Stress hope, bishop tells Hispanic community

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Bishop Jaime Soto leaned in to listen to the woman detail her recent communication with U.S. immigration authorities.

Though his visit wasn't about personal struggles, he gave the woman his complete attention, letting her talk and then giving her reassurances of support.

The bishop of Sacramento, Calif., who is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), clearly was pleased to be visiting with the people, a gathering of the CCHD-funded Latinos en Axion. He delivered the annual Aquinas Lecture reflecting on the CCHD's work with immigrants. The lecture at St. Francis Xavier (College Church) Parish was sponsored by Aquinas Institute of Theology.

Earlier, however, Bishop Soto squeezed into his schedule a Mass in Spanish at St. Cecilia Church in south St. Louis and the meeting with Latinos en Axion, a faith-based community group advocating for immigrants that works closely with Catholic Charities. He told the group of the importance of organizing the community to improve lives.

Sacramento has a similar organization working to provide information that addresses rumors and fears in the immigrant community, rumors often started as a way to take advantage of people, Bishop Soto said. Just like Latinos en Axion, the group advocates in collaboration with others for just and humane laws, he said. He stressed the need to be positive and bring hope. People need to know that the immigrant is not a threat, but instead "someone who brings hope," he said.

Speaking as the grandchild of immigrants, he said: "People don't recognize the sacrifices, the heavy challenges immigrants suffer. But they struggle because they want a better life for their families."

He noted that the Church cares for "the whole person," not just the soul, because that's what Jesus did.

Bishop Soto told the Review that organizing immigrant communities is needed to help bring immigration reform in Congress but also "so those communities can play an active part in American society."

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, he said, does good work for all communities left on the margins. He sees the Church in St. Louis as being a peacemaker in helping communities rebuild after the unrest that followed the shooting last year of an African-American teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson and the grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the case.

In his homily at Mass, Bishop Soto pointed out how each of the apostles made a decision respond to Jesus' personal invitation to follow Him. Jesus invites us to a personal encounter as well, he said, citing Matthew 25: 35-36: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."

People may not listen when Christ and His kingdom are present, Bishop Soto noted. The voice of the Lord is found in the cry of a child, the wisdom of elders, the loving hand of family members, the gaze of the poor, tears of the sick and more, he said, including in the cross of the immigrant.

See Bishop Jaime Soto's address on "Sovereignty, Solidarity and Time" at the annual Aquinas Lecture sponsored by Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis at www.stlouisreview.com/YkS.

CCHD

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the national anti-poverty program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, last year approved grants totaling more than $14 million to empower poor and low-income communities to overcome poverty and injustice.

"The groups receiving funding from CCHD are like the mustard seed in the Gospel parable. With our support, they are growing communities where families can flourish," said Bishop Jaime Soto of the Diocese of Sacramento, chairman of the Subcommittee on CCHD. "Groups supported by CCHD understand that our partnership with them is an expression of our Catholic faith and of our desire to serve the poor as the followers of Jesus."

The grant allocations include nearly $10 million in regular annual CCHD grants. These grants will support community-based organizations addressing the structural causes of poverty, such as unjust immigration and criminal justice policies, as well as organizations promoting economic development, through initiatives such as cooperatives and community lending institutions.

More than $4 million has been allocated through CCHD's Strategic National Grant Program, which focuses on issues that require an intensive community response, especially from the Catholic community. New strategic grants include support for the launching of a Catholic institute dedicated to addressing systemic economic and social problems along the Mexico-U.S. border; the promotion of community land trusts on a nationwide scale to promote affordable homeownership; a statewide organizing effort to promote quality public education for poor and low-income communities in Pennsylvania; and support for a major initiative of the Washington State Catholic Conference to both get African-American and farmworker communities engaged in the public square and to create support networks for expecting families. The bishops also voted to provide support to four targeted dioceses across the country to increase enrollment in Catholic schools of Latino and Hispanic children, who often lack the means to attend.

More information on CCHD is available online at www.stlouisreview.com/Yx4.

See a video with Bishop Soto's comments on the CCHD at www.stlouisreview.com/YkJ.

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