June 20, 2014 — On June 19, the eve of the United Nations’ World Refugee Day, Jesuit Father Mario Serrano was honored with the Second Annual Fr. Gerald Chojnacki, SJ Faith and Justice Award. The award, bestowed by the Jesuit-run Centro Altagracia de Fe y Justicia (the Centro), which promotes social justice and advocacy in Northern Manhattan's Hispanic community, is named for the founder of the Centro, who died in 2012.
The Centro honored Fr. Serrano for his dedication to organizing and providing legal assistance to Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent, a group recently threatened with statelessness due to a Dominican Constitutional Court decision in late 2013.
In 2010, a new constitution denied Dominican citizenship to the children of immigrants not legally present in the country. Last November, the Constitutional Court retroactively applied the new citizenship requirements to hundreds of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic to migrant families. The court ruling prevents Dominicans of Haitian descent from obtaining citizenship documents, making it impossible for them to legally work, pursue secondary education, obtain a passport or receive the best available health care.
Fr. Serrano believes that we must speak up for the rights of people marginalized by institutional discrimination, saying, “Our faith calls us to be close to those people facing injustice. All Catholics have to be in solidarity with those people, in order to help them fight for their rights, in order to call on the Dominican government to rethink its position.”
In response to the ruling, the Centro began organizing parishioners and working with a coalition of Haitian and Dominican community groups in New York City to raise awareness and speak out against the ruling. An educational event featured a video of Fr. Serrano describing his work with Dominicans of Haitian descent, calling on Americans to respond to this injustice. Under pressure from the international community and Dominican civil society, the Dominican Congress recently passed a new nationality law, but a majority of people affected by the court ruling are still living in limbo.
“It has been truly inspiring to collaborate with Fr. Serrano,” said Mary Small of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. “It’s rare to work with and learn from someone who has such a deep well of experience and wisdom, who offers a clear and prescient analysis and who is committed to elevating the voices of those directly affected.”
When he created the Centro in 2004, Fr. Chojnacki was motivated by the work of Fr. Serrano and the Jesuit social action center in the Dominican Republic. “Fr. Chojnacki pushed for the creation of the Centro so that the Jesuits could encourage parishioners on the economic margins of Northern Manhattan to put their faith in action through community organizing and advocacy,” said New York Provincial Jesuit Father David Ciancimino. To read more about the event, click here. [Source: New York Province]