When Pope Francis told a group of U.S. community organizers that their work was "atomic," Jorge Montiel said, "I thought, 'Oh, you mean we blow things up?'"
But instead, the pope spoke about how the groups associated with the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation in the United States take issues patiently, "atom by atom," and end up building something that "penetrates" and changes entire communities, said Montiel, an IAF organizer in Colorado and New Mexico.
Pope Francis' hourlong meeting Sept. 14 with 15 delegates from the group was a follow-up to a similar meeting a year ago. Neither meeting was listed on the pope's official schedule and, the delegates said, both were conversations, not "audiences."
"It was relaxed, it was engaging," said Joe Rubio, national co-director of IAF. "Often you don't see that even with parish priests," he told Catholic News Service Sept. 15, garnering the laughter of other delegates.
Pope Meets US Leaders Patiently Building Culture of Solidarity, US Conference of Catholic Bishops / Catholic News Service [pdf]
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]
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
In response to undocumented families expressing fear about reporting crimes -- even when they themselves are victims -- because of an inability demonstrate who they are, Dallas Area Interfaith and the Dallas Catholic Diocese worked together to create a solution.
Last year, 1,500 leaders stood with Bishop Edward Burns to invite three police department chiefs to allow their officers to accept parish identification cards, in order to help build trust between the community and the police. Police department chiefs from Carrollton, Farmers Branch and Dallas agreed.
This year, parishes in the Dallas Catholic Diocese have issued tens of thousands of parish identification cards to parishioners, who now feel more confident in relating to the police. HBO covers this story in a special segment:
When Fr. Daza of Nuestra Señora del Pilar Catholic Church heard that his parishioner, Adolfo Mejia, was in deportation proceedings, he immediately picked up the phone and called Dallas Area Interfaith.
“It’s the children who suffer,” he says.
With family unity and the livelihood of six US-born children at stake, Dallas Area Interfaith and the Catholic Diocese of Dallas stepped in to stand with the Mejia family after the father, Adolfo Mejia, was deported in March.
“This is not a time for isolation,” said Socorro Perales, an organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith, who went to immigration court with the mother. “This is a time to build relationships.”
[In photo: Catholic Bishop Greg Kelly stands with Lucia Mejia and her family outside the Earle Cabell Federal Court Building before a court hearing for Adolfo Mejia. Photo Credit: Jeffrey McWhorter / Dallas Morning News]
US Citizen Kids Face the Deportation of Their Immigrant Parents, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Deportación de Padres Traumatiza a Niños, Dallas Al Día
Building on a groundbreaking accord between Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI) and the Police Departments of Dallas, Carrollton and Farmers Branch -- in which the police agreed to accept parish identification cards as alternative ID -- upwards of 800 parish ID cards have been issued since the campaign was launched in March 2018. With some parishes requiring active membership from applicants for at least six months before issuing the card, the waiting list of submitted applications has, so far, exceeded 2,000 applicants and is expected to grow.
The joint effort with the Catholic Diocese is bringing immigrants out of the shadows and into fuller participation in congregational life. 700 applicants were newly registered as members of their parish, even after years of regular church attendance. Teams of leaders identified by DAI, and trained (in Spanish) through a collaborative effort with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), are helping keep the cost of the parish IDs affordable for families.
Without an ID, said one parishioner, "we are scared of what could happen if we are stopped by the police." With parish ID, families are feeling a greater sense of belonging and confidence in dealing with law enforcement.
In training sessions held this month, police departments have committed to training their officers to recognize these cards as alternative identification.
[Photo Credit: Telemundo 39]
Crean Identificación Para Ayudar a Inmigrantes en el Metroplex, Telemundo 39 [pdf]