A day of social justice at St. Mary’s

Deacon Steve Herrera

St. Mary’s Catholic Church sponsored a Day of Social Justice
event Aug. 20, focusing on the theme

Our Community Moving Toward Action.

The immigration panel in particular clarified the concerns of
many undocumented people who oftentimes are fearful and concerned
about law enforcement and of being deported.
By Deacon Steve Herrera, Special to the Dispatch

St. Mary’s Catholic Church sponsored a Day of Social Justice event Aug. 20, focusing on the theme “Our Community Moving Toward Action.”

I gave the morning keynote speech and lectured about Social Justice Principles, while Enrique Flores – a keynote speaker from Eastside Heroes – spoke in the afternoon. About 75 to 100 parishioners and members of the public attended.

Dan Derry, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, and the Social Justice Committee planned this day to inform the public about immigration issues in the Gilroy community and to learn about methods of developing a peaceful community.

The immigration panel in particular clarified the concerns of many undocumented people who oftentimes are fearful and concerned about law enforcement and of being deported.

The Gilroy Police Department clarified their stance regarding residents of Gilroy, which is to respect everyone and to enforce the law. They pointed out this was especially true when police officers observe the potential for a crime.

The morning keynote presentation focused on the criteria used by the Catholic Church to assess and develop approaches to social problems. The foundational principle presented was that all people possess human dignity and should be respected.

It was emphasized that all social policies, budget priorities, and any laws being considered ought to be judged and assessed based on equality all people share and with respect to each person possessing human dignity and having basic human rights. 

From my perspective as a person of religious faith, I think it’s important to be a faithful citizen and to encourage one another to work out answers together to community problems and to work for the common good.

People in general have good intentions, but I think it’s important to have dialogue and discuss as a community what benefits the entire community. Life is a precious gift, and each person in my opinion should be treated with the utmost respect and given essential human needs such as clothing, food, shelter, medical care, regardless of their economic or legal status.

These types of events focusing on vital issues, such as immigration, are important to the improvement of our community so that public officials, and citizens can work toward a more just society with transparency and good will.

In addition to the keynote there were also two panels of speakers. The morning panel addressed issues surrounding the issue of immigration and human rights.

Gilroy Police Chief Denise Turner attended along with an undocumented person, a staff member of Catholic Charities who works with immigration issues, and a local farmer who employs. The afternoon panel addressed alternatives to violence.

Each member of the panel presented their unique perspectives about the issue from the point of view of law enforcement, an undocumented person’s perspective, a farm owner’s perspective and from a direct service provider, Catholic Charities.

This Justice Forum succeeded in educating community members about basic principles of social justice, and conveyed the importance of treating every member of the Gilroy community with dignity and respect.

St. Mary’s Parish hopes to form a core group to continue to learn and to act on issues of justice in the Gilroy area. Being a good citizen is not only voting and being informed about the issues of a community, it also involves acting on behalf of the needy and those whose human dignity is being violated.

A suitable quote for the theme of this Day of Social Justice is this quote by Mohandas Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see.”

St. Mary’s and its parishioners hope to embody this quote and to be faithful citizens who want to build a community characterized by justice, respect for all, and which promotes the common good.

Deacon Steve Herrera is a Religious Studies Teacher at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose and the Immersion Coordinator for the Diocese of San Jose.

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