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Brown: Catholic funding loss hits bike repair program for poor kids

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Updated: September 8, 2013 6:33AM

About three years ago, Jose Patina and some of his buddies in Albany Park were riding their bicycles when they got an idea.

They would channel their love of cycling into a community project: repairing bikes and teaching others how to fix their own.

There’s no telling how many times a group of young people have had an altruistic daydream like that, only to never follow up.

But Patina and his friends made it happen. With help from the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, they organized mobile bike repair clinics in local parks, hauling their tools around in a trailer and working under a tent. They called it Bikes N’ Roses, a nod to one of Patina’s favorite bands.

Then beginning this summer, they cranked their program up a notch by hiring an instructor and opening a storefront shop where local residents get their bikes fixed free by neighborhood youth who undergo formal training in bike repair. Now those same young people are teaching their skills to a new class of their peers.

“This is the dream,” Patina, a 21-year-old college student, said with a huge smile Tuesday as we surveyed the busy scene inside the shop at 4749 N. Kedzie.

Bikes N’ Roses is a beautiful program, one that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development should be proud to have helped seed last year with a $20,000 grant.

Instead, CCHD has cut off funding because the Albany Park organization is a member of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The coalition angered church officials in May by endorsing the legalization of same sex-marriage.

The Archdiocese of Chicago held that the Albany Park group and 10 other Illinois Coalition members due to receive funding this year were in violation of their grant agreement, which forbids advocating a position contrary to church teaching on such issues as abortion, capital punishment, racism—and same-sex marriage.

The Archdiocese gave the 11 organizations a choice, some might say an ultimatum: either renounce their affiliation with the coalition or say good-bye to their grant.

Late last week, the Albany Park group informed the archdiocese it had chosen to stick with the coalition, the state’s leading advocate for immigrants.

With the CCHD money gone and a state grant expiring in September, “the dream” may be coming to an end. At the very least, Bikes N’ Roses may soon be forced to return to its more modest origins.

As any number of people have written to remind me in the week since I wrote about this subject, it’s the Catholic Church’s money to give to whoever it chooses — or doesn’t choose as the case may be.

Agreed. But I still say this falls under the category of what my mother would have referred to as cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Bikes N’ Roses is a program that responds directly to CCHD’s goal of addressing the systemic causes of poverty.

It teaches valuable skills to young people in a community with lots of low-income immigrant families, while providing an important service to many for whom a bicycle is a lifeline because they can’t even afford public transportation. Then there’s all the smiles Bikes N’ Roses has put on the faces of young kids whose parents couldn’t afford to take their bikes to a repair shop.

Contrary to what some people seem to think, CCHD’s money was not being used to campaign for gay marriage. It was going to a lot of community programs like this one.

Monsignor Richard Hynes, who directs the department that oversees CCHD grants for the Chicago Archdiocese, argues it was the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights’ decision that cut off funding, not the church’s.

Hynes said ICIRR’s leaders knew they would be causing problems for their faith-based member groups by publicly backing same-sex marriage legislation.

Of the 11 groups whose funding was placed in doubt, five have renounced their affiliation with the coalition and will get their money, Hynes said. He said he could not announce their names because some of the others have yet to respond.

Even though the individual organizations may have had no involvement with the gay marriage issue, “they belong to a larger entity that speaks for them,” Hynes said.

“It’s up to them to say, ‘Oh, no, you don’t’ and do so publicly,” he said.

One day soon, the Illinois Legislature is going to make it legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married in Illinois — despite the Catholic Church’s opposition.

But there will still be poor kids in Albany Park who need help fixing their bikes.

Email: Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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