DAI is leading an initiative to rebuild communities and congregations as we recover from two years of crisis after crisis. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the stories of a people coming out of the destruction of their temple and capital, and emerging out of exile. Over time the people become resilient and political, and they perdure.
This retreat was about reflecting deeply on these scriptures and examining how we can implement this in our own congregations and communities. Leaders aim to become a people who recognizes the stranger by seeing the face of God in the other.
115 leaders came from 17 schools, congregations, nonprofits and refugee community institutions across Dallas County and Tyler.
As part of a civic academy series held across Dallas, St. Luke Catholic Church leaders taught fellow parishioners basic principles of fair banking and how immigrants (including those without legal residency) can avoid predatory lending practices. Parish ID cards, first developed in Dallas in collaboration with the Dallas Catholic Diocese, featured prominently in the discussion, as did the collaboration with Resource One Credit Union in alternative lending strategies.
In photo, lay leader Claudia Cruz, shares her experience with the impact of predatory lending. [Photo Credit: Ben Torres, Revista Católica]
Protegiendo Families Inmigrantes de Abuso Bancario, Revista Católica [pdf]
Mary Immaculate hosted a Dallas Area Interfaith meeting in late October where school, police and mental health officials committed to working with one another to better residents’ access to resources by placing a community health worker with the church and communicating better.
“We will not bury our loved ones anymore because of lack of access to mental health services,”
parishioner Natalia Valenzuela said at the meeting. “By getting the services we need and building unity, we will overcome.”
[Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber, Dallas Morning News]
Dallas Area Interfaith has been working to help stop the spread of COVID-19 since the very beginning of the pandemic. The group, which has members from all religious groups, particularly saw a need for vaccinations in immigrant congregations.
“They are already fearful, they have a fear of the government, our approach is that you reach people in the institution that they trust most, that is closest to them and their family and those are our congregations,” lead organizer Josephine Lopez Paul said.
DAI surveyed the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 and mapped out where their congregations were located. They found that the nine areas with high rates of infection in Dallas were within their congregations.
“The most need in our membership has been among Roman Catholics, especially those who are undocumented,” Paul said.
DAI so far has had vaccination events at four area churches where more than a thousand people total were vaccinated....
Parishioners of Holy Trinity and DAI took the initiative to set up the vaccination event on June 17, partnering with Baylor Scott & White Health and DAI. Baylor and the members canvassed the area prior to the event to sign people up.
Although vaccines are easy to find in Dallas, [parochial vicar Father Mike] Walsh knew that some of his parishioners would feel more comfortable getting vaccinated at church.
“We just know that immigrants especially will get vaccinated at church even though it’s very easy to find a free vaccine,” Walsh said. “They trust church.”
Many Faith Leaders in North Texas Embracing their Role in Vaccine Push, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Francis Basebang jumped at the chance to help organize a pop-up clinic for COVID-19 vaccinations at his Dallas parish. The nurse practitioner worried that his fellow parishioners from around the globe, Cameroon to Nigeria, Mexico to the Philippines, weren’t getting vaccinated against the dreaded disease fast enough.
He knew from direct experience. The coronavirus killed two family members of teammates on his beloved Cameroon immigrant soccer team.
COVID-19 combat isn’t over. Harder-to-reach communities, such as working-class immigrants and Blacks and Latinos, are now the focus of hospitals, churches, schools and community groups.
“We have seen people die in our community. So, it is not a strange story from a different planet,” said the lanky Basebang, dressed in his soccer T-shirt and cap, at a pop-up clinic at St. Pius X Catholic Church.
When organizers set out to overturn Texas’s giveaway program for the oil and gas industry, they had a long game in mind. Over 20 years, the tax exemption program known as Chapter 313 had delivered $10 billion in tax cuts to corporations operating in Texas — with petrochemical firms being the biggest winners. This year, for the first time in a decade, the program was up for reauthorization. Organizers decided to challenge it for the first time.
At the beginning of last week, as Texas’s biennial legislative session approached its end, the aims of organizers remained modest. “We thought it would be a victory if the two-year reauthorization passed so we could organize in interim,” said Doug Greco, the lead organizer for Central Texas Interfaith, one of the organizations fighting to end the subsidy program.
At 4 a.m. last Thursday, it became clear that something unexpected was happening: The deadline for reauthorization passed. “The bill never came up,” Greco told The Intercept. Organizers stayed vigilant until the legislative session officially closed on Monday at midnight, but the reauthorization did not materialize....
“No one had really questioned this program,” said Greco, of Central Texas Interfaith. The reauthorization was a once-in-a-decade chance to challenge it. “We knew in our guts that the program was just a blank check, but we also are very sober about the realities of the Texas legislature.”
....As legislators met in a closed session to hammer out the bill, Greco heard from a colleague. “One of my organizers said there’s 20 oil and gas lobbyist standing outside this committee room,” he recalled.
Former Gov. Rick Perry, an Energy Transfer board member, tweeted his support for reauthorization. But as last week of the session ticked by, the bill didn’t come up. “It became clear that the reputation of the program had been damaged,” Greco said.
In 19 months, Texas’s subsidy program will expire, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
“We know there’s going to be a big conversation over the interim — we are under no illusions that this is not going to be a long-term battle.”
