrates the power of institution-based organizing. If parishes and dioceses heed the pope’s call to engage with new vigor in this work, it can play a significant role in the civic renewal that is so urgently needed.
Pope Francis has Criticized Both the Left and the Right’s Politics. Community Organizing Offers a Third Way, America, The Jesuit Review [pdf]
One way that ordinary people of faith can grow in the virtue of solidarity is to join a ministry or organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of those who Jesus called the “least brothers of mine.”
Take the Industrial Areas Foundation for instance. As one of the nation’s largest and oldest broad-based organizing networks, the IAF has its roots in the Catholic social tradition. By bringing together communities across the social, political and religious lines that usually divide, the IAF is effective at helping local faith and community-based organizations live out “their missions to achieve lasting change in the world.”
In May 2020, the IAF affiliates of California mobilized their networks to do just that. Although undocumented residents are vital to California’s economy, pay taxes and have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic, early COVID relief legislation enacted by Congress prevented them from accessing critical economic aid.
Through the IAF’s organizing of an unprecedented statewide Zoom action that included 1,200 faith leaders, 10 bishops and several lawmakers, ordinary people of faith succeeded in persuading Gov. Gavin Newsom to include undocumented workers and their families in the state’s COVID relief measures.
Like the IAF, CRS understands that lasting change, both social and spiritual, often comes about when ordinary citizens work together for a just and peaceful world. Through the building of God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” Christians can cultivate the virtue of solidarity while also giving witness to the radical communion that God desires for all of humanity and creation.
[Photo Credit: Sara Fajardo/Catholic News Service]
Catholic Social Teaching: Solidarity Means Commitment to the Common Good, The Dialog/Catholic News Service [pdf]
At St. Brigid Catholic Church, the Rev. Kenneth Keke preaches that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only about eternity, but about “having a human face, loving one another.” Keke’s message stresses unity and that a “common humanity is what we need for us to live in peace.”
“That is liberation theology and that is what we preach here,” said Keke, the St. Brigid priest from Nigeria.
This is the South Los Angeles church where 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, grew up singing in the youth choir, taking her sacraments and reciting her poetry....“We need to liberate our people more,” Keke said they tell him.
“It’s like everybody here is a freedom fighter.”
St. Brigid has become known as a pillar in the community. It’s a member of OneLA, an organization made up of Jewish temples, schools and other nonprofit groups that work to improve housing insecurity, public transportation and criminal justice reform.
The church also turns into a voting center during elections and during the coronavirus pandemic has served as a COVID-19 testing site. St. Brigid also has a food distribution ministry....
Reflecting back on Gorman’s inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Keke said it was about “democracy and unity,” and the importance of “living in the country as one people, recognizing one another and respecting one another.”
“That is the spirit of St. Brigid,” Keke said.
[Photo Credit: (left) Carolyn Kaster, AP News; (right) Alejandra Molina/RNS Photo]
At Poet Amanda Gorman's Black Catholic LA Parish, 'It's Like Everybody Here is a Freedom Fighter', Religion News Service [pdf]
Arreola has received some help from Voices United for Life, a pro-life organization. And in December, she joined online house meetings organized by the Valley Interfaith Project, a onetime Catholic Campaign for Human Development-funded organization that now advocates for people facing eviction during the pandemic.
Valley Interfaith [Project], she said, has "given me a voice."
Advocacy on eviction prevention has become an important part of this work as well. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is affiliated with The Metropolitan Organization, a CCHD-fund grassroots organization that has taken on eviction prevention work since March.
Much of the effort has focused on convincing Houston and Harris County officials to quickly distribute tens of millions of dollars for rental assistance that was allocated under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, said Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer with The Metropolitan Organization.
While some communities have allocated a significant share of CARES Act funds for rental assistance, Dallas has not. Housing advocates have criticized the city for complicating the application process for receiving aid. About 1 in 4 of the people who said they needed help were successful, according to the Dallas Morning News.
For months advocates in Dallas have pushed officials to distribute rental assistance funds and expand the Centers for Disease Control moratorium on evictions. Dallas Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly has worked with CCHD-funded Dallas Area Interfaith on the effort.
"It's very harmful," Bishop Kelly said of the restrictions on accessing the money. "There's no need for it either. The funds are there."
Josephine Lopez Paul, lead organizer of Dallas Area Interfaith, said work continues on empowering and educating people about eviction prevention in the hope their voices will influence policymakers to better respond to their needs.
[Photo Credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]
Arenas de Ruiz, formerly of Venezuela, had been among parishioners in Harris County, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties who took the three-day leadership training offered [by the Gulf Coast Leadership Council with the support of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Mission & Ministry Impact to leaders of] The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), a nonprofit grassroots group. In mid-summer, more than 1,250 TMO leaders from 30 churches and other institutions convened on Zoom and Facebook watch parties for a virtual “Get out the Vote Rally” and made thousands of phone calls to 16 Harris County precincts that traditionally had low voter turnout.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has offered a teaching document on the political responsibilities of Catholics called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” The document urges all pastors, lay and religious faithful and all people of good will “to help form consciences, teach those entrusted to their care; to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue and to shape politics.”
