For years, Montana Vista felt like a forgotten community due to poverty, isolation and a lack of relationships with elected officials. Residents appealed to their then-priest at San Juan Diego Catholic for support in getting much needed basic streets, parks and wastewater services. A longtime leader and co-chair of EPISO, Father Ed Roden-Lucero and EPISO organizers worked with resident leaders, guiding them in their efforts to seek essential infrastructure.
Part of those efforts included community education about the Economically Distressed Areas Program, a program created in 1989 by EPISO/Border Interfaith and sister Texas IAF organizations to address lack of infrastructure in the colonias. That same year, EPISO/BI and Texas IAF organizations got out the vote to amend the Texas Constitution to provide the Texas Water Development Board $200 million dollars to issue grants and loans to install water and wastewater infrastructure in colonias and economically distressed areas. Since 1989, over $1 Billion dollars have been invested in colonias and economically distressed areas across Texas.
Change is coming to Montana Vista. In January, a long-fought for (and separately funded) road extension was newly opened, with four lanes, bike routes, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping. Now, to community acclaim, El Paso Water is breaking ground for Phase 1 of its water and wastewater project -- scheduled for completion within 18 months.
On a rainy Friday night, the Dallas church hall meeting was filled with talk of the latest tiroteos y balaceras — gunfire and gun battles.
Erika Gonzalez said she can now distinguish between the metallic sounds and rhythm of a high-caliber assault weapon vs. a pistol. “They discharge and they refill,” she said at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in southeast Dallas.
“We need more help for this combat,” said Lily Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen who helped organize the meeting. “Raise your voice. It will give us credibility.”
They’re part of a new gun-control campaign that is spreading in Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant neighborhoods in Dallas and elsewhere in Texas. Already, 11,000 Texans have signed postcards asking for support for four federal bills, including two on enhanced background checks for firearms purchases, organizers say.
The campaign started after the mass shooting Aug. 3 at an El Paso Walmart, in which a Dallas-area man traveled to the border city with an assault rifle to hunt Mexicans, according to a court affidavit. By the end of the shooting spree, 22 people were dead. It is believed to be the worst violence against Latinos in a century — since widespread lynchings across the West aimed at those of Mexican ancestry....
[Photo Credit: Dianne Solis, Dallas Morning News]
After El Paso Massacre, Dallas Area Interfaith Calls for Tougher Gun Laws, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Included in recent TIME reporting was an assembly organized by EPISO/Border Interfaith in which 300 institutional leaders gathered alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.
At one point, the assembly intentionally broke out into small group check-ins responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?" Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.
In the assembly, Texas State Representative Cesar Blanco committed to working with the Texas IAF network to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools. He also committed to developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts.
At the urging of EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders, school officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.
Leaders are continuing to focus public officials on a mental health response, as part of a comprehensive approach to recent shootings.
'Trauma Doesn't Go Away By Itself.' How El Paso is Tackling Mental Health Stigma After the Walmart Mass Shooting, TIME Magazine [pdf]
On Aug. 3, our El Paso community was viciously attacked, and we are experiencing deep grief. Yes, we need to take the necessary time to process this pain and publicly lament together. But soon we must also begin to channel this sense of loss to reclaim a sense of community that we will all be proud of.
Terrorism wants to create mistrust and deep hateful fear. Such fear works to drive people away from one another. It scapegoats the immigrant, people of color, those of different faith traditions, people of a different culture and language. It twists and turns us to make others seem not human.
That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed....
We Must Not Let Fear Succeed in Creating Distrust, Hateful Fear, El Paso Times [pdf]
Just days after the shooting that targeted Latinos in El Paso, 300 EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders and clergy gathered to "stand against fear" and begin a community-wide healing process alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.
“We must understand that terrorism wants to create fear and division that promotes misunderstanding, mistrust and violence,” said Fr. Pablo Matta, EPISO/Border Interfaith co-chair and pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in El Paso. “That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed.”
Leaders in the pews made commitments to launch parish-based listening sessions throughout El Paso to reach those feeling most anxious and isolated, to secure additional emergency counseling and mental health services and to actively support legislation to curb gun violence.
