Pope Francis on Friday sent a message of encouragement to the hundreds of religious and community leaders participating in a meeting of popular movements being held this week in California.
“It is the Church, the Christian community, people of compassion and solidarity, social organizations. It is us, it is you, to whom the Lord Jesus daily entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we can continue pouring out all of his immeasurable mercy and salvation upon them,” Pope Francis said in his Feb. 17 message to a regional meeting of popular movements being held in California.
“Here are the roots of the authentic humanity that resists the dehumanization that wears the livery of indifference, hypocrisy, or intolerance.”
The Feb. 16-18 conference being held in Modesto, about 30 miles southeast of Stockton, was organized with the support of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the PICO National Network.
The PICO network was a recipient of part of a $650,000 grant from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Documents from the foundations posted to DCLeaks.com claimed the grant was part of a strategy to use Pope Francis’ U.S. visit to shift the priorities of the Catholic Church in the United States “to be a voice on behalf of the poor and communities of color.”
“PICO and FPL have been able to use their engagement in the opportunity of the Pope’s visit to seed their position in the long-term project of shifting the priorities of the U.S. Catholic Church to focus on issues of injustice and oppression,” the memo said.
The conference aims to promote the structural changes for greater justice in racial, social, and economic areas.
“It makes me very happy to see you working together towards social justice,” Pope Francis said in his message to the meeting. “How I wish that such constructive energy would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals. These are bridges that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.”
The Pope confronted the “invisible tyranny of money” as a disability and restriction to human dignity and the common good. He also discouraged corrupt acts which leads to the benefit of a few and to the ruin of many families.
“The economic system that has the god of money at its center, and that sometimes acts with the brutality of the robbers in the [Samaritan] parable, inflicts injuries that to a criminal degree have remained neglected. Globalized society frequently looks the other way with the pretense of innocence. Under the guise of what is politically correct or ideologically fashionable, one looks at those who suffer without touching them.”
Pope Francis said we must instead respond with change to a system that better reflects loving our neighbor as ourselves. Emphasizing the need for immediate action, he said it is our responsibility to pay attention to present realities, which if unchecked may develop a dehumanizing system that is harder to reverse.
“These are signs of the times that we need to recognize in order to act. We have lost valuable time: time when we did not pay enough attention to these processes, time when we did not resolve these destructive realities. The direction taken beyond this historic turning-point … will depend on people’s involvement and participation and, largely, on yourselves, the popular movements.”
The call for action comes at a time of immigration reform and a refugee crisis.
Pope Francis reiterated the question of the lawyer to Christ in the Gospel of Luke: “Who is my neighbor? … My relatives? My compatriots? My co-religionists?” He recognized that the lawyer’s hope may have been for Christ to label neighbors and non-neighbors.
“Do not classify others in order to see who is a neighbor and who is not,” the Pope exhorted. “You can become neighbor to whomever you meet in need, and you will do so if you have compassion in your heart. That is to say, if you have that capacity to suffer with someone else. You must become a Samaritan.”
Recalling that those at the conference have a commitment “to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants,” Pope Francis affirmed this choice and shared reflections on “the ecological crisis” and that “no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist.”
“The ecological crisis is real,” he emphasized first. “Science is not the only form of knowledge, it is true. It is also true that science is not necessarily ‘neutral’ — many times it conceals ideological views or economic interests. However, we also know what happens when we deny science and disregard the voice of Nature. I make my own everything that concerns us as Catholics. Let us not fall into denial. Time is running out. Let us act. I ask you again – all of you, people of all backgrounds including native people, pastors, political leaders – to defend Creation.”
“No people is criminal and no religion is terrorist,” Pope Francis then said. “Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist. No people is criminal or drug-trafficking or violent.”
He recognized, however, that “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.”
“The wounds are there, they are a reality. The unemployment is real, the violence is real, the corruption is real, the identity crisis is real, the gutting of democracies is real,” he continued, identifying the world’s suffering as a “gangrene” whose stench has become unbearable, leading to more hate, quarrels, and even a “justified indignation.”
In the face of this crisis, he said Christians have an opportunity to impact the world: “We also find an opportunity: that the light of the love of neighbor may illuminate the Earth with its stunning brightness like a lightning bolt in the dark.”
He ended his message in reference to the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi: “let us give everything of ourselves: where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, let us sow pardon; where there is discord, let us sow unity; where there is error, let us sow truth.”
In the course of his message, he thanked Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Bishop Armando Ochoa of Fresno, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Bishop David Talley of Alexandria, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
“I would also like to highlight the work done by the PICO National Network and the organizations promoting this meeting,” Pope Francis also said. “I learned that PICO stands for ‘People Improving Communities through Organizing’. What a great synthesis of the mission of popular movements: to work locally, side by side with your neighbors, organizing among yourselves, to make your communities thrive.”