In his visit to Bolivia, Pope Francis spoke at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, organized in collaboration with the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace” and the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences. The Vatican News Service described the delegates as “coming from popular movements from all over the world representing workers in precarious employment and the informal economy, landless farmers, “villeros” (inhabitants of poor areas), indigenous peoples, immigrants, and social movements” (Vatican Information Service, July 10, 2015)
The Popular Movements meeting drew more than 500 representatives from thirty-two nations, with the majority Spanish-speaking: Antilles; Argentina; Bolivia; Brazil; Canada; Chile; Colombia; Costa Rica; Cuba Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Guatemala; Haiti; Honduras; India; Italy; Kenya; Kurdistan; Mexico; Nicaragua; Palestine; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Puerto Rico; South Africa; Spain; Turkey; United States of America; Uruguay; Venezuela. The movements are what we might also call grassroots. Of the groups from the USA there were participants from Advocacy; Special Projects PICO Network (People Improving Communities through Organizing); IFCO (The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization); Movement Mastery; Movimento Cosecha, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston; the Ohio Student Union; United We Dream; and Code Pink. It is easy from an elitist point of view to dismiss popular movements as on the fringe of mainstream social forces and ineffective. Yet there is something about them that reminds us of the sentiments that Tolkein put in the mouth of Gandalf when replying to Frodo’s wish that troubles might have not have happened in his time: “‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us'” (The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 2). Pope Francis’ call to action to these groups carried with it the conviction that that the future well-being of the world is with them and people traditionally thought of as powerless. He joined his voice to their discussions of “the best ways to overcome the grave situations of injustice experienced by the excluded throughout our world.”
The pope employed the theme of integral ecology in his remarks, joining concern for social exclusion and the concern for the destruction of nature. His remarks gave new meaning to a trio of what he called sacred rights: “land, lodging and labor.” (In Spanish, “las famosas “tres T”: tierra, techo y trabajo. Lo dije y lo repito: son derechos sagrados.”)
Below are some passages from Pope Francis’ remarks, all of them worth the time to read.
The globalization of hope, a hope which springs up from peoples and takes root among the poor, must replace the globalization of exclusion and indifference.
You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three ‘L’s’ (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart!
We know from painful experience that changes of structure which are not accompanied by a sincere conversion of mind and heart sooner or later end up in bureaucratization, corruption and failure.
We do not love concepts or ideas; we love people. Commitment, true commitment, is born of the love of men and women, of children and the elderly, of peoples and communities, of names and faces which fill our hearts. From those seeds of hope patiently sown in the forgotten fringes of our planet, from those seedlings of a tenderness which struggles to grow amid the shadows of exclusion, great trees will spring up, great groves of hope to give oxygen to our world.
I am convinced that respectful cooperation with the popular movements can revitalize these efforts and strengthen processes of change.
But it is not so easy to define the content of change – in other words, a social program which can embody this project of fraternity and justice which we are seeking. So do not expect a recipe from this Pope. Neither the Pope nor the Church has a monopoly on the interpretation of social reality or the proposal of solutions to contemporary issues. I dare say that no recipe exists. History is made by each generation as it follows in the footsteps of those preceding it, as it seeks its own path and respects the values which God has placed in the human heart. I would like, all the same, to propose three great tasks which demand a decisive and shared contribution from popular movements.
“The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples.
A truly communitarian economy, one might say an economy of Christian inspiration, must ensure peoples’ dignity and their ‘general, temporal welfare and prosperity’. This includes the three ‘L’s’, but also access to education, health care, new technologies, artistic and cultural manifestations, communications, sports and recreation.
“Such an economy is not only desirable and necessary, but also possible. It is no utopia or chimera. It is an extremely realistic prospect. We can achieve it. The available resources in our world, the fruit of the intergenerational labours of peoples and the gifts of creation, more than suffice for the integral development of ‘each man and the whole man’.
“Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property.
“The second task is to unite our peoples on the path of peace and justice. The world’s peoples want to be artisans of their own destiny. They want to advance peacefully towards justice. They do not want forms of tutelage or interference by which those with greater power subordinate those with less. They want their culture, their language, their social processes and their religious traditions to be respected. No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty. Whenever they do so, we see the rise of new forms of colonialism which seriously prejudice the possibility of peace and justice.
The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.
Colonialism, both old and new, which reduces poor countries to mere providers of raw material and cheap labor, engenders violence, poverty, forced migrations and all the evils which go hand in hand with these, precisely because, by placing the periphery at the service of the centre, it denies those countries the right to an integral development. That is inequality, and inequality generates a violence which no police, military, or intelligence resources can control.
Some may rightly say, ‘When the Pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the Church’. I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God.
Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. This too needs to be denounced: in this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.
“To our brothers and sisters in the Latin American indigenous movement, allow me to express my deep affection and appreciation of their efforts to bring peoples and cultures together in a form of coexistence which I would call polyhedric, where each group preserves its own identity by building together a plurality which does not threaten but rather reinforces unity.[i] Your quest for an interculturalism, which combines the defence of the rights of the native peoples with respect for the territorial integrity of states, is for all of us a source of enrichment and encouragement.
“The third task, perhaps the most important facing us today, is to defend Mother Earth. Our common home is being pillaged, laid waste and harmed with impunity.
We cannot allow certain interests – interests which are global but not universal – to take over, to dominate states and international organizations, and to continue destroying creation.
“In conclusion, I would like to repeat: the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you. Let us together say from the heart: no family without lodging, no rural worker without land, no laborer without rights, no people without sovereignty, no individual without dignity, no child without childhood, no young person without a future, no elderly person without a venerable old age.
[i] Pope Francis picks up an image he used first in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. The passage in that document is the following: “Here our model is not the sphere, which is no greater than its parts, where every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them. Instead, it is the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness. Pastoral and political activity alike seek to gather in this polyhedron the best of each. There is a place for the poor and their culture, their aspirations and their potential. Even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked. It is the convergence of peoples who, within the universal order, maintain their own individuality; it is the sum total of persons within a society which pursues the common good, which truly has a place for everyone” (The Joy of the Gospel, 236).
Papal portrait by Brother Patrick Martin, F.S.C.