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Catholic Voice
June 22, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 12   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Climate encyclical sends
strong moral message

Memorial Mass for students
The time is now to help aid your
parish and diocese
Preparing for papal visit
a lesson in 'encounter'

Rev. Jesus Nieto-Ruiz

Rev. Aidan McAleenan

As Catholics throughout the United States eagerly anticipate Pope Francis' first visit, people in two parishes of the diocese are preparing for it through a program developed by a faith-based community organizing group.

At St. Columba in Oakland, and Our Lady of the Rosary in Union City, parishioners are getting ready to take part in the "Year of Encounter with Pope Francis."

The program was launched in Philadelphia — which the pope will visit in September — during an April 30-May 1 meeting of almost 300 representatives of parishes and organizations from 50 dioceses across the United States aligned with the PICO National Network.

Rev. Jesus Nieto-Ruiz, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Union City, and Rev. Aidan McAleenan of St. Columba Parish in Oakland, were among the participants from the Bay Area. Both will begin "Year of Encounter" programs in their parishes this summer.

They see the opportunity to come together in preparation of the pope's visit, and beyond.

"It's a study guideline to prepare ourselves," Father McAleenan said. "It's very Scripturally based, and really allows for an encounter."

A major draw to Philadelphia for both pastors was the opportunity to meet Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, president of Caritas Internationalis and one of the pope's advisers on the Council of Cardinals.

"He has the pope's ear," said Father McAleenan.

The two pastors also found that the cardinal had an ear for the poor, which "impressed me most about this man."

Father McAleenan described four people who told their personal stories during the PICO event: One, a Protestant who is African American, spoke about being divorced and making payments to his wife from out of state. When he came back to the state, showing he made all the payments, but the judge threw him in jail.

Year of Encounter
with Pope Francis

St. Columba Church
6401 San Pablo Ave., Oakland
Begins 7 p.m. July 9

Our Lady of the
Rosary Church

703 C St., Union City
Homilies begin at
Aug. 1-2 Masses

PICO National Network
"More than anything else, the judge told him he didn't trust him," Father McAleenan said. "Mostly because he was black. He lost his job; he lost everything when he was in jail .Then he couldn't meet the payments to his former spouse. Everybody lost in that situation."

A Latina working mother told the gathering she feared losing her job at the Philadelphia airport because she was organizing to advocate for the minimum wage for airport workers — which is already the law.

"We ended up going to the airport that night, 300 of us," Father McAleenan said. "It was really powerful."

They also heard from a woman whose husband became ill and they were fighting the bank to save their home; and from a man from Mexico who chronicled the difference between the advantages his daughter who was born in the United States has over her sister, who was born in Mexico.

"Each of these very human stories, the cardinal listened to them and he responded back to each of them with tremendous humanity," Father McAleenan said. "It was really very powerful. He saw them as people and he saw them as children of God. "

That's the whole purpose of the year of encounter, said Father Nieto-Ruiz. "We listen to the other person. We become neighbors, from neighbors we become family. And once we become family, solidarity is there."

The encounters in the program include those suffering because of exclusion because of economics, race, immigration and incarceration, he said.

"This material becomes a tool that will help us really encounter one another, being guided by 'The Joy of Gospel' and by the pope inviting us to have a year of mercy, beginning in Advent. All of this is coming together," said Father Nieto-Ruiz.

The representatives received a strong endorsement from Cardinal Rodriguez, Father Nieto-Ruiz said. "The cardinal urged us to continue to press the policymakers not to leave behind the poor," he said.

Where it leads next, the priests are hopeful. "The Holy Father will be addressing, as a head of state, both houses of congress," Father McAleenan said. "If you ever felt you were close to helping form something collectively, this was it."

"We as a country are like a dysfunctional family. The structures of our society are set up in such a way that the economics, its values, are not humane, not based on the person," said Father Nieto-Ruiz.

"I feel this is going to be a moment when the pope is going to invite to become not ignorant to the other person, to really reach community.

"By recognizing people where they are, as children of God, that gives people so much hope."

Father Nieto-Ruiz was among a dozen U.S. faith leaders who traveled to the Vatican earlier this month to meet with advisers there and tell about those who are excluded by economics, race and the justice system," he said.

"We went to Rome to bring the stories to them and help them see what we went through here in the U.S.," he said. "They welcomed us with their arms open."

The Year of Encounter won't end with Pope Francis' message to Congress. "Our task is to go back to see how we try to respond," Father Nieto-Ruiz said.

(Catholic News Service contributed to this report.)

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