Movement aims to make San Antonio a more compassionate city
By Abe Levy
San Antonio Express-News | March 23, 2014 | Updated: March 23, 2014 9:29pm
SAN ANTONIO — More than 75 community leaders huddled in a conference room at Oblate School of Theology last week to examine ideas for making San Antonio a more compassionate city.
The event Wednesday drew speakers from religious, educational, business and government arenas and focused on roundtable discussions by the audience.
What is striking is how diverse the audience was — nonprofit and business leaders, Muslims and Jews, Catholics and Protestant evangelicals, Democrats, Independents and Republicans. It included people who were both for and against the changes to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that drew controversy last fall when it extended protection to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Participants said they share a concern for the city’s social needs. Several said they could form direct bonds and find common ground over those needs without it threatening their unique differences.
“I think the Bible is very clear that you are to love God and love others,” said Scott Barr, a local evangelical businessman who opposed the NDO amendment. “It doesn’t say, ‘Love others if they agree with you,’ or ‘Go to the same church.’ It says love others.” Barr said a growing number of evangelical communities are talking about ways to partner across the city for social outreach.
The event was sponsored by the peaceCENTER in connection with its “Pilgrimage of Compassion,” a two-year schedule of forums, art displays, charity fundraisers and other programs. It aims to generate momentum toward San Antonio becoming recognized officially as a compassionate city by the Compassion Action Network International.
Some 33 cities currently hold that status, with another 200, including San Antonio, working on it. It requires elected officials to back a charter referencing the Golden Rule.
“Whether we’re talking about health care or education or the faith community, I want you to ask yourselves what does compassion ask of us so that it becomes the lens that frames our answers,” said the Rev. Ann Helmke, who facilitated the conference and is director of spiritual services for Haven for Hope, the main campus for homeless services in San Antonio.
Among the speakers was City Councilman Diego Bernal, the chief advocate for the nondiscrimination ordinance changes. He called San Antonio “an amazingly compassionate city, whether we measure it officially or not,” citing its robust nonprofit community, its culture of caring and the momentum it has built toward common causes such as adult literacy programs.
“We’re the seventh-largest (in the nation), and in this city, if you pull over because your car is broken down, I would argue that in at least 30 minutes, someone will come by to help you,” Bernal said.