Juan Soto was born in Mexico and had lived there until he was five years old. Juan’s family moved to Chicago from Mexico and he has been living there ever since. Juan has been attending the St. Monica Catholic Church for the past five years. Juan has many responsibilities in Gamaliel. He is the Director of Gamaliel of Illinois, including overseeing Pilsen Neighborhood Council Council (PNCC) and Gamaliel of Metro Chicago (GMC). Juan also directs Gamaliel’s Civil Rights of Immigrants campaign (CRI).
How did you get involved with Gamaliel?
A friend of mine went through training about 22 years ago. He came back and did a one-on-one with me where he strongly encouraged me to attend the same training as him. I attended my first weeklong training during the summer of 1991 and I then started as the community organizer on September 9, 1991.
How has your Catholic background influenced your work in social justice?
I grew up with the Catholic order of Scalabrinian priests, which was an Italian service towards Italian immigrants. The Scalabrinian priests ran my elementary school and that allowed me to get involved in the Church early on in my life. Faith was formed for me through the mentoring I had from the priests. I learned to serve others and about justice work towards the immigrants. This led me to organize a youth group when I was 14 years old and also led me to be a Sunday school teacher, and later I became director of the religious education program. I had also been a youth minister in the Church.
How do you see the Fire of Faith Campaign align with Catholic Social Teaching?
There is a direct connection between the Fire of Faith Campaign and Catholic Social Teaching. Faith moves us into action and the Fire of Faith Campaign calls us to rekindle our congregation into being a person of faith. It restores democracy by rekindling our work towards civic engagement. There is an importance of a Catholic person to be involved in civic duties. It also rekindles our economy by putting our work and our faith in the same alignment.
What issues in your community have you been addressing and how have they aligned with the Fire of Faith Campaign?
I have been working on the Civil Rights of Immigrants (CRI). There have been many activities I have been involved with recently to push towards those civil rights. I was a part of the hunger strike for solidarity, the congregation basement hearing, and I have been visiting members of congress to tell my immigrant story to others. When my family and friends ask if I love what I do in my work I say that this is not work for me, it is my vocation. The Fire of Faith Campaign is my calling to live out a Catholic vocation.