'Recognizing the Stranger' Conference Commemorates 5-Year Organizing Strategy

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.”  

“My heart rejoices when I see that 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 urge you to continue to do so.”

Co-sponsored by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Recognizing the Stranger (RTS) has reached over 4,000 parishioners from 350 parishes, in 20 dioceses. 

Elizabeth Valdez, Co-Director of RTS and Texas IAF director said, “this is recognition of five years of intensive training and formation for hundreds of leaders and organizers, to develop a process of discernment, reflection, and action.  It has made us better organizers and leaders, and we are eager for the next phase of deepening and expanding parish organizing."

Special guests for the two day gathering included Daniel Cardinal DiNardo (Galveston-Houston), Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller (San Antonio), Bishop Mark Seitz (El Paso), Bishop Greg Kelly (Dallas), Bishop Italo Dell’Oro (Galveston-Houston), Bishop Gary Janak (San Antonio) and Mr. Ralph McCloud, Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. 

Here’s a sample of what was shared at the Convocation:

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo: “That's the good practical work that this organizing does; it helps people recognize their solidarity and their ability to work together,” he said. “When you are a member of community organizing, the parish becomes electrified with agency. It shows in the world, in the city. I think that's what organizing is all about, and it's beautiful.”

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller: “Your life is seen in action. Theology is fruitful in action. Love of God is alive in action. And if we are not present, we are not being faithful to our call.”  He continued, “We are called to be committed.  All of us, not only the bishops.  [Pope Francis] is leading us to a new way of being church: to be in relationship and to walk together.”

Elizabeth Hall (Lead Organizer, Bay Area IAF): "Recognizing the Stranger is a strategy to deepen and strengthen our capacity for parish organizing.  Parishes are essential to human development, and engagement in public life makes us more fully human."

Bishop Mark Seitz: "When we were asked to enter into this synodal process, [...] it struck me, ‘wait a minute! We have these [IAF] groups here in El Paso. That's just what they do.’  It’s been such a synergy that we found working together."

Marta Villela (formerly an organizer in Guatemala and now a leader with Marin Organizing Committee): “I was blessed to be part of the IAF delegation who met with Pope Francis.  I mentioned to him that I have been able to engage in public life - in politics - safely through the IAF organization.” 

Ralph McCloud: "Heaven must look like what I see from here: people of different ethnicities and geographies and regions and age groups coming together to embrace this tremendous work.  Thank you for allowing the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to walk with you doing this tremendous work."

Video Message from Pope Francis to West/Southwest IAF

Letter from Pope Francis to West/Southwest IAF

The Day Pope Francis Welcomed Community Organizers Into the Papal ResidenceAmerica: The Jesuit Review [pdf]

For Synod Listening Sessions, US Bishops Turned to Community OrganizersNational Catholic Reporter [pdf]

Pope Francis Says Synod Should Hear 'Excluded' VoicesNational Catholic Reporter [pdf]

A California Bishop Invited Community Organizers to Help with the Synod. So Far, It’s WorkingAmerica: The Jesuit Review [pdf]

Photo Album from Conference

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