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New multi-faith group hopes to resolve social justice issues in region

September 19, 2017| Today's Catholic | Link to Article

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has partnered with a newly formed ecumenical faith-based group that hopes to identify and resolve social justice issues in the region. Those issues include immigration inclusion, economic dignity and ending mass criminalization.

The Northeast Indiana Congregation Action Network shared its vision by hosting a Clergy Summit on Sept. 11 at Fort Wayne’s Cathedral Center Hall. About 60 people from a variety of faith traditions and not-for-profit organizations traveled from around the state to hear more about NE-ICAN’s mission and to share their experiences.

A similar organization has been successful in Indianapolis, and representatives are now serving as mentors for NE-ICAN. The Indianapolis Congregation Action Network’s recent successes include advocating for a 2013 state immigration reform bill that eventually led to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as well as improving the city’s mass transit system to better serve those without vehicles and redirecting money marked for Marion County Jail expansion into programs that address the root causes of incarceration and crime.

IndyCAN Executive Director Shoshanna Spector noted these victories are the fruits of a united grassroots effort that is now just beginning in Northeast Indiana: “It’s not going to happen in city hall. It’s not going to happen in the statehouse. It’s going to happen when ordinary people in coffee shops and church basements talk to each other about the things that matter most and then decide what the vision is for the state.” 

The Clergy Summit included a series of speakers and time for small group discussion. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades addressed the crowd and noted the potential power of this multifaith venture. “We are united in our conviction that every man and woman has dignity as created in God’s image and likeness. Every person, whether in jail, an undocumented immigrant, an unemployed person, disabled mentally or physically, every person has an incomparable and inalienable dignity from God Himself,” he said. “Structures in society which erode or reject this dignity need to be changed. Our community organizing is meant to uphold this dignity when it is threatened.”

Rev. Clarence Moore, an IndyCAN board member, noted that this venture is also similar to the Federal Emergency Management Agency bringing help to flood victims in the South. “We’re on the brink of creating a faith FEMA that can respond to the floodwaters of injustice.”

Huberto Vazquez, from Fort Wayne’s St. Patrick Parish, shared his experiences as an immigrant. He began his talk by saying, “I’m going to speak in the name of my brother and sister immigrants: their experiences, their pains, their sufferings, but above all, their fears of the future in this country.” He then discussed three specific incidents involving immigrants in Indiana, two of which led to the separation of families.

The Clergy Summit concluded with a moment of commitment in which Cannon Terri Bays of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana asked everyone to consider formally joining the effort — and if feeling called to join, to come forward to light a votive candle from a larger candle and bring it back to their tables as a symbol of bringing light into darkness.

The next steps for NE-ICAN include training more leaders to help guide the effort, and creating multifaith clergy caucuses in St. Joseph, Allen and Elkhart counties. Then, reaching out to community members to see what social justice issues concern them, via listening sessions, will likely take place.

Audrey Davis, Social Justice Ministries coordinator for the diocese, noted that through these listening sessions, NE-ICAN hopes to “create moments of encounter which then creates this radical sense of commonality and community so people can say ‘let’s go stand with each other and let’s act prophetically together in the public sphere.’”

Davis also said NE-ICAN will remain nonpartisan but still involved in political life. “The church has a responsibility to shape and guide the moral compass of our society, and we do that through engaging in political and public life.”

Theresa Driscoll is a parishioner at Fort Wayne’s St. Joseph Parish and a member of NE-ICAN’s steering committee. She said, “We’re about changing the culture, changing the way people look at things, changing the narrative.” Reflecting upon the Clergy Summit, Father Tom Shoemaker, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Fort Wayne and a fellow steering committee member, said: “It’s been a great opportunity to get together with people of other faith traditions and backgrounds to talk about issues we need to see through the eyes of faith.”

NE-ICAN has events planned for the rest of the year and into next year as it continues to grow, listen, lead and stand in solidarity with those affected by societal structures that wound human dignity.