Pope Francis has told a gathering of Catholics involved in community organising that ‘we must build a future from below.’
The Pope was speaking to an international conference of Catholics from inner-city parishes involved in community organising, reflecting on his new book Let us Dream. He said, ‘The poverty and exclusion from the labour market that have followed this pandemic have made your work and witness all the more urgent and necessary.’
Pope Francis reminded the delegates of the vision, irrespective of the labels used, which is ‘finding the means to guarantee a life for all people that is worthy of being called human’. He called this ‘politics as service’, ‘with’ as well as ‘for’ people, highlighting the need for people in power to be close to people rooted in communities, recognising their values, culture and faith. Addressing the rise of populism, he said that ‘the true response’ was ‘not more individualism but quite the opposite: a politics of fraternity, rooted in the life of the people.’ He emphasised three times the need for politics not to ‘turn its back’ on the poor.
Speaking via video to the conference, entitled ‘A Politics Rooted in the People’, he went on to add, ‘Now, more than ever, we must build a future from below, from a politics with the people, rooted in the people.’
The online event welcomed delegates from around the world, but especially from faith and community organisations in the UK, Germany, Italy and the US – including some from the Pope’s own Diocese of Rome.
Organised by the ecumenical Centre for Theology & Community, in collaboration with Caritas Social Action Network and six other Catholic institutions in the UK, US and EU, the conference heard from grassroots Christians – including care workers, teaching assistants and cleaners – alongside academics, community organisers and clergy. The keynote address was given by Austen Ivereigh – the Pope’s collaborator on Let Us Dream. His address included an interview with Patricia Gualinga, of the Pueblo Kichwa de Sarayaku, an indigenous community in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The Pope’s teaching on politics, economics and social life has received huge attention across the world. In light of the devastating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, delegates were challenged to think through the way faith groups, businesses, governments, community institutions and all people of good will can work together for the common good beyond the pandemic.
Canon Angus Ritchie, Director of the Centre for Theology and Community, said:
‘This has been a conference with a difference, placing the voices of grassroots leaders at the heart of the conversation. As Pope Francis said, they have shown themselves to be the decisive actors in the Pandemic – and we need to build a new politics together that recognises that.’
Raymond Friel, Chief Executive of Caritas Social Action Network, said:
‘The prophetic tradition calls upon us to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jer 29: 7). In this conference, Pope Francis called upon us to discern more deeply the common good of society, beginning from the peripheries, where we will find Christ, where we will be shown more clearly what needs to be done.’