What is the best way to bring together individuals that live in the same region, but whose lives seem worlds apart? What can those who have means and influence do to help marginalized populations in their own neighborhoods? How can people of faith and/or good will assist immigrant communities living in anxiety because of the current political climate? These were the fundamental questions that nonprofit, A Faith That Does Justice (AFTDJ), addressed at its first Community Meeting on Tuesday, October 10th.
Held at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in downtown Boston, AFTDJ brought together more than 150 individuals interested in learning more about the immigrant experience and the damage that has been wrought on immigrant communities facing draconian policies.
Marjean Perhot, Director of Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services and Attorney Jeannie Kain, past Chair of the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), filled in as panelists for Ambassador Ruben Zamora, who was unable to participate in the meeting. AFTDJ’s founder, Fr. Peter Gyves, MD SJ, conducted a panel discussion with Perhot and Kain, who described the difficult circumstances that so many refugees find themselves in and highlighted ways the people in the room could help.
In addition to Perhot and Kain, attendees heard from AFTDJ volunteer Alba, who described her own harrowing experiences, which led to her immigrating to the United States, and the challenges she has faced since. For many in the room, it was the first time they had interacted directly with an individual who lived such an experience.
Founded by Fr. Peter W. Gyves, a Jesuit priest and doctor who was inspired by the example of the Jesuit priests he observed in El Salvador, AFTDJ seeks to build solidarity in three ways – by hosting workshops that allow people of different faiths to explore their common goals in human rights and social justice; by sponsoring community meetings that will bring speakers to Boston to highlight the challenges facing the poor and vulnerable around the world; and by pursuing a Faith in Action component, one element of which will be English as a Second Language classes.
Fr. Gyves, who is bilingual, is a pediatrician who once worked in poor communities in El Salvador. Two years ago, he piloted the AFTDJ program in Barrio Logan, San Diego. The program focuses on faith lived in action on behalf of the most vulnerable among us. He took this approach to two groups, one that spoke English and the other Spanish. Both urged him to bring the groups together, which he did in January 2015. From there, the idea of A Faith That Does Justice was born. Fr. Gyves then moved the program to Boston in September 2016 in order to reach out to its diverse population of people, many of whom have recently arrived in the United States. While drawing on the Catholic Social Justice Tradition, AFTDJ will pursue an ecumenical approach in fulfilling its mission.
AFTDJ’s next Community Meeting will be on December 12th, and will feature MacArthur Fellows Rosanne Haggerty, President and CEO of Community Solutions, and Rev. Bryan Hehir, former advisor to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, discussing housing and homelessness.