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Carlina Stewart creating a stir through political activism at church

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Posted: Thursday, December 7, 2006 10:00 pm

Carlina Stewart has always admired the late Martin Luther King Jr. for combining his spiritual upbringing as a Baptist minister with his thirst for civil rights.

The Galt resident studied King's civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s, especially how he reached youth groups in his church to promote social change.

King's influence led Stewart, 46, to become active in Galt, where she is passionate about social issues at St. Christopher's Catholic Church and for the Catholic Charities organization in the Stockton Diocese.

During the past year, Stewart has been passionately representing Spanish-speaking parishioners who believe that Galt police officers single them out during traffic stops. She heads the high school youth ministry and the parish's social justice ministry.

A Guam native and 15-year Galt resident, Stewart became politically active during the Measure B campaign in 2004. Voters approved the measure, a $29 million bond to construct Liberty Ranch High School and relocate Estrellita Continuation High School.

Stewart and other parishioners walked precincts six straight weekends on behalf of Measure B, and Stewart talked to several government and economics classes at Galt High School about registering to vote without promoting the bond specifically.

She then became a member of two groups, the social justice committee at St. Christopher's and the Sacramento Valley Organizing Committee, a regional group of congregations, schools, unions, community-based organizations and other civic groups to educate leaders on issues facing families and neighborhoods.

While visiting a parishioner as a member of the social justice committee, Stewart said a Hispanic man told her his car was impounded by Galt police. That led to other Hispanics telling her and then-priest Jerry Ryle about what they considered racial profiling by Galt police officers.

Ryle and Stewart, who co-chair the Sacramento Valley committee, listened to some 100 stories from parishioners, although some of them admittedly drove without licenses.

Stewart said she's not advocating that anyone should drive without a license, but some are not American citizens and don't have other transportation.

She and Ryle have tried to improve relations between the Hispanic community and the police department. They conducted two public meetings in the church sanctuary, one in April and one in November. They also had private meetings with individual Galt City Council members, City Manager Ted Anderson, former Police Chief Doug Matthews and the current chief, Loren Cattolico.

Cattolico said he has already put some new practices into place to help the Hispanic community. He added a Spanish complaint form that is available on the police Web site. The department also now has a phone-in translation service to improve communication between officers and those who don't speak English.

St. Anne's to form environmental group

Following up on a committee established by Stockton Diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire, St. Anne's Catholic Church in Lodi is forming an environmental justice committee, focusing on water quality, air quality or any quality of life issues of interest to parishioners.

"If we don't have clean air to breathe or clean water to drink … we're dead," said Scott Johnson, a deacon candidate from Stockton, who is working with Betty Jean Bo at St. Anne's in trying to interest St. Anne's parishioners.

"We call it stewarding God's creation," Johnson said.

Bo and Johnson will wait until February before getting the committee established at the parish level. The idea is patterned after "stewarding God's creation," one of the so-called "Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching."

"We put on a video about water quality the last week of October, and (Deacon) Don Bo gave a sermon about stewarding God's creation," Johnson said.

Don Bo, husband of Betty Jean Bo, gave the sermon at St. Anne'son "Environmental Justice Sunday."

The Seven Themes of Catholic School Teaching also covers issues like affordable housing, right to life, public policy, rights and responsibilities, the poor, workers' dignity, and justice and peace.

- News-Sentinel staff.

However, Cattolico says there isn't any specific evidence that his officers have been guilty of any wrongdoing.

"We're awful long on accusation and awful short on proof," he said. Ryle has left St. Christopher's and moved to a parish in Sacramento. Bob Copsey, the new priest at St. Christopher's, declined to comment on Stewart or the social justice committee's activities.

In November, a mediator from the U.S. Department of Justice came to St. Christopher's and met with the social justice committee and four Hispanic families who said the police may have engaged in racial profiling, Stewart said. The mediator has no authority over the church or police department, but he may make recommendations on how to improve relations with law enforcement.

It may take until January before the mediator develops his recommendations, Stewart said.

Stewart has lived a varied life before finding her calling in social service. She and her family moved from Guam to Massachusetts in 1968, and then to Merced, Orangevale, Santa Clara County and Manteca before moving to Galt in 1991. She held various jobs, including inside winery sales at Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Winery and at Building Material Distributors in Galt.

Stewart now works part-time in the social ministry office at Catholic Charities in the Stockton Diocese. She's organizing a prison ministry through St. Luke's Catholic Church in Stockton and serves on the Stockton Diocese's environmental justice committee, which lobbied for a global warming bill this year.

She's juggling her Catholic Charities work with sociology classes she is taking at California State University, Sacramento. She wants to become a substitute teacher and eventually teach sociology at the community college level.

Stewart's husband, Mark, is a manager for Prison Industries Authority in Folsom. They have three grown children, Ann and Kathy, who live in Patterson, and Mark, who lives in Galt.

While she enjoys what she's doing, Stewart acknowledges that some people - in and out of her church - have criticized her for being politically active and bringing the church into the forefront of community issues.

"They just don't understand what this has to do with the church," Stewart said. "I hope I was convincing and clear to those I responded to that the Catholic church should be leading this issue for the sake of human dignity and the human person. They asked us to help. We do not have an option to say no to our brothers and sisters in need."

Stewart also noted that Jesus reached out to the lepers, the marginalized, to poor and otwomen.

"That's what we're called to do," she added.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

First published: Friday, December 8, 2006

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