National Catholic Reporter Spotlights Valley Interfaith Assistance with Synod
"Among those also asking an IAF affiliate for help was Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, who is overseeing the entire U.S. church's participation in the global synod...
Flores pointed to the many commonalities between the synodal process and the methods long used by IAF affiliates. "First, they encourage people to gather, listening to people, hearing what's on their minds, what their worries are and what preoccupies them, then making things better as a local community," said the bishop...
Flores said the synodal style "of listening and attentiveness has been reinvigorated" this past year "and that will go on and have a lasting effect." Organizers within the IAF network, meanwhile, said they plan to maintain support for this synodal style."
[In photo, a synod training session is held by Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA) at a parish in the Diocese of Monterey, California. COPA community organizers trained around 500 Catholics to conduct synodal listening sessions in the region.]
For Synod Listening Sessions, US Bishops Turned to Community Organizers, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
Meeting with Pope Francis | Reunión con El Papa Francisco
[en español abajo]
Our network had the rare opportunity to visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
An interfaith delegation of 20 leaders and organizers from the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation met with him to share our collective work of broad based organizing at a time when the Pope is guiding the global church in a historic Synod listening process.
The Holy Father sat side by side with us in his residence, thanking us for inconveniencing ourselves to come see him. What ensued was a true dialogue, a 90-minute conversation in Spanish with lots of back and forth engagement. The encounter was filled with many graced moments about both the joys and the struggles of our work, and the work of the Church, past, present, and to come.
This invitation to meet was in large part due to the recognition of our work by local Bishops, particularly those involved with the 'Recognizing the Stranger' strategy, which is dedicated to formation and leadership development of immigrant parishioners. As well, our involvement to support the Synod process in multiple dioceses has helped to bring those in the margins to the center of the synodal dialogue.
As we shared our experiences of organizing, we were struck by how carefully he listened, asked questions, and engaged with lots of humor. Early on, he reflected back to us, “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar,’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes es parte de alguna teoría. Ninguno dice ‘leí un libro y me interesó eso.’” (You constantly use the words “to see” and “to listen.. I am impressed that none of you start with any theory. No one says ‘I read a book and that interested me.’) “El peligro es intelectualizar el problema” (The danger is when you intellectualize a problem).
He stressed the importance of being with people and paying attention to their reality, emphasizing Amor Concreto, love concretely in action, saying that he understood our work as seeing and hearing of injustice in the real lives of our people, acting to change the situation, and being changed ourselves as a result. He expressed his appreciation for our focus on what we are doing, rather than to complain about what is not being done or to disparage anyone. “Ustedes no menospreciaron a nadie.”
Before concluding, he thanked us for our visit, saying that although he had never known of IAF before, he was glad that he knew us now, and he welcomed further conversation around our continuing work with the Synod process.
We teach that power recognizes power. For Pope Francis, “el verdadero poder es el servicio,” (“true power is service”). Recounting the Good Samaritan, he clearly stated that the Gospel cannot be understood without acting with those who are suffering. He recognized the leaders and organizations of the IAF and the powerful work that is happening every day at the margins. He referred to the IAF as “Good News for the United States.”
We are humbled to represent the many decades of work from those who preceded us, and we are encouraged in the continuation of our work into the future.
*** *** ***
El pasado 14 de octubre, nuestra red de la Fundación de Áreas Industriales, Oeste/Suroeste, (W/SW IAF) tuvo la rara oportunidad de visitar al Papa Francisco en el Vaticano.
Una delegación interreligiosa de 20 líderes y organizadores se reunió con él para compartir nuestro trabajo colectivo de organización de base amplia en un momento en que el Papa está guiando a la iglesia mundial en un histórico proceso de escucha del Sínodo.
El Santo Padre se sentó junto a nosotros en su residencia, y nos agradeció la molestia de venir a verlo. Lo que siguió fue un verdadero diálogo; una conversación de 90 minutos en español con mucha participación de las dos partes. El encuentro estuvo lleno de momentos de gracia sobre el gozo y la lucha de nuestro trabajo y el trabajo de la Iglesia, pasado, presente y futuro.
Esta invitación a reunirnos se debió en gran parte al reconocimiento de nuestro trabajo por parte de los obispos locales, en particular aquellos involucrados en la estrategia Reconociendo al Extranjero, que está dedicada a la formación y desarrollo de liderazgo de feligreses inmigrantes. Además, nuestra participación para apoyar el proceso del Sínodo en múltiples diócesis ha ayudado a traer a los marginados al centro del diálogo sinodal.
