CCHD honors interfaith group for efforts to improve workers’ lives

Father Gerry Souza, Catholic Chaplain at the Suffolk County House of Correction in Massachusetts, speaks at a Massachusetts Communities Action Network rally in September at the facility before sending leaders on a pilgrimage to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Communities Action Network)

Iolanda Silva de Miranda, left, listens to Father Gerry Souza, Catholic chaplain at the Suffolk County House of Correction in Massachusetts, at a Massachusetts Communities Action Network rally in September. (Photos courtesy of Massachusetts Communities Action Network)

Leaders from Brockton Interfaith Community hold boxes of petition signatures for the minimum wage and earned sick time campaigns in 2014, preparing to present the signatures to state election officials.

Leaders from Brockton Interfaith Community hold boxes of signed petitions for minimum wage and earned sick time campaigns in 2014.

Iolanda Silva de Miranda believes the Gospel calls people to act when injustice is present.

Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a congregation-based community organization, came to her parish, St. Edith Stein in Brockton, to talk about the need to raise the state’s minimum wage, Silva de Miranda knew she had to step up.

After hearing how some people work two or three jobs to make ends meet and feed their families, she got involved.

“That’s what God calls us to,” the native of Cape Verde said. “Mary was about to have Jesus and all the doors were closed. Nobody wanted to let her in to have a baby. Sometimes we don’t see those (people). We close the door to the people. We close the door to the more needy and we exclude people.”

It has been a few years since Silva de Miranda, 52, joined the Brockton Interfaith Community, a member of MCAN. She now is co-president of BIC and serves on the MCAN board.

MCAN, an affiliate of the PICO National Network founded in 1972 by Jesuit Father John Baumann, spearheaded the statewide initiative to raise Massachusetts’ minimum wage. It took time to organize, educate, seek signatures on petitions and seek endorsements, like the one from the Massachusetts Catholic Conference representing the state’s bishops.

But Miranda de Silva said the work was worthwhile, especially when voters approved the minimum wage ballot measure in November 2014. By January Massachusetts will have the highest minimum wage in the country at $11 an hour.

For its minimum wage campaign and efforts to gain medical leave for low-income workers, MCAN received the Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development during the recent snowbound Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.

MCAN, a recipient of CCHD national level grants, has worked for more than 30 years to better the lives of low-income people in Massachusetts through congregational organizing and education, said Lew Finfer, the organization’s director.

Early in its history MCAN focused on affordable housing, gang violence and improving conditions in schools. As the economy faltered, especially during the Great Recession, basic family concerns such as hunger, jobs and wages rose in importance. There are also efforts afoot related to reforms in immigration law and criminal justice sentencing.

The minimum wage campaign reached beyond congregations to include tens of thousands of people in neighborhood organizations and labor unions. If the coalition had not been built, Finfer said, the initiative would have failed.

The end result: More than 300,000 people are benefiting.

MCAN affiliates include Catholic parishes in the Boston Archdiocese and the Fall River, Springfield and Worcester dioceses.

Silva de Miranda said the work is important coming from people of faith.

“You know what’s going on in the community. You learn the pain and suffering the families and the people are living. And sometimes you live the pain,” she said. “Being part of this is healing yourself and you’re helping others understand what’s going on.

“You are with them in the change. You are suffering with them. Maybe you show them (policymakers) a part of society is not right, people are not being treated equally of fairly.”

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