CAMDEN, N.J. — Jud Weiksnar, OFM, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, attracted the attention of local TV news, when he planned a Jan. 17 protest against deep cuts in the city’s police and fire departments.
Jud appeared on a Fox news station in Philadelphia, just across the state line from Camden, to discuss his rally on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to support keeping police and fire personnel intact, especially in this city of high crime.
Wearing his brown Franciscan habit on camera, Jud told reporter Steve Keeley that the rally was planned on this holiday as a community organizing effort in line with the late activist’s philosophies. While many organizations spend the day in community service, Jud said his church was community organizing. “It’s the voice of the people that needs to be heard,” he said.
He discussed the need for adequate public services in Camden, which is often ranked the poorest and most dangerous in the country.
“We are the only church in the entire country that we know of doing community organizing for Martin Luther King Day, rather than community service,” said Jud on the news. “We think if the community organizes, then we will have a stronger voice so things like this don’t not happen. We consider this to be a structural injustice that you can lay off half of a police force.” Another one-third of firefighters were also expected to lose jobs.
Crime and poverty in Camden are issues close to the heart of St. Anthony, which has a diverse parish and where Jud and other friars are tireless JPIC advocates.
The TV news learned of the protest after Camden Churches Organized for People, of which St. Anthony is a member, sent out a news release announcing that it would issue a statement about the cuts. At a CCOP news conference, on the front steps of St. Anthony, four CCOP leaders spoke, according to Jud.
“Our position is that the people of Camden need to be assured of adequate public services and public safety, and that the city, state and public employee unions have had plenty of time to come up with a plan that will protect the people of Camden, which is already the poorest and second most dangerous city in the nation,” he said.
“We said that while Martin Luther King fought for our civil rights, Camden is still beset by civil wrongs.”
St. Anthony of Padua parish began the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan. 16 to 22) by hosting the community’s opening night prayer event and praying for a last-minute resolution to the cuts.
The Jan. 21 issue of the Catholic Star-Herald also reported on Camden churches responding to the city’s financial crisis and layoffs.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.