By Joanna Thurmann
“This is not your grandmother’s Mass,” chuckles Father Jon Pedigo at the beginning of his Misa de Solidaridad, while standing in front of the Newman Center at San Jose State University. And none of the faithful expect or desire it to be. In addition to the sacred liturgy of a regular Mass, the Misa also includes leadership training and community development.
Those energized enough to attend this vibrant and growing community are even more energized to go back out and serve. Through storytelling, faith sharing, and solidarity in both its deepest suffering and its most resilient hope, people leave with their hearts on fire and their sleeves rolled up.
On November 20, the Misa was followed by the first Congreso del Pueblo and a rally at City Hall. The goal was to focus commitment on shared values of inclusion, participation, and justice in response to post-election fears of harassment, mass deportations, the construction of a massive wall, and the registration of Muslims.
The Congreso included members from a host of community organizing and advocacy groups, as well as representatives from the Muslim and Jewish faith communities. Among the speakers was Imam Tahir Anwar of the South Bay Islamic Association and Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper, the rabbi and Director of Jewish Studies at Yavneh Day School and chair of the Cantors and Rabbis Association of Greater San Jose. Both Anwar and Tapper cited excerpts from their sacred scriptures which focused on helping others, especially the poor and the stranger. “Truly experiencing my Judaism is not just about my own relationship with God, but with others; about being in community,” said Tapper.
Another speaker was San Jose State University student, Esra Altun, who was grabbed and choked by her hijab in an apparent hate crime the day after the election. Instead of anger, however, Altun stressed her forgiveness and desire for dialogue. “I just want to talk to my attacker, so we can both better understand each other,” she said. Another speaker recalled the experience of her Hungarian father during the Holocaust. She warned about the intense fear and the “othering” that long precedes the final steps of registry, internment, and deportation. She cautioned everyone about the need for vigilance. Another man witnessed to his 3-month prison detainment by ICE officials, despite being part of the DACA program. He says that his North Star is a world without borders.
But equally important, the bilingual Congreso was about forward-looking action. Discussions focused on vision, values, principles, and policies. Vision first meant defining what the nation should look like in terms of inclusion, participation, and justice. This led to identifying its most important values and principles and finally, the public policies that would move it toward that vision while promoting the principles.
Diversity, equality, opportunity, human dignity and rights, love and compassion topped the lists of vision and values.
Nonviolence, listening, and dialogue were its vehicles. The model of Jesus Christ himself – his vision for humanity, resistance to injustice, and hope at a time of oppression – served as prime example of the love, sacrifice, and the commitment that positive social change requires.
Dozens of large poster sheets were covered with plans and ideas, from peaceful protests, petitions, and rallies, to the establishment of sanctuary and safe spaces, and self-registering as Muslims in the case of a nationwide registry.
Pedigo, who is Director of Projects for Peace and Justice for the Diocese of San Jose, will be hosting the weekly Misa de Solidaridad and future Congreso sessions in the hope is that the process is used to connect other social movements together throughout the Bay Area and beyond. “This is what our faith requires of us,” says Pedigo.
Judging by the response of his growing community, and the sharing of business cards, smiles and hugs, his prayers are already answered. The Misa seems about as close to the early Apostolic times as one can get. His active disciples not only stand firmly in solidarity with, but also speak and work actively for, the church’s neediest and most vulnerable. And for all of us.
As Saint John Paul II wrote in his 1988 encyclical, Sollicitudo rei socialis, solidarity “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”