Building the Kingdom... in the City
Lest anyone was unaware, it really is a thrill a minute around this place.
Each year, the conference gives an award named for its lead architect to a Catholic between the ages of 18 and 30 for exemplary community-based work to fight poverty and injustice.
No question, every honoree -- let alone everyone doing the work -- is a treasure and a talent... but the praise for this year's winner has been especially high:
Stephanie Garza, 25, was chosen as this year’s recipient of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award for her remarkable work with immigrant parents through the Southwest Organizing Project in Chicago. Bishop Roger P. Morin, Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, praised the choice....and regardless of where we are and the situations that surround us, that's a call that runs across the board.
"Stephanie is a clear example of a young leader who is inspired by her faith to empower low-income people to work together to address the root causes of poverty in their communities. Her example and witness inspires us all, and I congratulate Stephanie and her family for the achievements that have led to this important honor," Morin said. Garza works with the Southwest Organizing Project, or SWOP, an organization that receives funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Garza runs the Parents as Mentors Program, an initiative in four Chicago public elementary schools that facilitates parent involvement in their children’s schools with the goal of engaging parents in addressing community issues.
The daughter of an immigrant father and a Mexican-American mother, Garza has a special connection with the program participants, most of whom are immigrant mothers. Garza described her work at SWOP as "developing leaders to speak and act on their own behalf, so low income people can bring change to their communities."
Garza is also an active leader in the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform in the Archdiocese of Chicago. She regularly leads educational workshops for parishes on the need for comprehensive immigration reform based on Gospel and Catholic social teaching values. Garza has played a leadership role in diocesan campaign events such as a bi-lingual retreat, a Corpus Christi celebration, and a postcard exchange between immigrant and non-immigrant parishes.
Elena Segura, director of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform in the Archdiocese of Chicago, said, "We're blessed to count on Stephanie as one of our volunteers who inspires others with her commitment to bring the kingdom of God to our society, to build relationships, and to accompany undocumented immigrants, in a very pastoral way, in their quest for immigration reform."
Garza said of her own work, "A lot of immigrant families feel really isolated. The process to find solutions starts with creating relationships. As Catholics, we need to support families and communities. We need to act on our faith as advocates for one another."
An alumna of the University of Notre Dame, the Houston-bred Garza once wrote that even though Chicago might be far from where she grew up, "I am home now and probably closer to my family than I had ever been."