Al compartir nuestras experiencias de organización, nos sorprendió lo atentamente que escuchó, hizo preguntas y respondió con humor. Entre sus primeras reacciones, nos dijo: “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes parte de alguna teoría. Ninguno dice 'leí un libro y me interesó eso' [...] El peligro es intelectualizar el problema.”
El Santo Padre recalcó la importancia de estar presente con las personas y estar atentos a su realidad, enfatizando “Amor Concreto” en acción, diciendo que él entendía nuestro trabajo como ver y escuchar la injusticia en la vida real de nuestro pueblo, actuando para cambiar la situación, y ser cambiados nosotros mismos como resultado. Expresó su agradecimiento por nuestro enfoque en lo que estamos haciendo, en vez de quejarnos de lo que no se está haciendo, “ustedes no menospreciaron a nadie.”
Antes de concluir, nos agradeció nuestra visita y dijo que aunque nunca antes había sabido de la IAF, estaba contento de conocernos ahora y expresó interés en más conversaciones sobre nuestro trabajo en el proceso del Sínodo.
Algunos de nuestra delegación pudieron reunirse también con otros en el Vaticano, incluyendo líderes del Dicasterio para el Desarrollo Humano Integral, la Secretaría General del Sínodo y la Comisión Pontificia para América Latina. Fue un viaje que abrió muchas puertas.
Agradecemos a todos ustedes por su apoyo en esta visita histórica. Muchos de ustedes contribuyeron con sus oraciones, consejos, aliento e inversión financiera. Pasamos un día completo antes de la reunión con el Papa Francisco realizando nuestro propio proceso sinodal. Todos sentimos nuestra obligación hacia ustedes y aquellos que nos precedieron para hacer posible esta peregrinación.
Enseñamos en la IAF que “el poder reconoce al poder.” Para el Papa Francisco, “el verdadero poder es el servicio.” Relatando la historia del Buen Samaritano, afirmó claramente que el Evangelio no se puede comprender sin actuar en solidaridad con los que sufren. Reconoció a los líderes y organizaciones de la IAF y el poderoso trabajo que se realiza todos los días en los márgenes. Se refirió a la IAF como “Buenas noticias para los Estados Unidos”.
Nos sentimos honrados de representar las muchas décadas de trabajo de aquellos que nos precedieron, y nos alienta la continuación de nuestro trabajo en el futuro. Los alentamos a compartir este anuncio con los líderes y amigos de la IAF. Reflexionaremos más sobre este encuentro en las próximas semanas.
Port Isabel School District Votes Down Ch. 313 Tax Break After Valley Interfaith & Allies Speak Out
At the Point Isabel ISD Board meeting, Texas LNG sought last-minute approval for tax abatement through the expiring Chapter 313 program. Leaders from Valley Interfaith, alongside allied organizations, made the case to the board.
On a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the school district voted not to go forward with the applications.
Several Port Isabel area residents voiced opposition, both to Texas LNG on environmental grounds, and to the abatements, saying Texas LNG deserves to have to pay its fair share of taxes.
Valley Interfaith and the other objectors said Texas LNG doesn’t need the abatement because the project has been planned for years and the company has already decided to build the facility here.
“Valley Interfaith congratulates the superintendent and PIISD Board members for their willingness to look at the facts and reject this application for huge tax abatements for an LNG export terminal they
have long planned to build in the Port of Brownsville area,” said Father Kevin Collins, O.M.I. pastor of S. Eugene of Mazenod Church in Brownsville and Valley Interfaith. “They don’t need to take money from Texas school children to build a profitable LNG export facility at a time when the whole world is clamoring for liquified natural gas,” Collins said.
Point Isabel School District Rejects Texas LNG Tax Abatement, The Brownsville Herald [pdf]
Texas IAF Blocks $10 Billion Dollar Corporate Tax Giveaway to Big Oil
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]
A Texas Law Offers Tax Breaks to Companies, but It's Renewal Isn't a Done Deal, Texas Tribune [pdf]
Losers and Winners from Chapter 313, Central Texas Interfaith
Valley Interfaith, Texas IAF Declare State Power Failure 'Act of Sheer Negligence' & Demand Accountability from Elected Officials
While state officials announced later in the day that power had stabilized and forced shutoffs were no longer needed, more than 300,000 households remained without power....Texas was especially hard hit because most of its power grid is isolated from the interconnected networks serving the eastern and western parts of the U.S. That made it difficult to import energy from other states when frozen pipes shut down generating station.
