When people encounter the poor and marginalized in their own communities, they often naturally are inclined to provide for them. On some occasions, people take it a step further, advocating on their behalf, speaking for those who do not have a voice.
Since it was founded in 1969, the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry has done just that. It has provided people from low-income backgrounds with opportunities to address issues within their own communities through Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) grants.
An annual collection takes place in November to provide CCHD funding for groups within the archdiocese. In 2016-17, there were five recipients of the CCHD grant: United Action Connecticut, the Brazilian Worker Center, St. Rose of Lima Church in New Haven, the Naugatuck Valley Project and United CT Action for Neighborhoods.
The Naugatuck Valley Project, an affiliate of the Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry, has been working closely with the Bridgeport-based Brazilian Worker Center to address the issue of domestic worker rights. The Naugatuck Valley Project also helped form a state-wide coalition for home health care justice that includes Catholic and other entities. The current CCHD grant allows the Naugatuck Valley Project to continue its work toward achieving better home health care for low-income seniors and better jobs for low-wage health care workers.
According to the Brazilian Worker Center, there are more than 52 million care workers in the world, 2.5 million in the United States and more than 42,000 in Connecticut.
Domestic workers, largely immigrant women, have been viewed as being outside the traditional work force because their work involves what is traditionally done at home by unpaid spouses and servants. They are subject to a very demanding working environment that includes harsh labor, harassment and little to no time off. A provisional bill has been passed in the state to give domestic workers the right to be considered employees and given protection from sexual harassment and discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, language and sexual preference, but there is still a need for enforcement and expansion.
This year, gatherings have been held throughout the state to call attention to the rights of domestic workers, including one in Manchester in February that drew 23 groups. Topics included steps that are being taken at the national level to ensure that domestic workers’ rights are being recognized and protected in U.S. laws. At that gathering, one of the main advocates for domestic workers’ rights, Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Boston, and two domestic workers shared the experiences and harsh conditions they endured in finding permanent residency in the United States.
The coalition is preparing a campaign for the next legislative session, which begins in January.
CCHD is one of the largest supporters of community organizing efforts in the United States. It aims to provide transformative education for people from low-income backgrounds so that their voices can be heard.
St. John Paul II recognized the value of CCHD’s work when he said, in Chicago in 1979, “The [Catholic] Campaign for Human Development has been a witness to the Church’s living presence in the world among the most needy, and to her commitment to continuing the mission of Christ. ... I commend the bishops of the United States for their wisdom and compassion in establishing the [Catholic] Campaign for Human Development ... and I thank the whole Catholic community for the generous support given to this initiative during all these years.”
We frequently are reminded to live our faith in a culture that is increasingly secular. Jesus said, in Matthew’s Gospel, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
There is sanctity in gathering people together to follow Christ.
Community organizing puts Catholic social teaching principles into action when such efforts are geared toward protecting the dignity of the human person, ensuring that basic human rights are fulfilled and inviting individuals and institutions to carry out their duties and responsibilities. Community organizing allows people who are poor and people who are not poor to work together to solve problems. When people who are poor take leadership and work to address their own situations, their human dignity is affirmed.
Patrick Laorden is the parish social ministry coordinator for the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry.