Plenary Panel on Migration – Michael Czerny S.J.

Meeting of Popular Movements
Modesto, California,
17 February 2017

Plenary Panel on Migration

I’m very, very happy to be here. 68 years ago, I was a refugee myself. Czechoslovakia was in ruins, the Communists had taken over. My parents gave up everything so that my brother and I could have a life. And Canada welcomed us.

In the last few weeks, since Pope Francis asked me and a fellow priest to help him run the new Section on Migrants and Refugees, I’ve begun remembering my own status. Of course, it’s something that you never forget.

Never before have I had the chance to work on migrants and refugees issues, and now it’s my full-time passion. So I share my story with you, from long ago when the world was just recovering from World War II. To migrate, to be a refugee, was the first realistic and reasonable step towards life and hope. One way of saying what this conference is all about is that migration should be a step towards life and hope, and not a falling into fear and into repression.

Have you asked yourself why, out of the larger Department for Integral Human Development headed by Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Holy Father would select a special Section for Migrants and Refugees which he wanted to direct himself? Well, if that question crosses your mind, I can share with you the answer that he gave at the last World Meeting of Popular Movements in Rome in November 2016. When he described his decision to put the Section under his own direction, Pope Francis explained his motivation. He spoke about his visit to Lampedusa, the Italian island that receives many of the migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. And remembering his experience, he said there is only one word that came spontaneously to his lips: Shame. Vergüenza. Shame.

Maybe shame is not a very fashionable virtue, a fashionable motive. That might be so. Yet shame is one of the deeper human experiences we have. It touches us deeply … to such an extent, in fact, that we try to hide it.

But shame is a way of recognizing two things. One is that something terrible has happened or is happening. And secondly that I am involved.

So in the depth of this word shame – “something terrible is happening and I am involved” – the Holy Father wants a special effort made on behalf of migrants and refugees and victims of trafficking around the world.

I hope that we will all join him in that effort. For we do share in the shame. What is going on around us is nothing to be proud of at all. And the fact that it touches us deeply is the beginning of our own change of heart and our getting into motion.

There are two things that our Section on Migrants and Refugees would like to do about the so-called global crisis.

One is to stop calling it global. True, migration might be happening all over the world, but it does no good to call it “global”. Calling it “global” means that the numbers get larger and the fear gets deeper.

When you listen to someone who has faced migration, who has been a refugee, who has been trafficked, you realize that the story is anything but global. On the contrary, it is very personal. And it’s not just a matter of understanding that people need to move. It is to appreciate this very person who moves, who picks up, who leaves everything behind, risks everything, changes where they live, changes where they want to earn their living and bring up their family. When you hear why someone has decided to flee, you can only respond, “If I were in that situation, I would have done it, too. Except I would have been less patient. And I hope I’d have had the courage.”

So there’s something utterly human. There’s something which deeply connects us with the reasons, the motives, the fears, the hopes that move people. And that is the energy we need to tap into if we are to accompany and to welcome our brothers and sisters.

The other thing we would like to do about migration is to stop calling it a crisis. Migration is something that humans have been doing throughout our history. It is what we do on this round planet where there’s always a horizon beyond where I am. So to move is practically genetic. It is part of the human experience. It enriches the experience.

And I would add a word about the famous market that touches so much of our lives. The market explains much of why people move. People would not move if the possibility of participating in the economy in a more meaningful way did not exist somewhere else. People don’t move towards unemployment, people don’t move towards starvation, people don’t move towards repression, violence and war. People move towards hope. One of their motivations is economic, just as it would be mine or yours.

So let us appreciate that migrating and seeking refuge are a normal part of life. They are not global, nor an emergency, nor a crisis, and they won’t go away. Instead, they remain more and more a part of our shared experience.

Finally, I would like to connect what we hope to do in our Section for Migrants and Refugees with what we’ve heard this afternoon regarding the United States. Archbishop Gómez and others have spoken about the importance of immigration reform. This is a long-term solution to many of today’s problems.

Our Section believes that the whole world needs immigration reform, not just the United States. Migration is a most important aspect of human life about which the United Nations and the international community have not been able to agree. So we would like to tap into the energy that you have here in the United States for immigration reform domestically, and translate it into international energy towards an international legal framework which would make immigration safe, orderly and regular, so that people moving from any country to whatever other country may enjoy the protection, the support and the security that everyone would want if they were forced to flee. We hope that, in the months ahead, we can work together towards immigration reform both domestically and internationally.

Thank you for the welcome that I have received. This Regional Meeting of Popular Movements is a chance to listen. Listening is always a good place to start, so that our response gets built, not on what we imagine or think is best, but on what people really live and really need.

With the beautiful Message we read last night, Pope Francis is very happy to be with us in spirit. He is looking forward to accompany these causes and these movements in the weeks and months ahead.

Thank you very much.

Michael Czerny S.J.
Migrants & Refugees Section
Integral Human Development

Opening Keynote Address Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect


Popular Movements Regional Meeting, Modesto, California
16 February 2017

Opening Keynote Address
Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect[1]

I am delighted to join you today in this important gathering. It comes at a time of many challenges in this country and around the world. Fortunately we benefit from the great inspiration of the three World Meetings of Popular Movements to date. These annual events began in 2014 and reflect the vision and energy of Pope Francis. In his spirit of collaboration, I wish to begin by acknowledging the co-sponsors of this event:

  • the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, especially its subcommittee currently chaired by Bishop David Talley;
  • the PICO National Network;
  • the Organizing Committee members and Advisory Committee who helped to plan this gathering;
  • and our co-hosts: the Diocese of Stockton (Bishop Stephen Blaire); the Diocese of Fresno (Bishop Armando Ochoa); the Diocese of Sacramento (Bishop Jaime Soto); and Central Catholic High School.

Let me greet all my fellow Bishops here most warmly. Through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been supporting work for 45 years that promotes social justice and societal-level change. The poor and excluded have been at the center of this work, as Saint John Paul II recognized in 1979 when he noted:

The [Catholic] Campaign for Human Development has been a witness to the Church’s living presence in the world among the most needy, and to her commitment to continuing the mission of Christ, who was sent ‘to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives … and release to the prisoners’ (Luke 4: 18-19). I commend the bishops of the United States for their wisdom and compassion in establishing the [Catholic] Campaign for Human Development … and I thank the whole Catholic community for the generous support given to this initiative during all these years.[2]

That living presence in the world takes its cue from a document of Vatican II which began with these words: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted …” (Gaudium et Spes, § 1). This is the starting point for each World Meeting and for this Regional Meeting of Popular Movements.

First, I am pleased to note your wider scope of interest. Like the first three World Meetings, your themes again include Work, Housing and Land, but to these you have added Migration and Racism.

This is timely. An astonishing level of hostility was displayed during the recent national election in this country. The scapegoating language has unleashed deep fears and anxieties among economically and racially excluded communities. Such rhetoric has the perverse power of provoking the very hostility that the speaker claims to guard against. And it is also more than mere rhetoric: the initial moves by the new administration to focus on excluding immigrants, refugees and the poor are rightly alarming.

Against these attitudes, all people of good will must rally to solidarity, one of the great pillars of Catholic Social Teaching. Listen to the words of Pope Francis to the first World Meeting:

Solidarity means much more than an occasional gesture of generosity. It means thinking and acting in terms of community. It means that the lives of all take priority over the appropriation of goods by a few. It also means fighting against the structural causes of poverty and inequality; of the lack of work, land and housing; and of the denial of social and labour rights. It means confronting the destructive effects of the empire of money: forced dislocation, painful emigration, human trafficking, drugs, war, violence and all those realities that many of you suffer and that we are all called upon to transform. Solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history, and this is what the popular movements are doing.[3]

The Holy Father went on to warn those who engage and witness to the true experience of the excluded that they will experience rejection: “No doubt this is because your voices cause embarrassment, no doubt it is because your cries are bothersome, no doubt because people are afraid of the change that you seek.” Human dignity must be at the core of the change you seek and must pervade the way you seek it:

This must be done with courage but also with intelligence, with tenacity but without fanaticism, with passion yet without violence. And all of us together, addressing the conflicts without getting trapped in them, always seeking to resolve the tensions in order to reach a higher plane of unity, of peace and of justice. We Christians have something very lovely, a guide to action, a programme we could call revolutionary. I earnestly recommend that you read it: the Beatitudes in Saint Matthew chapter 5 (cf. Mt 5:3) and in Saint Luke chapter 6 (cf. Lk 6:20); and the Last Judgment passage in Saint Matthew chapter 25. … With these passages, you have the plan of action.[4]

Pope Francis returned to the inspiration of the Beatitudes for his New Year’s Day peace message, when he invited “the world’s political and religious leaders, heads of international institutions, and business and media executives, to apply the Beatitudes as they exercise their respective responsibilities. Lead your society, community or enterprise in the manner of peacemakers. Show mercy. Say no to casting people aside, damaging the environment, or winning at whatever cost.”[5] Let me add: may all leaders hunger and thirst for justice.

Instead, we see far too much hunger and thirst for what? For money. Money and power, power and money. The idolatrous worship of money is the invisible thread binding so many of the world’s ills, because it takes precedence over the common good: “The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, sister and mother earth.”[6]

Three months ago, Pope Francis addressed the third World Meeting of Popular Movements. One of his major themes was fear and terror tied to the tyrannical idolatry of money:

And when that terror, which has been sown in the outskirts, whether by massacres, plundering, oppression and injustice, explodes in the centres with different forms of violence, even with despicable and cowardly attacks, citizens who still retain some rights are tempted by the false security of physical and social walls. Walls that enclose some and leave others out. Some citizens behind walls, terrorized. Others excluded, dispossessed, and even more terrorized. Is this the life that God our Father desires for his children?

Fear then is fed, manipulated… Because fear is not only good business for those who trade in weapons and death; it weakens us, throws us off balance, breaks down our psychological and spiritual defences, anaesthetizes us to the sufferings of others, and in the end makes us cruel. When … we see the spread of xenophobia, when we realize that intolerant ideas are gaining ground, behind that burgeoning cruelty is the cold breath of fear. I ask you to pray for all those who are fearful. … Mercy is not easy; it is no easy thing… It takes courage. That is why Jesus tells us: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 14:27), for mercy is the best antidote to fear. … It is much more effective than walls, grates, alarms and weapons. And it is free: it is a gift from God.[7]

The Holy Father truly believes we can counter these forces at two levels. We must begin by rooting ourselves in in the challenges of our neighbors in their daily lives:

this is what enables you to practice the commandment of love, not on the basis of ideas or concepts, but rather on the basis of genuine interpersonal encounter. We need to build up this culture of encounter. We do not love concepts or ideas; no one loves a concept or an idea. 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.[8]

Second, we must analyze and address the systemic factors that lead to exclusion and oppression. Some of my friends have shown me analyses of systemic causes of poverty and racist exclusion in this country. I have learned how government policies and programs and business decisions can interact subtly to perpetuate isolation, poverty and hostility on racial lines, which can explode in a police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.[9] Another example is the crying imbalance of educational opportunity on racial lines; as the nation’s Bishops said a quarter of a century ago, “Inadequate education is one of the surest predictors of poverty, contributing strongly to intergenerational cycles of poverty.”[10]

The Holy Father is sensitive to the great challenge of moving from analysis to action, and of the pitfalls:

As organizations of the excluded and many organizations from other sectors of society, you are called to revitalize and recast the democracies, which are experiencing a genuine crisis. Do not fall into the temptation of the straitjacket, which reduces you to being extras off-stage, or worse, to mere administrators of existing misery. In these times of paralysis, disorientation and destructive formulas, the active participation of peoples who seek the common good can triumph, with God’s help, over the false prophets who exploit fear and despair, who peddle magic formulas of hatred and callousness, or a selfish prosperity and an illusory security.[11]

Pope Francis continually reminds the Church to go to the peripheries of human existence and embrace the excluded, the marginalized, those who are rejected and in danger of being discarded. He does this with more than words. Having seen the terrible misery and carnage of desperate refugees on Mediterranean shores, he has gone so far as to involve himself directly in the work of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the office that I lead.

To conclude, I remind you that in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. May these words inspire this gathering:

When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system… Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me back and so on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil.[12]

Let me add, in the words of Pope Francis: “I ask you to continue combating fear by a life of service, solidarity and humility on behalf of peoples, and especially those who suffer most. … And I insist that, against terror, the best antidote is love. Love heals everything.”[13]


[1] In the preparation of this address, I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Mr. Robert Czerny (Ottawa) for his helpful drafting and editing.

[2] Providence of God Church, Chicago, Illinois, October 1979

[3] Pope Francis to First World Meeting of Popular Movements,

[4] ibid.


[6] Pope Francis to Second World Meeting of Popular Movements,

[7] Pope Francis to Third World Meeting of Popular Movements,

[8] Pope Francis to Second World Meeting of Popular Movements

[9] The reference is to the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Richard Rothstein, “The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of its Troubles”, Economic Policy Institute, October 15, 2014.

[10] United States Catholic Conference, “Putting Children and Families First: A Challenge for Our Church, Nation, and World”, November 1, 1991.

[11] Pope Francis to Third World Meeting of Popular Movements

[12] Sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November 1957

[13] Pope Francis to Third World Meeting of Popular Movements

Message from Modesto

Message from Modesto

Grassroots popular movement leaders from across the United States, along with our brothers and sisters from 12 countries met for the First U.S. Regional Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto California, February 16-19, 2017. Two-dozen U.S. Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Peter Turkson, staff from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Vatican department for the Promotion of Integral Human Development joined us during our meeting.

We live every day the reality that Pope Francis describes when he says that our families and communities are being assaulted by a “system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.” With the Pope we recognize that we are at a “historic turning-point” and that resolution of “this worsening crisis” depends on the participation and action of popular movements.

In this spirit, we transmit the following urgent message to popular movement members, and leaders in the United States and globally, and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis.

We believe that every human is sacred with equal claim to safe water, education, health care, housing and family-sustaining jobs. All people are protagonists of their future. We each have a right to be included in the decisions that shape our lives. Our faith leaders and congregations are called to stand with those whose backs are against the wall. We will be remembered not just by the empathy we express but by the actions we take. Our economy is meant to be in service of people not profit. Racism and all forms of human hierarchy, whether based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, arrest and conviction records, immigration status, religion or ethnicity are immoral.

We experience the pain inflicted on people by racial discrimination and economic oppression. The lack of good jobs, affordable housing and clean water and air is literally killing people. Racism is stripping Black, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Native people of their humanity and fueling police abuse and mass-incarceration, and fueling a crisis of homelessness and displacement. Raids and Trump Administration Executive Orders are scapegoating immigrants and ripping families apart.

We understand that a small elite is growing wealthy and powerful off the suffering of our families. Racism and White Supremacy are America’s original sins. They continue to justify a system of unregulated capitalism that idolizes wealth accumulation over human needs. Yet too often our faith communities and religious leaders fail to heed the mandate to denounce greed and stand with the poor and vulnerable.  The issues we are facing are intertwined and require all of our voices and actions.

As Pope Francis told us: “The system’s gangrene cannot be whitewashed forever because sooner or later the stench becomes too strong; and when it can no longer be denied, the same power that spawned this state of affairs sets about manipulating fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills onto a “non-neighbor.”


We propose the following actions:

1. Sanctuary

We urge every faith community, including every Catholic parish, to declare themselves a sanctuary for people facing deportation and those being targeted based on religion, race or political beliefs. Being a sanctuary can include hosting families at-risk of deportation, accompanying people to ICE check-ins, organizing to free people from detention, holding Defend Your Rights trainings and organizing rapid response teams. All cities, counties and states should adopt policies that get ICE out of our schools, courts and jails, stop handing over people to ICE and end practices that criminalize people of color through aggressive policing and over-incarceration.

As Pope Francis has said to us: “Who is this innkeeper? 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.”

2. Disrupting oppression and dehumanization

We must put our bodies, money and institutional power at risk to protect our families and communities, using tools that include boycotts, strikes, and non-violent civil disobedience.

As Bishop Robert McElroy said to us, “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. We must disrupt those who would take away healthcare, who would take food from our children.”

3. Bold prophetic leadership from faith communities

At this moment of fear and anxiety, we urge our clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people. As Cardinal Tobin shared with us, sometimes our faith leaders need to walk out in front and show that they are not afraid either. We ask our Catholic Bishops to write a covenant that spells out specific actions that dioceses and parishes should take to protect families in the areas of immigration, racism, jobs, housing, and the environment.

4. One People, One Fight

We commit to break down the walls that divide our struggles. We will not let corporate and political elites pit us against each other. We are in one fight to rebuild a society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives and is able to thrive and reach their human potential.

5. International Week of Action May 1-7, 2017

We are calling on people in the U.S. and across the globe to stand together against hatred and attacks on families during a week of action May 1-7, 2017.

6. State and regional meetings of popular movements

We propose meetings of popular movements in each of our states over the next six months to bring this statement, the vision of the World Meetings and the Pope’s message of hope and courage to every community in the United States.

7. Popular education

We propose to develop a shared curriculum and popular education program to equip people with analysis and tools to transform the world. We will focus on the development and leadership of young people. We will draw on the wisdom of our faith and cultural traditions, including Catholic Social Teaching. We recognize that our spiritual and political selves are inseparable. We have a moral obligation to confront and disrupt injustice.