The failure of Texas' electric grid led faith leaders across the state on Thursday to call out Gov. Greg Abbott for a lack of leadership and preparation. They urged him to request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and dip into the state's $10 billion "rainy-day" fund to help Texans cover expensive home repairs and energy bills.
They also called on state leaders to act on a 2012 plan to modernize and weatherize the electric grid....
"We are calling for Gov. Abbott to first take responsibility for this gross negligence and stop finger-pointing. This is a gross act of negligence that has caused harm to the whole state of Texas, and it's time to put people over profits," the Rev. John Ogletree of the First Metropolitan Church of Houston said at a virtual press conference Thursday. The event was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, a nonpartisan coalition of 10 mostly faith-based organizations statewide that represents more than 1 million people.
"The state leadership has known that this needed to change, and they have done nothing," Elizabeth Valdez, director of Texas IAF, told EarthBeat.
"The storm may have been an act of nature, but the devastation of the electrical grid shutdown is an act of sheer negligence," Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Diocese added in a statement.
Kelly and other faith leaders who spoke during the press conference and with EarthBeat described the struggles facing their state's people because of the freeze: Temperatures in homes hovering at 30 degrees. Elderly people unable to use dialysis machines. A 76-year-old woman sleeping in her car for warmth. Churches that would typically offer shelter could not because they too lacked power and water...
Texas Faith Leaders Call Out 'Sheer Negligence' Behind Power Outages, Earthbeat [pdf]
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Says Lawmakers Must Require Weatherization of Power Plants - And Pay For It, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Power Crisis Puts Texas Small-Government Policy Choices in the Spotlight, NBC News
Press Conference Footage, Facebook Live
Catholic Bishops Daniel Flores and Greg Kelly Call for Accountability to Prevent Future Failures in the Electrical Grid
While we desperately need immediate relief, we must also seek long-term systemic change.
As faith leaders, we have a responsibility to cry out for the vulnerable and seek the common good, and this means the reform of a utility system that has served as a means for profit, putting profit before people.
Last week, The Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations with interfaith leaders from across the state held a press conference, urging the governor and legislature to take responsibility and put people before profits. It is time to direct recovery resources and restructure utility oversight to protect all, especially the poorer residents already on the edge because of the pandemic.
Bishops in Texas: Electrical Grid Failure was Preventable. Without Accountability, It Will Happen Again, America Magazine [pdf]
'They Were Not Prepared': After Winter Crisis, Texas Will Have to Confront its Energy, Politics and Culture, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Valley Interfaith Fights for Expansion of Housing Relief, Hidalgo Starts with $7.5M in Rent and Mortgage Support
Eddie Anaya, a member of Valley Interfaith, asked commissioners during the public comment section of the meeting to consider raising the program’s funding to $25 million.
“In just over three months, as of May 18, 2020, the Texas Workforce Commission reported 25,667 residents in Hidalgo County lost their job and filed for unemployment,” Anaya said. “Then there’s the other countless taxpayers and residents from Hidalgo County who are ineligible for unemployment, insurance or CARES Act benefits. Valley Interfaith is proposing that you help these families through a renter’s assistance program.”
Joe Hinojosa, a Valley Interfaith leader from Holy Spirit Church in McAllen, said the pandemic has been “incredibly painful” and noted that nearly 40% of Hidalgo County residents are uninsured.
Through the nonprofit, he also urged commissioners to increase funding for the Indigent Health Program. They are currently investing $6.1 million, Hinojosa said, urging them to increase it to $15.3 million, or 8% of the county’s total budget. Hinojosa also suggested commissioners loosen that program’s restrictions and allow families that are at 100% or below the federal poverty line to apply for healthcare assistance, as opposed to the current cutoff at 30%.
[Photo credit: Joel Martinez]
Hidalgo Co. Starts $7.5M Rent, Mortgage Relief Program, The Monitor [pdf]
St. Eugene Catholic, Valley Interfaith Begin Issuing Parish IDs
Described by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate as "a collaborative effort between St. Eugene de Mazenod Parish, the Bishop’s Immigration Task Force of the Diocese of Brownsville... and Valley Interfaith," the issuance of parish identification cards began late January in Brownsville.
