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Catholic Voice
June 13, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 11   •   Oakland, CA
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Pope Francis free legal clinic opens its doors

With the Mass and dedication of the legal clinic on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, June 4, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, entrusted the protection of the clinic to Mary. He placed roses at the foot of the sculpture, Our Lady of Oakland, Mother of the Church, which is set near the main altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Order of Malta members Lucille and Antonio Sanchez-Corea. He was awarded the Diocesan Medal of Merit.

"Just because you're too poor to have a lawyer, you don't count."

That's the mentality the newly opened Pope Francis Legal Clinic is designed to counteract, said Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, during a June 4 Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland attended by the legal clinic's benefactors and volunteer attorneys.

The Mass began with Knights of Columbus lining the path to the altar steps, and the procession included members of the Knights of Malta in their robes.

"This evening is a very special occasion for the diocese," the bishop said, "the blessing and opening of the Pope Francis Legal Clinic."

"By the gracious contribution of the members of the Knights of Malta," the bishop said, "people can come and get free legal advice, without charge, through the generosity of Catholic attorneys."

Bishop Barber acknowledged the Knights of Malta's operation of the free medical clinic at the cathedral for the past eight years. At the end of Mass, the bishop presented the Diocesan Medal of Merit, the highest honor given in the diocese, to Antonio Sanchez-Corea.

The bishop told the gathering that in his three years as bishop, he has told people, "We have a free medical clinic here."

There's a hopeful reason. "When people have their bodies healed, they'll come up the ramp, and have their souls healed," he said, at the cathedral.

The same goes for the legal clinic. "This help is given in the name of Jesus Christ," the bishop said.

"Each and every one of us Catholics has a role to play," he said.

After Mass, a procession followed the Pilgrims' Path from the cathedral to 21st and Harrison streets, stopping at the door with "Pope Francis Legal Clinic" newly painted on the door.

After the blessing and cutting the ceremonial ribbon with Sanchez-Corea, the bishop opened the door to the legal clinic, which is now ready to receive its first clients.

One by one, the professionals who are dedicating some of their time and talent looked to keep those doors open, to start, eight hours a week, in the conference room, with an oval table, five chairs and a pair of telephones, one with a blinking light already.

Three gifts adorn the walls — a photograph of Pope Francis on the balcony at St. Peter's, a gift from Bishop Barber; a crucifix, a gift from the Very Rev. George Mockel, vicar general of the diocese of Oakland who had provided guidance in the clinic's planning stages; and a portrait of Our Lady of Philermo, the patron saint of the Order of Malta, a gift from Tom and Kit Greerty. He is the director of the new clinic.

Pope Francis Legal Clinic

Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Where: Cathedral of Christ the Light, 2121 Harrison St., Oakland

By appointment; call:

The clinic will be available by appointment from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some of the people seeking help will be referred to attorneys who have agreed to see them in their offices for a free consultation.

Many of the attorneys attended the Mass and reception, including Veronica Guinto, who practices in Oakland. "I know the community needs legal services," said the graduate of University of California at Davis Law School, who specializes in immigration issues. Volunteering is an important part of her life and practice, she said.

"Immigration has always been my passion and ministry," said Elizabeth Ezekwen, who practices in Livermore and plans to volunteer at the cathedral legal clinic. "It's a blessing for the Catholic Church to have such a place," she said, where people are "able to feel they are going to get help."

Greerty has worked with attorney Nico Herrera to plan the clinic, whose goal is to offer mediation, reconciliation and resolution. The Pope Francis Legal Clinic will not be representing clients in court.

There are "some fantastic attorneys willing to give their time and talent," Greerty said, in the office and by consultation.

Also in the crowd were five judges from the two East Bay counties.

The legal system can appear to be based on how much money someone is able to pay. The Pope Francis Legal Clinic "will help to counteract that," said attorney Jeff Burke.

Attorney Tom Hockel said his time at the legal clinic "might be an opportunity to put my skills to use in a way I don't in my day-to-day practice."

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