Virginia Parish Gives ‘Voice’ to Social Justice Issues

Walt Kocinski Around the Province

TRIANGLE, Va. — Led by Pastor Charles Miller, OFM, and Robert Menard, OFM, 101 parishioners from St. Francis of Assisi parish here gathered in October for the founding of Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE).

More than 2,000 enthusiastic interfaith church members from 40 Northern Virginia congregations met on Oct. 5 to launch VOICE. The group delivered VOICE’s agenda: to provide more affordable housing, streamline the immigration citizenship application process, provide affordable dental care, and to commit $228,950 in 2009 to help achieve those goals.

“We are here today to announce the birth of a new organization, a new dominion of justice, a new voice at the table of power,” said Bob, shown in photo. “We raise our ‘voice’ in a robust and unified cry for justice and participation.”

Roman Catholics were among the many denominations that participated.

“We are Catholics. We are Protestants. We are Jewish. We are Muslims. We are Unitarian Universalists. We are African Americans, white Americans, Latino Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, Asian Americans and new Americans,” said Robert Buckman, the VOICE lay leader from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. “We are united as never before in our demand for justice.”

VOICE was designed to deliver a unified action agenda to local, state and federal political, business and religious leaders. Political leaders attending the founding event included former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, and many others.

St. Francis’ participation and commitment to VOICE represented more than a year of dedicated planning and leadership by Charley, Bob and Anne Tunney, director of Parish Outreach for St. Francis.

“We have worked very hard to spread the word about VOICE to key parish ministry leaders, parishioners and the parish’s growing Latino community through one-on-one meetings, planning meetings, and information sessions,” said Tunney, “So many dedicated parishioners have worked very hard for a long time to make this evening a reality. We have also been blessed with tremendous spiritual leadership and support by the friars. That has also made such a huge difference.”

VOICE is a broad-based, non-partisan, multi-racial, multi-faith, citizens’ power organization rooted in local congregations and other voluntary associations. The organization’s mission is to make change on social justice issues affecting the lives of low- and middle-income residents in Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington counties and the City of Alexandria. VOICE is a local affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the country’s oldest and largest grass-roots organizing network. IAF has affiliates in 60 cities and counties in the United States, England, Canada and Germany.

Parishioners at the Triangle church met again this week about VOICE programs.

— Walt Kocinski is a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle.