Dallas Area interfaith (DAI) leaders Debra Levy (Temple Shalom) and Deborah Smith (Christian Chapel CME) delivered essential citizen input to the Texas House of Representatives Redistricting Committee in order to promote fair and transparent redistricting in 2021.
Representing 40 institutions and 90,000 families, both leaders attested to specific ways current gerrymandering negatively impacts their communities and the democratic process. Deborah Levy testified that while her work in DAI centers around developing leadership capacity for civic engagement, without equal representation in her district, the barrier to impact the electoral process is artificially high. Leaders also argued that slicing up major metro areas into districts not only dilutes citizen representation, it makes negotiating common interests across multiple municipal and utility district lines more challenging.
After the sheriff of Tarrant County mistakenly argued that 'drunk' immigrants were going to 'run over your children,' Dallas Area Interfaith organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul called on the public official to build trust rather than spread lies, referencing an independent study by the CATO Institute that documented a dramatically lower crime rate among unauthorized Texas immigrants compared to their native-born counterparts.
"In these polarized times, what he should be doing is building trust," commented Lopez-Paul.
Ever since participating in a DAI leadership training two years ago, Lily Rodriguez (photo top right) of St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in Dallas has been very motivated to bring its teachings to life, actualizing them by helping her community.
The training sought to prepare parish leaders to support the civic development of their parish communities, particularly those from immigrant backgrounds.
That's how the "Sunshine Committee" in which Rodriguez participates, along with 24 other volunteers, came to be. Members of the committee disseminate flyers, make calls, organize, sign up and help in community-oriented activities. The most popular workshops are those focusing on US citizenship and parish IDs -- created and implemented by the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and DAI for more than one year....
Comité Parroquial es Semilla de Cambio Cívico, Revista Católica de Dallas
In the face of increasingly public deportation threats, DAI's parish strategy to 'welcome the stranger' has translated into an array of actions designed to combat fear and fortify relationships between individuals, families, communities and religious institutions. Teams of parish leaders are organizing events that include citizenship screenings, Diocesan-certified parish identification cards, health fairs (like the one in photo above) and 'Know Your Rights' sessions.
According to Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul, the church is working to dispel fear and to build community amidst a climate that breeds isolation.
Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens. She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the Baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.
Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.
Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/New Mexico Border, instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio.
Her advocacy work during the past four decades in her various roles, as National IAF Co-Director and Supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network will be greatly missed. Her organizing career began with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) in Houston where she was a founder, followed by Lead Organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio and Dallas Area Interfaith.
She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi faith traditions, economic lines and race to do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued. She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.
She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence. She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.
The Rosary and Wake were Thursday, July 25, 2019 and Mass of Resurrection on Friday, July 26, 2019. All services were held in Sacred Heart Chapel, next to Our Lady of the Lake Convent Center in San Antonio, Texas.
In lieu of flowers, you may make a memorial contribution to the Sisters of Divine Providence, 515 S.W. 24th Street, San Antonio, TX 78207-4619.
Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]
This summer marks one year since the Catholic Diocese of Dallas delineated basic requirements for parish identification cards to be made available to parishioners who lack access to state-issued IDs. Since then, 20 Catholic parishes have embraced the strategy, organizing teams of lay leaders who help screen applicants and issue the parish identification cards according to Diocesan standards. Parish IDs are now accepted by four police departments in North Texas: Carrollton, Dallas, Farmers Branch and Mesquite. Acceptance by these police departments was first negotiated in 2017 in collaboration with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Since then, says Rev. Jesus Belmontes, the IDs have brought relief to a vulnerable community. The acceptance of these cards by the police communicates that "they want to protect us rather than harm us. This is a ray of light that, little by little, has the potential to enlighten us all."
Parish IDs Bring Relief to Immigrant Community, Dallas Catholic Magazine
ID Parroquiales Traen Alivio a Comunidad Inmigrante, Revista Católica
Close to 70 DAI leaders joined hundreds of Texas IAF leaders at the Capitol to call on state legislators to increase state finance of adult and K-12 education.
