Nearly 700 faith leaders, grassroots organizers and community leaders from 12 countries gathered at Central Catholic High School in Modesto from Feb. 16 - 19 at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, working together for structural changes that promote social, economic and racial justice.
Organized by the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Catholic Campaign for Human Development and PICO National Network, the largest network of faith-based organizing groups in the nation, this year’s World Meeting of Popular Movements was the first to take place in the United States. Previously, the international meeting has been held in Rome (in October 2014 and November 2016) and Bolivia (in July 2015).
The U.S. Regional meeting of the World Meeting of Popular Meetings gathered primarily grassroots community leaders organizing at the local level for immigration reform, a living wage and worker protections, criminal justice reform, environmental justice and racial healing, joining them with approximately 35 U.S. Bishops and an international delegation of Vatican officials. The three dioceses of Stockton, Sacramento and Fresno served as co-hosts for the national meeting.
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton said that the meeting would deliberate “transforming the world in which we live in light of our faith tradition in God. We are here because we want to be with the poor, the migrant, the workers, the homeless and with those who are excluded."
Land, work and housing are identified by the meeting’s Organizing Committee, the Vatican’s IHD and Pope Francis himself as three basic human rights and have been the focus of dialogue in meetings past. This year’s meeting in Modesto also integrated migration and racism as two themes in light of recent events around the country, including the Black Lives Matter movement and current Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. This “economy of exclusion” is well-represented in the Central Valley, where poverty and economic inequality, undocumented immigrants and high incarceration rates abound, making Modesto an ideal host for the first national meeting in America.
During a panel which discussed how to down the barriers surrounding access to jobs with living wages and affordable housing, Bishop Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego called upon those in attendance to act as disrupters in the face of ICE raids, anti-Muslim bigotry and economic exclusion.
“President Trump said he was the candidate of disruption. Now we must all become disrupters,” said McElroy. “We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our communities to deport the undocumented, to destroy our families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men & women as a source of threat rather than children of God.”
On the meeting’s final day, Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Vatican’s IHD, read a letter from Pope Francis addressed to those gathered at the meeting. In the letter, Francis condemned the world’s “hypocritical attitude” toward suffering, as well as leaders who rely on “fear, insecurity, quarrels and even people’s justified indignation in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills onto a ‘non-neighbor.’”
Though the pope did not mention President Donald Trump by name, he has spoken out against the President in the past, specifically saying political leaders who propose building border walls were not Christian.
“Do not classify others in order to see who is a neighbor and who is not,” the Pope wrote in his letter. “You can become neighbor to whomever you meet in need, and you will do so if you have compassion in your heart.”
The letter also addressed descriptions of terrorism as Islamic.
“Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist,” wrote Pope Francis. “There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions – and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia.”
Pope Francis left the World Meeting of Popular Movements with a word of advice.