Freedom Bound: Sermon from Cathy Han Montoya’s End of Life Celebration

Rev. Noel Andersen | April 21, 2015

Rev. Noel Andersen (center) with Meredith and Cathy. Photo: Courtesy Noel Andersen

Rev. Noel Andersen (center) with Meredith and Cathy. Photo: Courtesy Noel Andersen

Cathy Han Montoya was an amazing organizer, strategist, visionary and best friend to all in the immigrants’ rights and queer movements. As a result of senseless and apparent random violence, she was tragically murdered in her home on April13, 2015, leaving behind her wife and family.

There are no adequate words to comfort us, but we join in solidarity as we feel the loss together and honor one of the greatest persons any of us will ever know.

Today we give thanks that such a perfect couple, Meredith and Cathy, were formed. It was my honor to officiate one of the most amazing weddings any of us has ever been too. We lift up both the families in prayer, especially Meredith who made Cathy a better and more complete person.

Cathy was extraordinarily special and we all felt that. She would light up a room as soon as she walked in. We all wished we could be as funny as she was, or have the cool and natural swagger she so easily possessed. Many of us are wearing bow ties today in honor of her unique style. She was a brilliant strategist and visionary, the movement leader, the best friend to all, a loving daughter, sister, auntie, wife and soon to be mother.

Self-described as Queer, Chicana, Korean, Feminist and a Broncos fan, she was like none other.

She had a way of connecting with people that was so unique and genuine. After hanging out with her, you felt like she was your long last sister. At first I thought I was one of the lucky few that formed this deep relationship with her, and now I realize everyone found this same incredible connection to her. We’ve now learned from the social media reaction to her loss is that she touched the lives of thousands upon thousands of people for the better. (See memorial page Seeds of Loveand tribute fund.)

In Washington D.C., we held a vigil after her death and with just 24 hours notice over 50 people showed up, each eager to tell their story of how Cathy had impacted their life. Cathy is still organizing us.

I first met Cathy and Meredith in Alabama, fighting against HB 56 in 2011, the anti-immigrant bill similar to the Arizona SB 1070. Soon after in 2012, everyone expected another similar bill to pass in Mississippi after HB 488 passed the state House in a late night vote. I began talking with Bill Chandler from the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, who Cathy connected me with. He helped me understand the Senate Committee make up, and the possible ways to kill this dangerous bill. I tried rallying some allies, but most had already given up on Mississippi.

When I mentioned it to Cathy, who was working for the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, she said “Hell yeah, we can stop this bill, let’s do this!” Cathy rang the alarm bell and partner organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union and the Service Employee International Union decided to put more capacity on it. She joined me in Mississippi meeting with the farmer’s bureau and trying to get poultry plants to back the opposition to HB 488.

Along with Catholic Charities, CWS organized the faith community with 50 clergy and four bishops pulling together a press conference at the state capitol calling it a moral imperative to stop this harmful legislation. In the same week, the farmer’s bureau issued a press release and law enforcement staged a press conference, all denouncing HB 488. The Lieutenant Governor helped us out by sending HB 488 to a Democrat-led committee, and sure enough, it died that session of 2012.  To this date, no other state legislation copying Arizona’s SB 1070 has passed. We held the line!

It was Cathy’s fighting spirit that helped us win, but how are we to process this great loss to our community, to our movement for justice?

Some may suggest that in everything God has a plan, but I don’t believe for a second this was God’s plan. What I do know is that there exists tremendous evil and chaos in the world and the worst kind of violence is structural or systemic violence. We must name what that looks like in the world; it is racism, classism, patriarchy, homophobia, gender-based violence and discrimination of many kinds based on skin color, accent or place of origin.

Cathy fought her hardest against these evils to build a new world full of love and dignity for all. Now today she has passed on the baton to us.

Life is precious, but it is also precarious and fragile. There is nothing certain about it other than we all shall one day pass. The aches and pains we develop as we age are just signs that these vessels we occupy were not meant to last, but the spirit is freedom bound. We see only glimpses of divinity on this earth, the hummingbird stopping for just a moment at a flower, the sunrise that kisses our senses as we awake, the tree that stands strong and tall for all to take refuge in its shade.

Our life as we know it in this realm is brief and as we ponder its purpose we find those rare souls who inspire us to be better people, whose vision for love is so expansive that it never ends, whose very being welcomes in all people.

And we see what they have done to change the world, and we do our best to emulate them, to learn from their life and legacy.

Cathy’s vision for the movement, just as her vision for the South was bigger than her, and us. We must also dream bigger, and begin to think about pressing onward. What is our legacy? What will we leave behind to inspire those leaders who come after us? Let us not think in spans of two-to-three year campaigns, but how to make Cathy’s vision real. What does it mean to live into something larger than ourselves, than this generation? What will we pass onto those next leaders who come after us?

Cathy was always freedom bound, on this earth and beyond. Her life was ended far too soon from a grave evil that none of us will ever fully comprehend, but the gospel of John says “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.”

Cathy’s light shines so bright with me, and with each and every one of you, and thousands more like us. She has become a saint to our community and today we beatify her.

She has left us a legacy that challenges us to be better people, to love one another so purely, to live life so fully, to take on any challenge so large, to fight injustice with all of our hearts, to build a movement with so much power that we will one day see freedom here and now. All of this while laughing, having fun and welcoming in all people, just as Cathy did.

Freedom Bound, oh my friends, just like Cathy we are freedom bound, to a world were all have dignity, where all are treated with equality, where no longer people are marginalized for who they truly are.  Where immigrants, queers, trans and people of all races and creeds join hands and march on to freedom land.

My friends, we too are freedom bound to a place beyond this world, where the pure energy of love radiates so bright and so deep, a rejoining in unity with the universe, with a peace that surpasses all understanding. There we will find Cathy ready and waiting for us with open arms, lighting up the room once again.

Let us march on together as one community and one movement, freedom bound, hallelujah, we are freedom bound, let Cathy’s spirit lead us onward, for we are freedom bound.