8. Political power

To defend our families and protect our values we must build political power. We must change the electorate to reflect our communities, through massive efforts to reach out to tens of millions of voters who are ignored and taken for granted by candidates and parties. We must hold elected officials accountable to the common good and encourage people in our communities to take leadership themselves, including running for office, so that we can govern the communities in which we live.

Modesto, California
February 19, 2017

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Bishop Robert McElroy Calls for Leaders to Act as Disrupters in the Face of ICE Raids, Anti-Muslim Bigotry, and Economic Exclusion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 18, 2017
CONTACT: Jennifer Farmer,, 202-306-0136

Bishop Robert McElroy Calls for Leaders to Act as Disrupters in the Face of ICE Raids, Anti-Muslim Bigotry, and Economic Exclusion

McElroy told the crowdWe’ve come to a time when alternate facts compete with real facts”


MODESTO, Calif. –This morning at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements, Bishop Robert McElroy, of the Diocese of San Diego joined a panel of experts, organizers, and grassroots leaders to discuss how to down the barriers surrounding access to jobs with living wages and affordable housing. Panelists included; Dr. Steven Pitts, Center for Labor Research and Education, UC-Berkeley, Diane Yentel, National Low-Income Housing Coalition, Bishop Robert McElroy, Diocese of San Diego, Bleu Rainer, Fight for $15/SEIU, Tampa, FL, Lucas Benitez, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, FL, Jennifer Martinez, Faith in Action Bay Area, CA and Cathy Levine, BREAD, Columbus, OH.

Offering very pointed remarks, Bishop Robert McElroy addressed the crowd of nearly 700 faith leaders, grassroots organizers, and community leaders, closing with the following message:

“President Trump said he was the candidate of disruption. Now we must all become disrupters. 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. We must disrupt those who would take away healthcare, who would take food from our children. But we can’t just be disrupters, we have to be rebuilders. We have to rebuild a nation in which all of us are children of one God…We must rebuild a nation that pays $15 and provide decent housing and work to all. If work is co-creation with God don’t we think it deserves at least $15 an hour?”

Bleu Rainer added, “Hundreds of economist and scholars decided $15 is what is required to be considered a living wage, that was five years ago. Economic Justice IS racial justice. The Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter got together to call out the administration’s poor and racist choice for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Pudzer (CEO of Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s).” With pressure mounting from protests, Pudzer withdrew his nomination last week. “We organized, we protested, and we won. Because of our work, he’s gone!”

The second panel today will focus on land and the environment, with leaders from Flint to Hawaii to Standing Rock. Panelists include:

  • Nayyirah Shariff, Flint Democracy Defense League
  • Juan Flores, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
  • Bishop Oscar Cantú, Diocese of Las cruces
  • Thomas Joseph II, True North Organizing Network
  • Maria Perez, ARISE, Alamo, TX
  • Micaela Lewis, Chuukese Community of the Big Island, Honolulu, HI
  • Bob Agres, Hawai’i Alliance for Community Based Economic Development

The U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements is organized by the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development (IHD), 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.

**Today’s photo roundup can be found here**

**Plenary sessions can be watched on Livestream via**


PICO National Network is the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the United States. PICO works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 45 local and state federations. PICO and its federations are non-partisan and do not endorse or support candidates for office. PICO urges people of faith to consult their faith traditions for guidance on specific policies and legislation. Learn more at

Vatican inequality talks start in California farm heartland

Vatican inequality talks start in California farm heartland

The Associated Press, February 17, 2017

Pope Francis said that “no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist” in a welcome letter read aloud at a conference on economic inequality that opened Thursday in the small farming city in California.The gathering of Catholic clergy and activists in Modesto, California, came as the world grapples with the impact of President Donald Trump’s efforts to change U.S. immigration policy.

Read story at the News-Sentinel > 

Pope Francis to activists: Stand with migrants, do not deny climate science, there is no such thing as ‘Islamic terrorism’

Pope Francis to activists: Stand with migrants, do not deny climate science, there is no such thing as ‘Islamic terrorism’

by Michael J. O’Loughlin, February 17, 2017 (America Magazine)

In a letter written to a leaders of grassroots organizations and social movements meeting this week in California, Pope Francis said Christians must resist the temptation to demonize others, protect the earth and fight against “the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.”

