"The Diocese of Monterey is in the beginning stages of the synod, training parish groups to go out and listen to the experiences of everyone, including those on the margins. Bishop Garcia and Deacon David Ford, who is leading the process in the diocese, both have experience working with community organizing groups in the past. They were quick to enlist their help with the synod.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Bishop Garcia, who had been meeting with Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, or COPA, since he arrived in Monterey. COPA is an association of community organizers based in California. “There are already some processes out there,” the bishop said. COPA “does a really good job of getting the pulse of the people. We’ve been really happy about how, at least initially, it’s going.”
Diocesan leaders [held] five separate regional meetings to train leaders throughout the diocese about how to carry out the synod at their parish. Bishop Garcia invited pastors to attend along with a group of parishioners who would lead the synod at their church."
[In photos: (top) Bishop Daniel Garcia delivers opening remarks at one of five regional training sessions; (middle right) COPA leaders initiate synodal conversations.]
A California Bishop Invited Community Organizers to Help with the Synod. So Far, It’s Working, America: The Jesuit Review [pdf]
In 2014, five years after the foreclosure crisis had wiped out immigrant homeownership in Assumption Catholic Church in Monterey County, California, a new scam threatened the parish. Targeting low-income, Spanish speaking residents in Catholic churches, an unscrupulous group signed up thousands of predatory lending victims (at the price of $1,250 a head) for a lawsuit against the banks that defrauded them. The group had no real intention of seeing the lawsuit through.
However, unbeknownst to these characters, the leaders of Assumption had undergone in-depth parish leadership development, the result of which was a strong and vibrant team of new leaders who, from COPA, had learned to secure lighting in the parish neighborhood, sign up residents for expanded Medicaid and expand healthcare access for undocumented residents of Monterey. Having developed confidence in their own competence, upon hearing an announcement about the lawsuit at mass, these COPA-trained leaders immediately moved into action.
They stopped the predators from recruiting at their parish, alerted the Diocese of the danger to other Monterey County parishes and went on to persuade the County District Attorney to assign an investigator to the case. Through their training and experience, the parish leadership of Assumption was able to protect fellow parishioners and save thousands more families from being re-victimized.