After a morning briefing on school finance, the Texas Innovative Career Education (ACE) program and other issues -- including healthcare, payday lending, and infrastructure in the colonias -- leaders were honored for their establishment of noteworthy labor market intermediaries, including Skill Quest. Immediately afterward, they convened on the South Capitol steps. Five state legislators representing North Texas stood in solidarity with leaders and pledged to continue working for investments in people, including Victoria Neave (HD 107), Terry Meza (HD 105), Julie Johnson (HD 115), John Turner (HD 115), and Ana Ramos (HD 102).
In photo above, Bill Dehaas from Trinity Catholic Church and DAI energizes the crowd of leaders from sister organizations, including TMO in Houston, San Antonio (COPS/Metro), Central Texas / Austin Interfaith, West Texas Organizing Strategy (WTOS), El Paso's Border Interfaith & EPISO, and the Rio Grande Valley (Valley Interfaith).
After the press conference, leaders broke out into smaller delegations to meet with legislators representing their geographic regions.
Organizations Call On State Legislators to Support Adult Education, Univision 62 [Spanish video]
200 Spanish-speaking parish leaders were joined by Bishop Gregory Kelly for the CCHD-sponsored 'Recognizing the Stranger' training in Dallas. Launched in coordination with Catholic Diocese of Dallas, the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and Dallas Area Interfaith, the training engaged delegations of leaders from 21 institutions in interactive sessions that focused on the mission of the Church and scriptural foundations for leadership. Leaders will return to their parishes to hold listening sessions and work with other institutions to develop a city-wide plan of action.
Program Trains Leaders to Put Faith Into Action, Texas Catholic
Sunday January 24th, Dallas Area Interfaith, King of Glory Lutheran Church (ELCA), and Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Parish joined together for an ecumenical service of prayer and unity. Bishop Greg Kelly of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas and Bishop Erik K.J. Gronberg of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod (ELCA) shared the pulpit. Other local pastors and leaders also took part along with combined choirs of the two congregations.
Joint statement by Bishop Erik Gronberg (ELCA) and Bishop Greg Kelly (Catholic Diocese of Dallas)
This worship marked the 2019 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran reformation. Additionally this service marked 50 years of the Joint Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity called for by Pope John XXIII at the Second Vatican Council. The Pope then stated that the greatest scandal in the world were the divisions between Christian Churches.
We live in a time of deep political and social division in our nation. In these times of division the goal of this service was to celebrate our unity, the richness of each tradition, rather than our differences. To continue to work together to identify ways to impact our common good of our communities through shared listening sessions and projects.
A key component to this gathering was and is the work of Dallas Area Interfaith. For the past 25 years DAI has inspired numerous Dallas area institutions to work together following its core beliefs that people can listen to the needs of their communities and organize to impact the common good. These efforts have recently resulted in changes to the Dallas City Housing code; issuance of parish IDs, and better and stronger relationships with police departments. DAI is an instrument and institution that helps bridge the gaps between traditions and faiths, bringing people of faith together to serve.
This movement toward unity has now acknowledged that we can best partner by shifting our enthusiasm towards common prayer and works of mercy – work done together to help the sick, the poor, the immigrant, and the imprisoned. Pope Francis, along with Bishop Munib Younan of the Lutheran World Federation, marked the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran reformation in October 2017 in Lund, Sweden. On that occasion Pope Francis said “To do something together is a high and effective form of dialogue – we need to work together!” We celebrated that hope, to explore and appreciate the richness of our traditions on January 27th and we pledge to continue to work together.
In fall of 2018, the federal government proposed redefining who might be considered a “public charge” -- a federal designation for people it believes are overly dependent on federally-funded social services. Under proposed changes, immigrants who are "likely at any time" to become a public charge could be ineligible to get visas and green cards that give them legal permanent residency.
Dallas Area Interfaith soon began receiving calls from parents of US-born children who stopped getting medical care and nutrition assistance for their kids. In response, DAI began organizing parish-based efforts to educate and urge the public to weigh in on the proposed changes .
“We have already heard stories of parents un-enrolling their kids from CHIP,” Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul said. “It is another piece in building a culture of fear.”
It is through church-based relationships and networks that DAI is able to educate the public about ways to take action on this issue.
[Photo Credit: Obed Manual, Dallas Morning News]