Writing that the world is in the midst of an “historic turning point,” Francis said the “worsening crisis” presents both danger and opportunity, using language sure to recall tensions between some Catholic leaders and the fledgling Trump administration.

Read story at America Magazine >

Pope greets U.S. grass-roots groups, saying they help ‘communities thrive’

Pope greets U.S. grass-roots groups, saying they help ‘communities thrive’

by Dennis Sadowski, February 17, 2017 (Catholic News Service)

Pope Francis congratulated more than 600 representatives of grass-roots organizations for responding with mercy to society’s hurting people during the opening of the four-day U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements.

In a letter to the assembly Feb. 16 read alternately in English and in Spanish, the pope said the work of the organizations and the people involved “make your communities thrive.”

Read story at Catholic News Service > 

In a new letter, Pope Francis tells activists to stand up to populists

In a new letter, Pope Francis tells activists to stand up to populists

by Amanda Erickson, February 17, 2017 (The Washington Post)

“As Christians and all people of good will, it is for us to live and act at this moment,” he said, as reported by the Guardian. “It is a grave responsibility, since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse.”

The draft was read this week at the opening of the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. The pope did not reference President Trump directly, but parts of his message seemed tailor-made for this particular moment. “The direction taken beyond this historic turning point — the ways in which this worsening crisis gets resolved — will depend on people’s involvement and participation and, largely, on yourselves, the popular movements,” Francis said.

Read Story at The Washington Post > 

Text of Address by Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, C.Ss.R., Archbishop of Newark, to the US Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements

Archdiocese of Newark
Office of Communications & Public Relations
171 Clifton Ave.
Newark, NJ 07104

Contact: Jim Goodness

Text of Address by Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, C.Ss.R., Archbishop of Newark, to the US Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements

Modesto, CA, Feb. 16-19, 2017

Following the excellent address of His Eminence, Cardinal Peter Turkson, I would like to offer a few reflections for this auspicious gathering of the US Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements, with the hope of providing some context for the dynamics we see at play within our nation. I hope this modest contribution will encourage you.

As we look around our beloved country we can see dark clouds gathering. Your work of building community and calling all of us to truly “see” one another is needed now more than ever.

In his apostolic exhortation, the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis denounced an “economy of exclusion” – one that puts profits over people and considers people only as consumers of goods and workers as cogs in a profit-making machine. And in his address to the second World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia in 2015, he talked about “an invisible thread” which runs through the many forms of exclusion we experience in our world – the invisible thread of greed and economic exploitation. The prioritizing of profits over people has created a deep sense of economic anxiety among many, many families struggling to make ends meet. The resulting concentration of wealth in our country in the hands of a few has created historic levels of economic inequality, which has placed a great burden on working families and the poor – and let us not forget that many families are both working and poor!

This pain cuts across all regions of our country, and across all racial and ethnic groups. This pain is real, and must be engaged, by both pastors and community organizers.

The concentration of wealth and – by extension – political power in our country also threatens to undermine the health of our democracy. When heads of households are coping with chronic economic stress, and it feels like no one – in City Hall, or the State Capitol, or Washington, DC – really understands their struggles, they can begin to feel alienated from civic participation and effectively disenfranchise themselves, ceding the public arena to interest groups and lobbyists, and even demagogues.

Fear, Populism and Nationalism

Weakened civic infrastructure means even less capacity to resolve shared challenges, and that has fed a cycle of disengagement, alienation, even despair among many. In that context, it’s not hard to get people to look around for someone to blame for the struggles they face. It is a phenomenon we see unfolding across many parts of the world today. Those in power, or those who seek power, begin to demonize excluded groups – people who look, sound, or believe differently from the dominant group. This act of misdirection – channeling the anger of anxious people toward “the other” rather than toward the architects of the economy of exclusion – is a classic tactic of a populist leader, and the rise of populism and nationalism in the United States has laid bare a second “invisible thread” that, sadly, has promoted the exclusion and marginalization of people in our American experience, intensifying in times of fear and anxiety: the sins of racism and xenophobia.

We are urged to place our anger and frustration and fear onto the backs of the scapegoats of our day – immigrants, Muslims, young people of color – and to build walls – border walls and prison walls – that will keep “them” out of “our” communities. In his recent address to the third World Meeting of Popular Movements in Rome, Pope Francis observed that fear “is fed and manipulated… Because fear – as well as being a good deal for the merchants of arms and death – weakens and destabilizes us, destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, numbs us to the suffering of others, and in the end it makes us cruel.” We are a country – and a Church – that has always been enriched by immigrants who have come to find their future here, and to help shape our shared future with their blood, sweat and tears.