Held on a Saturday, the Parish ID Festivals are designed to make the identification card available to immigrant parishioners who may not yet have government-issued identification cards. The parish ID is sees as a way to welcome and acknowledge cardholders as parishioners and members of the parish community.
“ID cards can only be used for identification purposes, it is not a government issued card and cannot be used to vote, does not take place of drivers license,” said Jose Hinojosa of Valley Interfaith. So far, leaders have negotiated with the Police Departments of McAllen, Pharr, Edinburg, San Juan and Brownsville to recognize parish IDs.
Said Fr. Kevin Collins, pastor of St. Eugene de Mazenod: “I am so blessed to have parishioners dedicated to works of mercy and justice....now some of our folks will have a way to live with a little more dignity.”
[Photo Credit: (top and bottom right) St. Eugene Mazenod Catholic Church; (bottom left) footage, KVEO]
Oblate Parish in Brownsville Offering ID Cards, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate United States Province [pdf]
Local Church Offering Parish ID Cards to Parishioners, KVEO [pdf]
Church Offers Photo IDs to its Members, Brownsville Herald [pdf]
Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer Parish ID, Interfaith Education Fund
In Wake of Wage Theft, Valley Interfaith Calls for Incentives Reform and Investigations
In small group conversations organized through their congregations, Valley Interfaith leaders Elisa Alfaro of Holy Spirit parish and Dayra Campos of San Juan Diego kept hearing the same stories: workers in cold storage facilities earning less than the minimum wage and experiencing rampant labor abuse.
While the federal minimum wage is $7.25, parishioners shared that they are often paid less than half that by McAllen producers. When one company closed access to the bathroom for employees, they were forced to walk 10 minutes to a gas station for their bathroom break. Another parishioner shared constant threats by their boss if they were to admit to working 10 hours per day for $600 per month (less than half the minimum wage).
In response, Valley Interfaith leaders are calling on the City of McAllen to ensure that no company that pays workers under the minimum wage, or is guilty of wage theft, receives incentives from the city. They are also calling on the City to investigate abusive labor practices. Leaders are now meeting with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and McAllen City Manager about making these changes.
"Nobody should earn a slave wage," said Elisa Alfaro.
[Image Credit: KVEO footage]
Faith Leaders, Lawyer: Wage Theft Rampant at Local Cold Storage Facilities, The Monitor [pdf]
Produce Industry Wage Dispute, KVEO [pdf]
Fair Pay a Distant Dream for Produce Packers in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio Express-News
Valley Interfaith Launches Parish ID Strategy with Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and 3 Police Departments
In collaboration with Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores, 500 Valley Interfaith leaders packed a hall in Las Milpas to publicly launch a parish ID strategy for the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Developed in partnership with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and three law enforcement agencies, new parish-issued identification cards will show a photo of the cardholder, name, date of birth, address and how long the cardholder has been a member of their parish.
Bishop Flores emphasized: “The ID means something more than simply its implication that you have an identification...it means something much deeper: ‘I belong to a parish, and so in this community, I am not living in the shadows.’”
On behalf of Catholic Charities, Sr. Norma Pimentel presented a $10,000 check to pay for printers for new ID cards. Representatives from the police departments of Pharr, McAllen and Edinburg participated in the assembly, pledging to accept these cards as a form of valid identification in the event anyone needs to identify themselves to the police -- whether on a traffic stop or when filing a report.
“Too much of the focus is on the national and state conversation regarding immigration,” said Franciscan Father Tom Luczak, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Edinburg. “This is a local strategy that gives my own parishioners the dignity of being able to identify themselves to a police officer. This will positively affect them."
Said Fr. Kevin Collins of St. Eugene de Mazenod parish in Brownsville, “I’m very excited about this event tonight because we have a lot of people coming who hope to change their lives, to have less fear in their lives, and to live with more human dignity in their homes and their neighborhoods.”
[Photo Credits: Photo above by Francisco Jimenez, The Monitor; photos below by Paul Binz, The Valley Catholic]
IDs Give Parishioners Way to Say, 'I Belong,' Regardless of Legal Status, National Catholic Reporter
Diocese, Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer a New Kind of ID, The Valley Catholic
Vally Nonprofit Announces ID Strategy in Parishes, KRGTV
Valley Interfaith Clarifies Parish ID Strategy, The Monitor
Valley Interfaith to Launch Local Parish ID Strategy, The Monitor [pdf]