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“Our goal is to work toward a common understanding of what constitutes justice. Sometimes it’s important to put your beliefs and ideologies in your back pocket and listen to other people’s stories.”
Jesuit Recounts PICO Founding, Role of Faith in Communities

October 21, 2013 — Jesuit Father John Baumann started the PICO National Network as a local training organization in Oakland, Calif., in order to initiate neighborhood development and revitalize democracy. In the 40 years since its founding, PICO has expanded its operations to over 1,000-member institutions in 150 cities throughout 17 states.

Founded by Fr. Baumann in 1972, PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) is a national network of faith-based organizations that works to address issues faced by urban, suburban and rural communities.

“We wanted to address fundamental systemic change,” Fr. Baumann explained at a recent lecture at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

The concern for people meeting others who share similar values and interests to identify common goals and participate in public life was the product of Fr. Baumann’s culminating perspective of seeing God in all things.

PICO developed an early “neighborhood model” of creating solutions for community challenges. Fr. Baumann implemented foundational principles for the organization centered on the core values of the Gospel and faith that does justice.

“Theology is about the real world — it interacts with people … Power is the product of relationship,” Fr. Baumann said.

PICO’s early neighborhood model, however, was flawed, according to Fr. Baumann. It only addressed issues when they arose, reacting to community challenges as they occurred instead of fostering an attitude of ethnic and religious tolerance to prevent the issues.

Under Fr. Baumann’s leadership, PICO restructured its model of operation to a “faith-based model,” engaging local faith-based congregations across creedal and ethnic boundaries.

“Working in a faith context brings a sense of humility to our work. Organizing is about people — people are about issues,” he said.

PICO currently focuses on health care reform, economic security, youth development and neighborhood revitalization, among other social needs, and has even extended its mission to other countries, including a solidarity project in Rwanda aimed to resolve differences between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples.

“Our goal is to work toward a common understanding of what constitutes justice,” Fr. Baumann said. “Sometimes it’s important to put your beliefs and ideologies in your back pocket and listen to other people’s stories.” [Boston College’s The Heights]

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