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Anti-Alcohol Pact Promoted by Parishes

September 11, 1993|From Religious News Service

Almost 140 Latino Catholic parishes offering a total of 330 Spanish-language Masses weekly are joining with the California Catholic Conference and the Century Council--a national, nonprofit organization--in a campaign to keep the state's highways free of drunk drivers on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day.

Called La Promesa Parroquial (the Parish Promise), the groups are asking parishioners to pledge to refrain from alcoholic beverages if they are going to drive.

Data collected by the California Department of Justice shows that about 45% of those arrested for driving under the influence last year had Spanish surnames, although Latinos make up about a quarter of California's population. The largest number of arrests occurred on Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of Mexico's victory over the French at the Battle of Pueblo in 1862.

"The partnership . . . enabled us to reach hundreds of thousands of (Latino) Catholics in California with lifesaving messages about the dangers of drinking and driving in time for Cinco de Mayo celebrations," said Century Council Chairman John Gavin, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, in a prepared statement. "By repeating it for Mexican Independence Day, we emphasize the importance of raising awareness of this issue that concerns all good citizens."

An estimated 300,000 Latino Catholics took pledges at California churches not to drink and drive for this year's Cinco de Mayo celebrations. The success of the Parish Promise program is being measured by the number of Latino Catholics who responded to it.

"We do know that we reached an unprecedented large number of people in a way that has never been done before," said Rose Ann Rasic, manager of public relations at the Century Council, based in Los Angeles.

"The Century Council wanted to involve the Catholic Church in the program," said Juan Jose Gloria, associate director for Hispanic affairs at the California Catholic Conference in Sacramento. "They know that immigrants congregate in the church and (that) they trust their priests."

In a telephone interview, Gloria said his division gave the Century Council direction on how the program should be developed to reach Latinos. Consequently, La Promesa Parroquial draws on the Roman Catholic tradition in Mexico, where men make promises to Our Lady of Guadeloupe upon conversion. One such promise is to abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages.

In Mexico, men keep a card in their wallets with an image of Our Lady of Guadeloupe on one side and their promises on the other so that whenever they are tempted, they can look at the card and remember their commitments.

After Mass on the Sunday before the holiday (which may include an anti-drinking sermon), participating parish priests invite their congregants to sign a large petition-like pledge sheet promising not to drink and drive over the holidays and to be responsible hosts. Although La Promesa Parroquial is geared toward men, every church member is invited to participate.

After signing the pledge sheet, congregants get a pocket-size version of the pledge, a button and a brochure, explaining what they can do to prevent accidents and the basics of California's laws.

The "Si Toma, No Maneje . . . If You Drink, Don't Drive" program is funded only in California. The pledge is available to Latinos in any denomination.

The Rev. Robert Fambrini S.J., pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood, will repeat the program after Mass this weekend. He believes that the program's strength is that it reaches Latinos, many of whom are unaware of the legal and social consequences of drunk driving.

"It brings a problem out into the open," Fambrini said. "The man is expected to drink, but we show how this is harmful not only for the man himself, but for the family and the society as well. A family can discuss it in that context."

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