Catholic Charities is well known for extensive high quality services that touch almost every human need. Another part of mission is probably less known: partnering to build a just and compassionate society through economic and community development.
Today we focused on this lesser known part of our mission. We partnered to raise our awareness and show solidarity to one of the most troubled barrios of San Juan, La Perla. Its reputation for drugs, poverty, violence and lack of opportunity is infamous. A Franciscan priest, decades ago, began to organize to address these issues. Catholic Charities took the lead in organizing a moving walking tour of this historic barrio with approximately 50 SOMOS participants led by a current community organizer Angel Marcano and a volunteer, former NYC Housing Commissioner Bill Alicea.
This neighborhood has such strong emotional reverberations for many Puerto Ricans. It was the birthplace and home of NYS Assemblyman Jose Rivera who joined us on the tour. He pointed out his home and school. He showed us the part of the beach he swam in after school.
This is just a glimpse of our visit. I will probably write more in the future.
Currently, many positive changes can be seen in this barrio with a checkered history and bad reputation, natives and tourists alike were discouraged from visiting. We were told that within the past 3 years much of the drug trafficking has been cleaned up and a renewed sense of the community is emerging. But this positive story comes with threats.