Encounter and Dialogue

The way that we overcome fear, alienation and indifference is through the powerful actions of “encounter” and “dialogue”. Through the intentional choice to engage with one another, sharing our experiences, and listening for common ground, we discover and activate our own capacity for compassion, the ability to “feel with” another person the core emotions that make us human and bind us together. Your meeting is a wonderful opportunity for encounter and dialogue. If you’re like the family I grew up in, you may not agree on everything, but you will uncover shared values and build strong bonds that will nurture collaboration.

Solidarity and Accompaniment

Encounter and dialogue create the capacity for solidarity and accompaniment. People who have experienced economic and racial exclusion build community through sharing their stories and their hunger for change. They are joined by others whose faith calls them into solidarity through the action of encounter, and a larger community is formed. This unity creates new capacity to change the world, to be the “social poets” that Pope Francis has called popular movement leaders.

Roles and Responsibilities for Social Movements and the Church

Pope Francis has said that he prefers “a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

We must be on guard, lest we fall into the trap of indifference, which Pope Francis warned of when he said: “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

Friends, it is our responsibility to respond to the pain and anxiety of our brothers and sisters: As popular movements, your role is to knit together strong communal networks that can gather up the experiences and suffering and aspirations of the people and push for structural changes that affirm the dignity and value of every child of God. And your role is also to call us in the Church to walk with you on your journey, to “accompany” you as the Holy Father likes to say, like Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. And at times, I and my brother bishops, and faithful clergy and women religious, must even walk out in front of you, to show that we are not afraid, either.

So, I thank you for your witness, for your powerful work of building community and organizing and transforming systems in ways that move us toward that Beloved Community of which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke so powerfully. And I pray for you, your families and your communities.

And I ask you to pray for us, so that God might grant us the courage to also speak truth to power whenever it is needed.


Pope Francis to Grassroots Leaders: “We should be neither paralyzed by fear nor shackled within the conflict.”

Pope Francis to Grassroots Leaders: “We should be neither paralyzed by fear nor shackled within the conflict.”

WASHINGTON – As nearly 700 faith and community leaders from 12 countries gather in Modesto, Ca. for the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM), the Vatican today released the following statement from Pope Francis. The Pope’s remarks are directed specifically to grassroots movement leaders working to address racism, migration and the economy of exclusion.

Organized by the Vatican’s Integral Human Development, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’, Catholic Campaign for Human Development and PICO National Network, the regional meeting is a follow-up to three larger international meetings held in Rome in Oct. 2014 and Nov. 2016 and Bolivia in July 2015. The purpose of the WMPM series is to deepen relationships between grassroots movements and the faith community. 

For more information or to arrange interviews with WMPM attendees, please contact Jennifer Farmer at or Heather Cabral at


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

First of all, I would like to congratulate you for your effort in replicating on a national level the work being developed in the World Meetings of Popular Movements. By way of this letter, I want to encourage and strengthen each one of you, your organizations, and all who strive with you for “Land, Work and Housing,” the three T’s in Spanish: Tierra, Trabajo y Techo. I congratulate you for all that you are doing.

I would like to thank the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, its chairman Bishop David Talley, and the host Bishops Stephen Blaire, Armando Ochoa and Jaime Soto, for the wholehearted support they have offered to this meeting. Thank you, Cardinal Peter Turkson, for your continued support of popular movements from the new Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development. It makes me very happy to see you working together towards social justice! 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.

I would also like to highlight the work done by the PICO National Network and the organizations promoting this meeting. 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.

A few months ago in Rome, we talked at the third World Meeting of Popular Movements about walls and fear, about bridges and love.[1] Without wanting to repeat myself, these issues do challenge our deepest values.

We know that none of these ills began yesterday. For some time, the crisis of the prevailing paradigm has confronted us. I am speaking of a system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few. “In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history.”[2]

As Christians and all people of good will, it is for us to live and act at this moment. It is “a grave responsibility, since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse.”[3] 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. Thus the processes of dehumanization accelerate. The direction taken beyond this historic turning-point—the ways in which this worsening crisis gets resolved—will depend on people’s involvement and participation and, largely, on yourselves, the popular movements.

