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Grassroots groups, parishes cited for social justice work

Date: 11/10/2005

By R. W. Dellinger


Thirty-one organizations, projects and parishes were honored Nov. 5 at the 16th Justice and Peace Recognition Dinner, with grants totaling nearly half a million dollars.

One LA-IAF received the Justice and Peace Commission's 2005 Empowerment Award for the organization's "commitment to the empowerment of the poor and institutional change which breaks the cycles of poverty."

At the annual event, which is sponsored by the Los Angeles Archdiocese's Office of Justice and Peace, and the Justice and Peace Commission, grants of more than $450,000 by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and $17,500 by Catholic Relief Services were announced.

"It's a joyous occasion to lift up and recognize the daily struggles of the poor and low-income persons, who by working together have gained individual and collective empowerment," Tim Collins, CCHD's interim national executive director, told the 200-plus dinner guests at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Angeles.

"These are the struggles and the stories of good news in an age that desperately longs to hear some good news in the face of what has become an almost daily diet of very bad news of events, natural and man-made."

Collins pointed out that last August, when Hurricane Katrina dominated the news, a little story about America's poverty rate rising for the fourth year in a row went largely unnoticed. He stressed that the terrible devastation brought about by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita called upon Christians concerned with social justice to make sure relief and rebuilding efforts throughout the south include the voices of the poor.

"It is truly good news that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development has been at work for 3 1/2 decades, working in accord with and faithful to the mandate given by the bishops in 1970," he said. "We know that because of the campaign, the cycle of poverty has been broken for many of our brothers and sisters. Lives have been transformed, communities have been built. People have gained a measure of hope that otherwise they would not have gained. And so, we praise God for all of that.

"At the same time," he added, "we also know that for too, too many other people the cycle of poverty is a grinding everyday reality. We must redouble our efforts. And the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina drilled that point home so forcefully."

Wide-ranging works

Eleven community organizations received national grants of $20,000 to $40,000 from CCHD: Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Coalition LA, Garment Worker Center, Korean Immigrant Worker Advocates, LA VOICE, LA ACORN, Los Angeles Community Action Network, Parents Organized for Westside Renewal, People United for Economic Justice Building Leadership Through Organizing, and Filipino Workers Center of Southern California.

The scope of their work ranged from organizing janitors, security guards, hotel workers, nursing home workers and grocery store clerks to eliminating sweatshop abuses in the garment industry, from leadership development training to uniting congregations in South Los Angeles, East L.A. and Hollywood, and from ending the criminalizing of the homeless to advocating for immigrant rights, affordable housing, health care and public transportation.

Local CCHD grants of $10,000 went to the Antelope Valley Organizing Project, Da'hui Man'gu Community Land Trust, Greater Long Beach Interfaith Community Organization, Ex-Offender Action Network, Long Beach ACORN, Multi-Ethnic Immigrant Worker Organizing Network, Proyecto Pastoral and Southeast Asian Community Alliance.

These grassroots groups were recognized for working with former prisoners, fighting against evictions, developing a "Safe Passage" program for schoolchildren and organizing Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese families in Chinatown.

Low-Income Families' Empowerment through Education received the Multi-Diocesan Award for helping single student mothers and fathers complete college degrees while raising their families on welfare.

St. Anthony Church in San Gabriel, St. Athanasius Church in Long Beach, St. Mary Church in Palmdale, La Purísima Concepción Church in Lompoc and St. Agatha Church in Los Angeles each received $3,500 Operation Rice Bowl grants coordinated by Catholic Relief Services.

Parish awards

In presenting the Parish Justice Awards, Deacon Manuel Valencia, a member of the Justice and Peace Commission, praised the honorees for their selfless ministry to the most vulnerable and weakest members of society. The parishes were lauded for their efforts to promote social justice through education, outreach and participation in their communities.

Valencia compared the honorees to seasoned baseball players being inducted into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. "I don't know about you, but I feel like putting on a baseball cap because we are witnessing the induction of champions --- not in baseball, this is better," he said. "We are inducting champions into the hall of fame of social justice."

---St. Jude Church in Westlake Village has 18 ministries dedicated to Christian social justice, including a monthly breakfast for the homeless, detention ministers who visit detainees at a youth facility plus women in the Ventura County Jail and parishioners who provide more than 300 backpacks to low-income students.

---The Valley Catholic Korean Apostolate in Canoga Park sponsors the St. Vincent de Paul Society, where junior and senior high school students prepare and deliver meals to 100 homeless persons every Sunday. In addition, the Don Bosco Society helps war orphans from the Sudan, and the Society of St. Francis of Assisi reaches out to North Korean children while other volunteers aid Ugandan AIDS orphans.

---St. Lawrence of Brindisi Church in Watts sponsors a food pantry and information center providing income tax service, legal assistance and referrals to social service agencies. The inner-city parish also offers ESL classes, a literacy program as well as a scholarship program for elementary and high school students.

---St. Rose of Lima Church in Maywood works closely with One LA-IAF, developing community leaders to empower their parishioners to improve the community. In particular, the parish has held press conferences and meetings with local business and political leaders to address police harassment.

---St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Rowland Heights participates in the East San Gabriel Valley Coalition for the Homeless, providing food and shelter for more than 100 homeless individuals. The parish organizes a Health Fest every year, offering free health services, plus operates an on-site food pantry.

Connecting individuals to institutions

Before presenting the 2005 Empowerment Award, Cardinal Roger Mahony remarked that the challenge today was to overcome the sense of futility felt by so many members of urban communities. The solution, he proposed, was connecting individuals to institutions that believe social change can really happen.

"That such a miracle is possible is what we recognize this evening," he declared. "Parishes, agencies and community organizations are continuing a long tradition of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

"Your work in creating stronger bonds of solidarity within our community gathers people of different racial and ethnic groups, people of different faith traditions and people of different economic levels to create a more just social order," he added. "And I commend you once again for your tremendous work."

Over the past three decades, the cardinal said he'd had many opportunities to work with One LA and other community IAF organizations in developing critical justice strategies to improve neighborhoods. At the July 2004 convention launching One LA-IAF, he was struck by the growing diversity of Koreans, Filipinos, African Americans, Anglos and Latinos united to change Greater Los Angeles and offer genuine hope to its marginalized citizens.

He pointed out that the broad-based group's organizing, relationship-building, identifying and researching key social issues, and discipline action on behalf of the poor has developed strong community leaders, strengthened parishes and schools, and moved civic life in Los Angeles County in the right direction.

"Your standing for families' agenda," he said, "of expanding immigrants rights, as an equitable path through legislation, affordable rents and home ownership, schools that authentically leave no child behind, genuine health access, meaningful job and workplace justice, and, of course, public safety is an agenda not only supported by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but also by my fellow bishops across the country."

In accepting the Empowerment Award for One LA-IAF, Father David O'Connell, pastor of St. Michael Church, talked about how the community organization has been a "great help" to inner-city clergymen like himself.

He noted that St. Michael's is located in a census tract that has ten times the national average of killings every year. He reported how shocked he was a few years ago when a high school principal told him that members of the Crips and Bloods gangs were systematically recruiting adolescents from nearby school grounds.

"That they were so organized really was frightening," he said. "We as adults in our society are not organized. But One LA helped me and helped many pastors, and has helped many leaders all over the diocese to become organized to bring adults together again so they can work to transform our society.

"In the Gospel, we talk a lot about transformation," the priest noted. "We in One LA I think have found a way towards bringing about organizing in our neighborhoods in a good way."