Catholic Charities’ Office of Justice and Peace along with the St. Vincent de Paul in the Archdiocese of New Orleans hosted the Annual Symposium for Systemic Change through the Hop In platform on January 15, 2021. People attended from locations as far-flung as the University of Dayton and Hartford, Connecticut. Bishop Fernand Cheri offered a powerful keynote on Racism within the Church emphasizing that concern for the lives of black people, such as George Floyd, among others, is also a “pro-life” issue. His keynote was a clarion call for the Church to address systemic racism.
We were honored to have Sr. Helen Prejean C.S.J., Michael Cahoon of LAREPEAL, and Emma Tack of Catholic Mobilizing Network on a panel moderated by Tom Ryan of Loyola Institute for Ministry, who all spoke to the need to abolish the death penalty both in Louisiana and throughout the United States. Sr. Helen spoke to the fact that very few Catholics saw capital punishment as a “pro-life” issue in the 1980’s and 90’s, but the needle has moved among Catholics and in the general population over the past few generations. Michael and Emma spoke to the fact that overturning the death penalty is within our grasp and becoming an achievable goal through outreach, education, and persistence.
Dr. Jeffrey Benjamin of Dillard University, and Annie Phoenix, co-founder of Operation Restoration, spoke about engaging college students and young adults in civic life. Both of them have had success in mobilizing young people to participate in democracy to remove barriers which hinder African-Americans and low income people from participating fully in the life of our nation. Dr. Jeff explained how he has been able to facilitate hundreds of students in voter registration drives, phone banks, and getting out the vote, while Annie recalled how she and other formerly incarcerated women cooperated with elected officials to change unjust laws which disproportionately impact those who have been incarcerated.
Office of Justice and Peace Project Director, Kevin Fitzpatrick, moderated the final session which highlighted the work of five area organizations who have been funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, who was also the sponsor the symposium. The session reflected upon how these organization address the root causes of racism and how racism intersects with many other issues addressed by Catholic social teaching. We discusses housing, evictions, and barriers many people face in finding secure housing; environmental racism; the need for minorities to find capital and other resources in order to become effective entrepreneurs; removing fines and fees which prevent people from working, and protecting workers from Immigration Enforcement and other policing; enabling low income people to have a voice in their community; and re-directing corporate taxes back into the community to help put furloughed city employees back to work. The organizations funded by Catholic Campaign for Human Development ensure that low income people have a voice in their organizations to impact change for those who are often left behind.
This was the first time the Symposium was held on a virtual platform, which expanded our reach. We hope this event will launch us for more systemic change and civic engagement for 2021!
For more information about the Office of Justice and Peace, visit here.