We should be neither paralyzed by fear nor shackled within the conflict. We have to acknowledge the danger but also the opportunity that every crisis brings in order to advance to a successful synthesis. In the Chinese language, which expresses the ancestral wisdom of that great people, the word “crisis” is comprised of two ideograms: Wēi, which represents “danger”, and , which represents “opportunity”.

The grave danger is to disown our neighbors. When we do so, we deny their humanity and our own humanity without realizing it; we deny ourselves, and we deny the most important Commandments of Jesus. Herein lies the danger, the dehumanization. But here 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; that it may wake us up and let true humanity burst through with authentic resistance, resilience and persistence.

The question that the lawyer asked Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37) echoes in our ears today: “Who is my neighbor?” Who is that other whom we are to love as we love ourselves? Maybe the questioner expects a comfortable response in order to carry on with his life: “My relatives? My compatriots? My co-religionists? …” Maybe he wants Jesus to excuse us from the obligation of loving pagans or foreigners who at that time were considered unclean. This man wants a clear rule that allows him to classify others as “neighbor” and “non-neighbor”, as those who can become neighbors and those who cannot become neighbors.[4]

Jesus responds with a parable which features two figures belonging to the elite of the day and a third figure, considered a foreigner, a pagan and unclean: the Samaritan. On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the priest and the Levite come upon a dying man, whom robbers have attacked, stripped and abandoned. In such situations the Law of the Lord imposes the duty to offer assistance, but both pass by without stopping. They were in a hurry. However, unlike these elite figures, the Samaritan stopped. Why him? As a Samaritan he was looked down upon, no one would have counted on him, and in any case he would have had his own commitments and things to do—yet when he saw the injured man, he did not pass by like the other two who were linked to the Temple, but “he saw him and had compassion on him” (v. 33). The Samaritan acts with true mercy: he binds up the man’s wounds, transports him to an inn, personally takes care of him, and provides for his upkeep. All this teaches us that compassion, love, is not a vague sentiment, but rather means taking care of the other to the point of personally paying for him. It means committing oneself to take all the necessary steps so as to “draw near to” the other to the point of identifying with him: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the Lord’s Commandment.[5]

The economic system that has the god of money at its center, and that sometimes acts with the brutality of the robbers in the 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. But they are televised live; they are talked about in euphemisms and with apparent tolerance, but nothing is done systematically to heal the social wounds or to confront the structures that leave so many brothers and sisters by the wayside. This hypocritical attitude, so different from that of the Samaritan, manifests an absence of true commitment to humanity.

Sooner or later, the moral blindness of this indifference comes to light, like when a mirage dissipates. 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. The system’s gangrene cannot be whitewashed forever because sooner or later the stench becomes too strong; and when it can no longer be denied, the same power that spawned this state of affairs sets about manipulating fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills onto a “non-neighbor”. I am not speaking of anyone in particular, I am speaking of a social and political process that flourishes in many parts of the world and poses a grave danger for humanity.

Jesus teaches us a different path. Do not classify others in order to see who is a neighbor and who is not. 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. And then also become like the innkeeper at the end of the parable to whom the Samaritan entrusts the person who is suffering. Who is this innkeeper? 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. Here are the roots of the authentic humanity that resists the dehumanization that wears the livery of indifference, hypocrisy, or intolerance.

I know that you have committed yourselves to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants. I want to reaffirm your choice and share two reflections in this regard.

First, the ecological crisis is real. “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.”[6] 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.

The other is a reflection that I shared at our most recent World Meeting of Popular Movements, and I feel is important to say it again: no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist. 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. “The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence yet, without equal opportunities, the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and will eventually explode.”[7] 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. By confronting terror with love, we work for peace.

I ask you for meekness and resolve to defend these principles. I ask you not trade them off against each other as if they were commodities on sale, as if one were less valuable than the other. Like 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.[8]

Please know that I pray for you, that I pray with you, and I ask God our Father to accompany and bless you. May He shower you with his love and protect you. I ask you to please pray for me too, and to carry on.

Vatican City, 10 February 2017

Download the message from Pope Francis in Spanish >>

Download the message from Pope Francis in English >>

[1] Address to the 3rd World Meeting of Popular Movements, Paul VI Audience Hall, 5 November 2016.

[2] Evangelii Gaudium §52

[3] Ibid. §51

[4] Cf. General Audience, 27 April 2016.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Laudato Si’ §23

[7] Evangelii Gaudium §59

[8] Cf. St Francis of Assisi, Peace Prayer.