On Thursday, September 14, 2023 a delegation representing leaders and organizers from across our broad-based organizing network, the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation, were invited for a return visit by Pope Francis to his home in the Vatican.
The Pope first met with our network last October, and last week, without missing a beat, he reiterated his understanding of our organizing as the conversation began.
"Your work is atomic,” he said. “You go atom by atom, little by little, moving forward. Like water moves forward, which becomes a river, and soon pervades everything it touches.”
He mentioned that on October 4, he will be issuing a companion to his encyclical Laudato Si, which will serve as an “examination of conscience” of our stewardship for the environment since the release of the original encyclical. He applauded efforts to reign in destructive corporate behavior and to promote efforts like Community Lighthouse pioneered by our sister organizations in Louisiana to protect our communities from the effects of climate change.
Fr. Ivan Montelongo represented EPISO/Border Interfaith and the Catholic Diocese of El Paso. He shared with the Pope more about on our collaboration on the diocesan phase of the synod.
In 2022, EPISO/BI and the Diocese of El Paso worked together to train over 300 parishioners from 40+ institutions to carry out the synod, using the format of "house meetings," as a model for the church to listen closely to the experiences of individuals and families, particularly those excluded or on the margins.
Fr. Ivan will return to Rome at the end of the month as a delegate to the global synod, a month-long process of prayer and discernment for the Church led by Pope Francis.
In a recent podcast, Bishop Mark Seitz said the synod is not just another "project" that must be completed and we "get back to our life."
"We can't just do things from the top down," said Seitz. "The Holy Spirit wants to make the whole people of God a priestly people, and that means that everyone is involved."
In a video message Pope Francis prepared for leaders from our network in February, the pope said, "My heart rejoices when I see the pastors, priests and laity — leaders in their communities — together with civic organizations meet to discuss the best ways to overcome serious situations of injustice suffered by the excluded. I encourage and strongly urge you to continue to do so."
Pope Meets US Leaders Patiently Building Culture of Solidarity, US Conference of Catholic Bishops / Catholic News Service
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]Read more
EPISO/Border Interfaith Leads Outcry Against City of Socorro Project That Threatens to Demolish Local Homes
“Our community has heard from hundreds of residents who are opposed to this route, and many have just learned in the last few weeks that their homes may potentially be lost,” said Lorena Silvestre, a leader with EPISO/Border Interfaith and local resident. “Of the three routes proposed, this one clearly hurts the most people who are elderly, Spanish-speaking and on limited income. These are families that built their homes with their own hands.
We do not accept the argument that this is the “best route” to alleviate traffic. This is just the route [City of Socorro] thinks people will not fight back. They are wrong.”
[Photo Credit: Corrie Boudreaux, El Paso Matters]
Socorro Road Plan Causes Fear, Confusion for Residents, El Paso Matters
EPISO and Valley Interfaith teamed up to successfully oppose two bills that would have undermined the Model Rules for Development that govern real estate development in counties that border the Texas-Mexico border. The Model Rules for Development have been a critical tool that our organizations fought for over 30 years ago and which have limited the development of substandard housing lacking access to sewer and clean water lines, drainage and roads.Read more
Two Years of Texas IAF Opposition Leads to Reforms to Limit Giving School Money for Corporate Tax Breaks
The Texas Senate and House passed a compromised version of HB5 that still fundamentally represents misguided economic development to the benefit of out of state corporations that would come here for other factors anyway. This perpetuates a corporate welfare state which Chambers of Commerce and industry groups could never prove otherwise.
However, a 2-year campaign by Texas IAF and allies led to some major reforms in HB5 compared to the now defunct and failed Chapter 313 program. When these tax abatement deals are proposed at local school districts, there will now be a fair fight for taxpayers and public school supporters concerned about corporate welfare. HB 5 Reforms to Chapter 313 include:Read more
Less than a day after a bill that would raise the age to legally purchase semi-automatic rifles unexpectedly passed through Committee, Texas IAF leaders learned that Representative Guillen (from Rio Grande City) appeared to be actively suppressing House Bill 2744 from being heard on the floor. Delayed submission of the Committee report resulted in the bill missing a crucial deadline for it to put on the Calendars schedule for Thursday -- the last day to hear new bills.
Leaders from across the state held an emergency press conference calling on Guillen and the Texas House Speaker to allow the bill to be heard, and for Calendars.
“Guillen and Burrows should...let the representatives vote their conscience on the House floor. Overwhelmingly, Texans support increasing the age limit of when people can buy assault weapons,” Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith from Central Texas Interfaith asserted.
“We’re very, very angry at what’s going on, with them holding this bill hostage,” Valley Interfaith leader Rosalie Tristan of Raymondville told the Rio Grande Guardian.
"How many more children have to die before we act?" demanded TMO leader Bishop John Ogletree.
[Photo Credit: Blaine Young, Texas Tribune]
“As a result of this policy, taxpayers are on the hook for an estimated $31 billion, according to the comptroller. In a demonstration analysis of “winners and losers,” the Texas IAF took the $1billion a year that taxpayers spend on Chapter 313 agreements, and instead ran it through the per student funding formulas for each district in the state. We found that 95% of students in Texas are in districts that lose potential funding because corporations are not paying their fair share of taxes due to Chapter 313 agreements.” - Eloiso Davila, EPISO/Border Interfaith leader - El Paso Matters
Opinion: Texas Shouldn’t Bring Back this Corporate Welfare Vampire, El Paso Matters [pdf]
A surprising legislative success in 2021 is on track to be undone in 2023, unless a grass roots left-right coalition can block legislation and the forces behind it that are trying to go backward....
In the name of jobs and economic development, a 2012 tax code trick called Chapter 313 essentially funneled state money, via school district property tax breaks, to private companies doing new industrial construction. The school districts that granted tax breaks under Chapter 313 were reimbursed — and many still are being reimbursed — by the state, meaning we as taxpayers reimbursed them. It was the ultimate insider game of channeling public benefit to private companies.
The [Texas] Industrial Areas Foundation cleverly brought a man dressed as Dracula to its rally to dramatize how Chapter 313 unfairly drained school districts of funds and that reviving this bad economic development deal would be akin to raising the undead.Read more
The Network of Texas IAF Organizations, a labor and faith coalition that has staunchly opposed using school property tax breaks for incentives... railed against the Texas Jobs and Security Act.
"It looks like it was written on the back of a napkin,"
stated Jose Guerrero, a leader with Central Texas Interfaith from Saint Ignatius Catholic Church.
The organization believes the proposed bill would have even less regulation than Chapter 313, including the exclusion of minimum job requirements as a key factor in a project's eligibility for approval. "It is hard to imagine that they would propose a program with even less accountability, fewer specifics (like no job requirements), and more leeway for companies to take taxpayer dollars from school children to line their pockets," Guerrero stated.Read more
Over 300 leaders, clergy, religious, and bishops from 20 organizations gathered last week in San Antonio to celebrate five years of Recognizing the Stranger, a West/Southwest IAF training, leadership formation, and parish organizing strategy.
The Convocation was highlighted by a video message from Pope Francis, who offered his “closeness and support” to the IAF network and its work to organize with immigrants and with those at the margins to encourage “participation of the Christian in public life.”Read more