Father Rodney Armstrong of Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Fifth Ward and his parishioners set up a voter registration table at a nearby McDonald’s fast-food restaurant with owner approval. The pastor also made a video that TMO placed on its Facebook to encourage voters.
Dr. Fernando Scaglia, a parishioner at Assumption Catholic Church off Airline Drive, said he participated in the church’s phone bank as well despite his busy schedule as a researcher and professor of genetics at Baylor College of Medicine.
He also participated in “Virtual Accountability Sessions,” where TMO invited candidates from Democratic and Republican parties to discuss how they stood on a variety of issues.
“There are so many important issues that impact all of us — health and the pandemic; economic issues like evictions and even the DACA issue for dreamers,” Dr. Scaglia said.
[Photo Credit: St. Leo the Great Catholic Church]
Faithful Citizenship Sparks Nonpartisan Voter Rallies at Houston Parishes, The Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
COPS/Metro in partnership with Community Churches for Social Action (CCSA), and the Baptist Ministers' Union (BMU), has recognized the effort and commitment of elected officials and city staff for revising the San Antonio Police Use of Force policy to completely prohibit, with no exception, the use of neck restraint (strangleholds, choke-holds) collectively referred to as lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR), along with the use of no-knock warrants.
"These policy changes certainly will not solve all of the challenging surrounding relationships between police and communities, but they do represent concrete actionable change that help confirm the city's commitment to live into the Compassionate SA ethos," read a press release from the three organizations.
Faith Leaders Recognize City Council and Staff for Policy Change, Today's Catholic
Guest Contributor: Father Richard “Rick” Andrus, SVD of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church
The fact that Officer Robert Moruzzi continues to serve on the Baton Rouge Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board is a moral disgrace....
In 2014, Moruzzi was the subject of another federal lawsuit for excessive force. While serving a narcotics warrant, Officer Moruzzi grabbed Brett Percle, a 24-year-old bystander who was not the subject of the warrant, forced his face to the concrete and stomped on the back of Percle’s head, knocking out his teeth. Percle sued, and a jury found that Officer Moruzzi had committed assault and battery, forcing the city to pay a $75,000 settlement for his actions.
Shortly after he bashed in Percle’s teeth, the police union gave Moruzzi its “Medal for Merit” and selected him to be its representative on the civil service board. Now he’s the board’s chair.
But the point isn’t to cast blame or look back. The point is for all of us to say now, with a united voice: Moruzzi must resign. We must reform our Civil Service law to remove the features that insulate officers from accountability. We must not rest or flinch until we fix this broken system.
[Photo Credit: Tony Webster/Minnesota Reformer]
We Can’t Reform Police Departments if Civil Service Boards Tolerate Abuse, Louisiana Illuminator [pdf]
TMO is among the coalition of nonprofits that have approached the city and county to urge the equitable distribution of those funds.
“We asked City Council to commit $100 million of the $404 million in the Coronavirus Relief Fund to rental assistance. But the next day, they committed $15 million that was distributed online in a matter of minutes to about 12,000 families,” Higgs said.
“A survey shows of the 700,000 rental units in the area, up to 85,000 cannot pay rent at this time. A huge number of the people are service workers, men and women of color, hourly workers who lost their jobs with little if any savings. The need is so immense,” he said.
With any moratoriums on evictions ending, justices of the peace may resume processing eviction notices by mid-June and constables will start showing up at apartments, he said.
“It doesn’t make sense to evict someone who has paid regularly but is not able to currently pay during this crisis. Plus, when someone in uniform shows up to evict, it’s scary as heck, especially for those who may be undocumented,” Higgs said.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church]
Facing Eviction, Single Mothers With Kids Hit Hardest By Need For Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
With his parents out of work and without housing, a DREAMer lays his hope in God that DACA survives....
Until five weeks ago Ángel and Isabel worked helping out in a restaurant and cleaning houses, but they lost their jobs when the coronavirus crisis displaced them from work and they could no longer pay rent. Their son Diego immediately offered to take them in....
"My parents have been my spiritual guides," said the youth who will be able to stay [in the US] as long he can renew his DACA permit in October. "Now that my parents need me, I feel fortunate to have work and to be able to support them."
....in a virtual action organized by Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI), and co-hosted by Bishops Edward J. Burns and Greg Kelly, the priest of San Juan Diego [where Diego serves], Father Jesús Belmontes, described the situation of immigrant families in the face of the pandemic as "critical and sad."
One day after the action, the City Council of Dallas approved a measure that would allow 1 of the 7 millions of dollars that would go to rental relief to be directed to nonprofit organizations to help undocumented families pay their rent.
A Dios Le Pido..., Revista Catolica [en español]
Special two-day training to prepare ministry leaders to deliver 'Recognizing the Stranger' sessions to Spanish-speaking leaders across the West and Southwest US reached Colorado. Fifteen leaders from Colorado and neighboring states received this preparation with support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and the Organizers Institute (OI).
The training was hosted by the Colorado Institute for Public Life (CIPL) in Denver, Colorado.