Organizers, though, recognize that the subsidy’s defeat marks a shift: “The table has been reset.”
In Blow to Big Oil, Corporate Subsidy Quietly Dies in Texas, The Intercept [pdf]
How Skeptical Texas Lawmakers Put an End to a Controversial Tax Incentive Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Texas Legislature Dooms Chapter 331, Which Gives Tax Breaks to Big Businesses, Business Journal [pdf]
Missed Deadline Could Doom Controversial $10B Tax-Break Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Losers and Winners from Chapter 313, Central Texas Interfaith
A new Senate committee, quietly formed Friday and stacked with Republicans who favor permitless carry, will have a hearing on the proposal next week, according to its new chairman... Since then, several Republican senators publicly announced support for “constitutional carry,” as it is known among backers, who say the government shouldn’t block people’s right to bear arms....
Meanwhile, lobbying is intensifying against the bill as faith leaders this week joined a growing list of opponents, which already includes members of law enforcement and some firearm instructors.
“With every right we have comes corresponding responsibilities and the background checks and the safety measures help with that,” said Bishop Gregory Kelly of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, one of several faith leaders to speak at a press conference Wednesday sponsored by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations.
“My dad was a gun owner, he taught me how to shoot a gun when I was a kid ... I don’t see how not having that in place makes us safer.”
[Photo Credit: John Figueroa, Dallas Morning News]
Texas 'Constitutional Carry' Proposal For Handguns Has New Momentum in State Senate, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
DAI, with Texas IAF, Bishops & Faithful Call on Lt. Governor and Senate to Reject 'Permitless Carry' Legislation
Bishops, rabbis, clergy and faithful from across Texas convened to express vocal opposition to the passage of proposed legislation HB1927 which would allow "permitless carry" in the state of Texas.
Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz referenced the massacre in El Paso which resulted in dozens of residents dead and seriously injured. Baptist Rev. Darryl Crooms from San Antonio testified to the "unnaturalness" of adults burying children. Lutheran Rev. Jessica Cain testified to the impact of last weekend's shooting in North Austin on local worshippers. Rabbi David Lyon recalled last year's deadly shooting in Santa Fe High School.
Together -- with Lutheran Bishop Erik Gronberg, Episcopal Bishop Suffragan Kathryn Ryan, Methodist Director of Missional Outreach Andy Lewis, Dallas Catholic Bishop Gregory Kelly and several lay leaders -- all expressed concern that passage of HB1927 would increase gun violence. States that have passed similar laws, removing the required license and training needed to carry a handgun, experienced spikes in homicides and gun violence.
“Our faith tradition teaches us to protect life,” said Bishop Suffragan Kathryn M. Ryan of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. “You cannot protect life if people carrying deadly weapons aren’t properly trained and licensed.
"You’ll find no scripture that will support this kind of legislation,” said Pastor John Ogletree, First Metropolitan Church of Houston.
“It makes our church much less safe,” said El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz.
Texas Faith Leaders Come Out Against 'Permitless Carry', CBS Austin [pdf]
Three groups funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) strengthened their networks during the pandemic and developed innovative strategies that will likely persist after the virus is controlled....
“The pandemic has lifted a veil,” Josephine [Lopez-Paul] says. “The number of people who are living in poverty” is in our face, she says.
“The need is there. You can’t ignore it. Poverty is not a secret in our city anymore.”
She adds, “DAI’s approach is still rooted in relationship, and that hasn’t changed. Clergy and leaders have been there for one another as part of a community.”
DAI is an affiliate of the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). It has 33 congregational members with approximately 300 active leaders. DAI conducts weekly virtual meetings for clergy to share concerns and potential solutions. At one meeting early in the crisis, a pastor reported that half of 30 participants contracted COVID-19 after an unmasked choir practice. In response, celebrants of the weekly televised Mass from the diocesan cathedral began to use the final minute of the broadcast to urge compliance with masking and socialdistancing recommendations.
Like others, DAI has moved many activities, such as organizing and training programs, online. Josephine says this will continue beyond the pandemic, so that “imagination and vision” can be shared with isolated participants in rural areas, as well as with those who can attend in person.
[In photo: DAI Leaders and organizers meet with Dallas Police Commanders, including then-chief U. Renee Hall, following a meeting as DPD Headquarters.]
The Post-Pandemic Path Ahead, Catholic Campaign for Human Development
[Excerpt from Dallas Morning News]
Racial and economic disparities have marked all aspects of the pandemic, from the early testing site locations to the diverging infection and death rates.The process for getting a vaccine still heavily favors those who have a car and internet access — making community outreach crucial in underserved areas, said Rogelio Sáenz, a demographer at the University of Texas at San Antonio who has studied the pandemic’s effects on communities of color....
Jenny Zacarias, a Peruvian immigrant, said more must be done to reach Latino and Black communities. She was vaccinated recently after the age limits were lowered to 50.
“Bring the vaccines to the people,” said Zacarias, 51.
That will improve efficiency and raise trust, said Zacarias, who volunteers with Dallas Area Interfaith at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. The group works with many undocumented immigrants, she said.
“They don’t trust the government.... Who do they trust? They trust the church.”