“I’m ready to walk with you,” said US Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, asserting that the attack goes deeper than a permissive gun culture. "You all are about accountability. We have to be accountable with the people who use language that inspires hate."
Similarly, Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz and Episcopal Bishop Michael Buerkel Hunn urged leaders to actively engage those feeling uneasy and isolated and to elicit their stories and concerns. “El Paso is a special community,” said Bishop Seitz. “We have an opportunity to do this for the rest of the country.”
The assembly broke out into small group conversations, responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?" Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories -- and many tears -- from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.
Other officials in attendance included State Representative Cesar Blanco, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, County Commissioners Vince Perez and David Stout, City Representatives Cassandra Hernandez and Claudia Ordaz Perez, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, Ysleta ISD Superintendent Xavier De La Torre and El Paso ISD School Board Trustee Freddy Kayel-Avalos.
Representative Blanco committed to work with the Texas IAF network around developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts. He also committed to working with leaders to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools. City and County officials agreed to develop a strategy to reassure immigrant families and their children, encouraging them not to be afraid of local law enforcement nor of public services. School officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.
[Photo Credit: Briana Sanchez, El Paso Times]
Standing Against Fear: Catholic Church Hosts Interfaith Gathering After Mass Shooting, El Paso Times [photo gallery]
Multiethnic Group Holds Vigil to Remember Victims of El Paso Shooting, FOX News
What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]
Statement on Shooting: El Paso Area Residents Urged to Overcome Fear and Build Relationships for Change
For immediate release: August 4, 2019
|Media Contacts:||Dr. Kathy Staudt||915-240-5826|
|Fr. Pablo Matta||915-500-9919|
EPISO/BI Assembly: Thursday, August 8, 2019, 7PM
St. Paul’s Catholic Church: 7424 Mimosa Ave., El Paso, TX 79915
We are heartbroken over Saturday morning’s attack on innocent victims in our community. This Thursday, August 8th at 7pm, EPISO/Border Interfaith (BI) leaders will come together to demonstrate that this hate-filled act has no place in El Paso, and we will stand as a united effort to grieve and rebuild the bonds of trust to overcome fear and hate.
We as Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders representing 19 local institutions from all walks of life and backgrounds, condemn yesterday’s attack. El Paso is the largest US city on the border and among the safest in our country. We will not let this senseless act of violence define us or define who we are as a border community. We recall the story of the Good Samaritan. In it, we are challenged to see the humanity in those we have been taught to despise and to practice neighborliness, not to be divided by senseless acts of violence.
This week EPISO/BI recommits to its long-term political work of building vital public relationships, rooted in trust. This entails the following:
1) Urging our community to come together and publicly demonstrate our unity and sorrow through the many prayer vigils and gatherings. We must confront this fear together as a community and in local congregations and not allow those most fearful to withdraw into their isolation, whether they require medical care, grief counseling, or simply the caring support of their neighbors.
2) Working to publicly reassure our communities, especially the most vulnerable, to trust law enforcement and local government. On August 8, we will convene with local officials to recommit to our mutual work of creating a safe, vibrant community.
3) Meeting with Congressional members and legislative delegation to propose common sense legislation to prevent such violence in the future.
Most of all, we urge the people of the El Paso area to reach out to those who might feel isolated or fearful and with that same intent and seek fruitful relationships not just in the coming days and weeks, but for the long term. Those kinds of efforts can forge new relationships with people who are different, and to strategize together on building long-term solutions.
EPISO/ Border Interfaith is a multi-ethnic group of institutions, primarily congregations, in the El Paso metro area. EPISO and BI are non-partisan organizations and never accept government funds or supports any candidate. The purpose of EPISO/ BI is to give ordinary citizens a structure through which they can negotiate effectively with the government and private institutions that affect their lives. EPISO /BI are the vehicle through which member congregations and organizations act on the interests of their families and local communities, helping them become an effective force for promoting faith values and democratic traditions.
Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens. She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the Baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.
Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.
Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/New Mexico Border, instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio.
Her advocacy work during the past four decades in her various roles, as National IAF Co-Director and Supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network will be greatly missed. Her organizing career began with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) in Houston where she was a founder, followed by Lead Organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio and Dallas Area Interfaith.
She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi faith traditions, economic lines and race to do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued. She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.
She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence. She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.
The Rosary and Wake were Thursday, July 25, 2019 and Mass of Resurrection on Friday, July 26, 2019. All services were held in Sacred Heart Chapel, next to Our Lady of the Lake Convent Center in San Antonio, Texas.
In lieu of flowers, you may make a memorial contribution to the Sisters of Divine Providence, 515 S.W. 24th Street, San Antonio, TX 78207-4619.
Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Sister Christine Passes Away, Rio Grande Guardian
EPISO / Border Interfaith Leaders Travel to State Capitol to Call for Increased Funding for Schools & Adult Education
EPISO and Border Interfaith leaders, joined by representatives from Project ARRIBA, flew in to the Texas Capitol to join hundreds of Texas IAF leaders calling on state legislators to increase state finance of adult and K-12 education.
After a morning briefing on school finance, the Texas Innovative Career Education (ACE) program and other issues -- including healthcare, payday lending, and infrastructure in the colonias -- leaders were honored for their establishment of noteworthy labor market intermediaries, including Project ARRIBA. Immediately afterward, they convened on the South Capitol steps. El Paso area legislators stood in solidarity with leaders and pledged to continue working for investments in people, including Representatives Joe Moody (HD 78), Mary Gonzalez (HD 75) and Art Fierro (HD 79).
In photos above, Fr. Ken Ducre from Christ the Savior Catholic and Rep. Joe Moody speaks to crowd, which includes leaders from sister organizations TMO in Houston, COPS/Metro in San Antonio, Central Texas / Austin Interfaith, West Texas Organizing Strategy (WTOS), Dallas Area Interfaith and Valley Interfaith in the Rio Grande Valley.
After the press conference, leaders broke out into smaller delegations to meet with legislators representing their geographic regions.
Organizations Call On State Legislators to Support Adult Education, Univision 62 [Spanish video]
Approximately 40 Spanish-speaking leaders participated in multiple-day training sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and the Organizers Institute of West / Southwest IAF organizers in El Paso. Participants wrestled with scripture, engaged with each other in small groups and re-imagined parishes at the center of change.
Over the past 20 years residents of Montana Vista, a Colonia located on the outskirts of El Paso, Texas, felt like a forgotten community because of the poverty, the isolation of the area, and the difficulty to get access to county and state representatives.
They appealed to the then pastor of San Juan Diego Catholic Church, Father Ed Roden-Lucero, who was a longtime leader and co-chair of EPISO, for support in getting much needed basic services and infrastructure for their community.
They began by discussing efforts to get water, wastewater, parks, single-member voting districts for the Clint Independent School District, and for the extension of Greg Rd. to Edgemere Blvd.
The initial request for the extension of the road was for convenience, not safety. However, when a serious accident occurred that closed the only entrance to this community for more than 8 hours during the day, they saw the urgency in pushing elected officials for the extension of Greg Rd to Edgemere. They held accountability sessions with candidates and obtained commitments from the then newly elected county commissioner, Vince Perez. Leaders attended meetings and hosted hundreds of house meetings with the constituency to push for the safety improvements and extension of the roads.
On the day of the accident there was no access in or out of the Montana Vista area for a whole day. The only way out or in was to take a one-hour detour to Horizon Blvd and then through back roads. It was chaos for parents taking their children to school, buses picking up and dropping off children, and people going to and from work. The extension of Greg Rd. became the only solution for the safety of the community.
Today we gathered with Fr. Ed Roden-Lucero, leaders of San Juan Diego, residents of Montana Vista, and county commissioner Vince Perez at the opening of the new four lane road with bike routes, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping. Together we all celebrated the accomplishment of the extension and the countless hours of work that the leaders and residents invested to make their community safer.