An alternative church service
BY CELINE REINOSO
Since arriving in El Paso, my community has been on an intense search for (free) events and activities to attend, in an effort to make the most of our year and explore our new home. Unfortunately for us, a lot of the events in El Paso are advertised by word of mouth, so it was a slow first couple of weeks, attending Facebook-advertised events that had an average of 10 people—including us—show up.
As one of the program’s core values is social justice, we’ve also been seeking opportunities to get involved in community organizing. Ever since the tragedy that happened in El Paso on Aug. 3, there have been numerous rallies and meetings to resist the hate that fueled the shooting. One of them we heard about was the launch of the We Must do M.O.R.E. National Tour of the Poor People’s Campaign.
Beginning in El Paso and ending in Washington, D.C., the Poor People’s Campaign is touring across the country to organize communities and call for a “moral revival.” Riding on the energy of the community’s response to the Walmart shooting, the launch focused on resisting white supremacy, policy violence and militarization of the border.
As my housemates and I entered the mass meeting hosted at All Saints Episcopal Church, we joked that we might have accidentally walked into a church service. Welcomed by social justice chants that resembled worship music, a female reverend speaking at the front of the altar, and a group of people dancing in the pews, it resembled a church service, but wasn’t like anything I had been to before.
For the first thirty minutes, we gathered along the aisle to sing songs of liberation and justice. “There is no movement without music, there is no revolution without music,” the leader said. We sang verses from the Peace Poets—words that channeled our ancestors and resisted the criminalization of migration.
“Oye mi gente, traemos la fuerza (Listen my people, we bring strength)
La libertad es la única bandera (Freedom is the only flag)
Listen my people my condor, my eagle
No human being can ever be illegal.”
by the Peace Poets
After singing (and dancing), we sat in the pews to listen to the reverend speak. Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, called out the violence that targets communities of color, specifically Latinx communities in El Paso. She said it isn’t just the white supremacists or racists that are violent, however, but policies and institutional structures that target and oppress those communities.
Community members were invited to the front to share their testimonies of militarized borderland life, family separation and even a mother’s experience on that day of the Walmart shooting. Each one shared their lived experiences and how that urged them to join the movement for the Mass Poor People’s Assembly & Moral March on Washington in June 2020.
As we walked out of the meeting, I felt a sense of purpose and inspiration to do more. I left feeling hopeful about the future of our community and our country as a whole, reminded that amidst violent acts (and policies) that target vulnerable communities, there are people doing good work and seeking justice.
In a way, it really was a church service. The meeting followed a typical church service structure, opening with music to set the tone of the next hour and a half, and unite the group of people who have come to express what they believe in. A reverend addressed the crowd and taught about the injustice that exists in our communities, and invited us to do something about it—calls to action inspired by stories of Jesus being one with the poor in his own community. Individuals bravely shared their testimonies and reasons for fighting, resisting, believing, and inspired us to do the same. In the same way a priest closes a Mass with “go in peace,” the meeting closed with more music and words of resistance and strength, and sent people off into the world to make it a better place.
Celine Reinoso (she/her) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but lived in Manila, Philippines for most of her life. She graduated from Saint Louis University with a degree in Journalism, but this year, she hopes to explore the realm of social work and social justice advocacy. She will be working as the Housing & Employment Coordinator at Villa Maria, a transitional shelter for homeless women in El Paso. When Celine isn’t advocating for immigrant and migrant rights, she enjoys listening to Korean pop music and drinking unhealthy amounts of coffee.
10/7/2019 08:46:58 pm
Celine--Thank you for your reflection and a rather different in-church experience. Loretto has supported the Poor Peoples' Campaign with some limited financial donations, too. I hope that you all will connect with Maureen O'Connell who knows all the words to many protest songs that have inspired her over many years and she is always ready to sing! Best to you, and Go in Peace wherever you go!
1/11/2020 01:36:05 pm
Celine I admire your work and dedication to our community. Continue to shine, you star!
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