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March 10, 2017, Modesto, California – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters – Sisters Cheryl Liske, OP, and Mary Priniski, OP – were among 800 grassroots community representatives to gather at the U.S. regional meeting of the World Meeting of Popular Movements. (WMPM). The first such interfaith gathering in the United States was February 16-19 at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, California.
The WMPM is a series of gatherings of grassroots people, organizers, and activists who have been called together by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to advise the pope and the world on how to meet the needs of two “fragilities” named by Pope Francis: the poor and the Earth. The U.S. regional gathering was organized by the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Pacific Institute for Community Organization (PICO) Network.
Sister Cheryl, a member of the planning team for the regional meeting, had attended the WMPM gathering in Rome to get a feel for the gathering and to meet with others to structure the regional meeting in Modesto. A community organizer, she ministers at Gamaliel of Michigan, one of 44 affiliates of the national organization. Gamaliel’s mission is to “empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social, and economic decisions affecting their lives.”
“I worked with our Gamaliel staff in various states and produced a delegation to Modesto of over 80 leaders and organizers,” including 19 from Michigan, Sister Cheryl said. The diverse group met beforehand and will meet as a follow-up on March 23, she added.
Sister Cheryl also invited Sister Mary to the regional meeting. Sister Mary ministers with the Catholic Community of the South, a “network of clergy and laity who are compelled by faith to solidarity with those on the margins,” according to the organization’s Facebook page. Sister Mary took the opportunity to engage with 11 Southern Catholic bishops about the issues involved in the gathering, and to meet with several grassroots community groups as well.
While the world meeting focused on issues such as land, labor, and lodging, the U.S. regional gathering focused on domestic issues of specific importance. “Right now immigration is the most pressing, and something we’re all working on,” Sister Cheryl explained. “Related to that is mass incarceration. We’re working on a strategy in Michigan to reduce prison [population] by about half.”
The gathering resulted in a document that included eight proposed actions, including the call to faith communities to establish themselves as sanctuaries for people facing deportation; bold, prophetic leadership from faith communities; state and regional meetings of popular movements; and the establishment of International Week of Action on May 1-7, 2017.
Both Sisters Mary and Cheryl came away from the gathering energized and inspired by their experience – from the talks they heard and the commitment of the people involved. Sister Cheryl was impressed by the “great speeches, great panels,” not just by bishops and other Church leaders, but by grassroots activists.
Sister Cheryl was moved by the talk from Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who challenged leaders to “get out there and do the work. We can’t just be praying and hoping for change,” Sister Cheryl said. Cardinal Tobin called for Catholics to work for the poor, to work for those who have been excluded from our society and in our economy, she added.
Sister Mary, for her part, was impressed by the talk given by Bishop Robert McElroy, of the Diocese of San Diego. Bishop McElory’s talk, widely discussed in U.S. Catholic newspapers, was also described in an article in the National Catholic Reporter.
A key point for Sister Mary was the encouragement she gained from the gathering, knowing that may people are working for justice and peace. “We are not alone,” she said. “If you feel alone, you are not. There are a lot of people around the world” working to bring about justice and peace. “The pope is very much supporting the work that we’re doing to stand with those who are suffering.”
April 28, 2016, Lansing, Michigan – Long-time community organizer, Sister Cheryl Liske, OP, and other representatives of Gamaliel of Michigan and its affiliates gathered with other activists in Lansing as part of the Healthy Heartland’s National Week of Actions for Racial Equity. The day involved meeting with state legislators to encourage legislation that would promote racial equity in Michigan.
Sister Cheryl is director of Gamaliel of Michigan, one of 17 state members of Gamaliel, founded in 1988 to “train community and faith leaders to build political power and create organizations that unite people of diverse faiths and races.” Gamaliel works to “empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social and economic decisions affecting their lives.”
Participating in the event were representatives of Gamaliel of Michigan and its local affiliates: Metropolitan Organizing Strategy for Enabling Strength (MOSES), the Ezekiel Project, and ACTION of Greater Lansing; the Health Departments of Ingham, Washtenaw, and Genesee Counties; and activists from Kent County, Michigan.
“After spending a brief time getting to know each other, we participated in a peer learning experience based on the ‘sections of pipe’ in the ‘pipeline to prison,’” Sister Cheryl explained. “Starting with early childhood, we helped each other learn what makes a particular moment a ‘pipeline to a career’ or a ‘pipeline to prison,’ or what could happen in a particular moment to foster reconciliation and restoration.
The conversation was enlivened by youthful leaders from Detroit Metro and the Saginaw area. Mr. DeJuan Bland and Mr. Daryl Dennis, leaders of Crossing Boundaries, Building Bridges (CB3), presented the issue of racial equity and the passion of the activists in music and in the poem “Blame the Boy.” The heart-breaking poem by DeJuan Bland details the fate of many young Black men – death at an early age or prison – because of systemic racism in the United States.
The activists spent their hour at the state capitol visiting with State Senators Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D-Meridian Township), Burt Johnson (D-Highland Park), and Morris W. Hood III (D-Detroit) and State Representative Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), House Minority Floor Leader. The Saginaw delegates visited with State Representative Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw), a former intern of Gamaliel. The Kent County representatives arranged their own visits.
During their time with the legislators, the Gamaliel activists asked for specific legislation that would prevent the expulsion of children from preschool and early care and give them the support needed so that they can ultimately be successful in school. They also sought to “remove barriers to economic dignity for formerly incarcerated citizens” by making it possible for them to include on job applications how they have “grown beyond the action that led to their incarceration.” Sister Cheryl noted that both requests were received favorably by the legislators.
At the national level, Gamaliel representatives attended the arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of U.S. v Texas which challenges President Obama’s authority to issue a policy allowing undocumented immigrants – those who had been taken to the United States as minors and the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – to receive temporary work permits and relief from the immediate threat of deportation. After the formal arguments and press conferences, the Gamaliel group visited Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill to ask for a just and humane immigration policy.
Article submitted by Sister Cheryl Liske, OP
Feature photo: Gathered by the Lansing State Capitol rotunda are leaders of the Power to Thrive Coalition, from left: Mr. Kandia Milton, MOSES organizer; Rev. Samuel Spruill, MOSES leader; Ms. Wendy Boyce, Ingham County Intermediate School District; Mr. Brad Snyder, Genesee County Health Department; Sister Cheryl Liske, OP, Gamaliel of Michigan; Ms. Tamara Brickley, Genesee County Health Department. They are addressing Michigan State Senator Morris W. Hood III (right).