Pope to Popular Movements: You create hope and forge dignity
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
“Dear Social Poets,” Pope Francis said, beginning his video message addressed to Popular Movements on Saturday.
“I like to call you this: Social Poets,” he explained, “because you have the ability and the courage to create hope where there appears to be only waste and exclusion. Poetry means creativity, and you create hope.”
“With your hands, you know how to forge the dignity of each person, of families and of society as a whole, with land, shelter, work, care, and community,” the Pope said.
Dedication: a proclamation of hope
The Holy Father thanked the Popular Movements for their dedication which is “a word of authority capable of contradicting the silent and often polite denials” to which they are subjected.
He was addressing participants in the IV World Meeting of Popular Movements, an event that seeks to discuss and share the ongoing social struggles and propose new forms of action to defend workers’ rights by overcoming the structural causes of poverty and injustice.
The Meeting brings together activists from the most marginalized communities of society and participants include street vendors, artisans, fishermen, farmers, builders, miners, Christian workers of various trades and professions.
“In thinking of you,” the Pope said, “I believe your dedication is above all a proclamation of hope” reminding us that “we are not condemned to repeat or to build a future based on exclusion and inequality, rejection or indifference; where the culture of privilege is an invisible and irrepressible power and exploitation and abuse are a habitual method of survival.”
Commenting on the reflections and testimonies from their meeting, Pope Francis highlighted the importance of dialogue “born in the peripheries” which has come to Rome and “where we may all feel we are invited and called upon.”
He added that since the last general meeting six years ago, “a lot has changed,” - changes that mark points of no return, turning points and crossroads - “at which humanity must make choices.”
“There is a need for new moments of encounter, discernment and concerted action,” he said, warning that returning to previous mindsets “would truly be suicidal and if [he] may press the point, a little ecocidal and genocidal.”
Pope Francis noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed social inequalities and “the heartbreaking situation of so many brothers and sisters.” He added that we all have experienced the “pain of lockdown” especially people without basic infrastructure who were left more vulnerable, migrants, undocumented persons and informal workers without a fixed income.
He also lamented the “scourge of the food crisis” affecting millions in spite of advances in biotechnology. He noted that 20 million more people have been dragged into extreme levels of food insecurity this year, with increased destitution and increases in food prices. He expressed concern about the possibility of annual deaths from hunger exceeding those from Covid-19.
Silent pandemic of chronic anxiety
The Holy Father then referred to a “silent pandemic” of chronic anxiety linked to various factors such as “hyperconnectivity, disorientation and lack of future prospects,” made worse by a lack of real contact with others and ultimately, the lack of real contact with friends, “because friendship is the form in which love always resurges.”
In this regard, he affirmed that “technology can be a tool for good” that permits dialogues “but it can never substitute contact between us,” and the community “in which we can be rooted and which ensures that our life may become fruitful.”
Popular Movements: A veritable invisible army
“I wish to thank you because you have felt the pain of others as your own,” the Pope said to the Popular Movements. “You know how to show the face of true humanity, the humanity that is not built by turning your back on the suffering of those around you, but in the patient, committed and often even painful recognition that the other person is our brother and that his or her anguish, joys and sufferings are also ours.”
“You are…a veritable invisible army” he added, “a fundamental part of that humanity that fights for life against a system of death.” He said we are called to change the structures of sin and fight the deep-seated resistance to the changes we need and long for.
The Holy Father then expressed hope that this beatitude may “extend, permeate and anoint” every space where life is threatened, adding that “personal change is necessary, but it is also indispensable to adapt our socio-economic models so that they have a human face, because many models have lost it.”
Appeals “in the name of God”
Pope Francis went on to make a series of nine appeals “in the name of God”. He appealed to big laboratories to liberalize patents and allow every country to have access to the vaccine; to financial groups and credit institutions to waive debts in order to allow poor countries to guarantee the basic needs of their people; to big extractive companies to stop destroying forests, wetland and mountains and polluting rivers and seas; to big corporations to stop monopolistic production and distribution structures that inflate prices and withhold bread from the hungry; and to arms manufacturers and dealers to cease their activity that foments violence and war.
The Holy Father also called on technology giants to stop exploiting the vulnerability of people to gain profit; on the giants of telecommunications to liberalize access to educational material to help educate poor children during quarantine; on the media to stop the logic of post-truth, disinformation, and an unhealthy attraction for scandal and contribute to human fraternity and empathy; and on powerful companies to stop blockades and unilateral sanctions against countries.
“This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is getting out of all human control. It is time to put the brakes on the locomotive, an out-of-control locomotive that is carrying us towards the abyss. There is still time,” the Pope said.
Then, addressing governments and politicians, he urged them to represent their peoples and work for the common good, listening to the people and not only the economic elites who are “so often the mouthpieces of superficial ideologies that evade the real dilemmas of humanity.”
Likewise, the Pope called on religious leaders never to use the name of God “to foment wars or coups” but to stand by the people “and fight together with them so that integral human development may become a reality.” He encouraged them to be “bridges of love so that the voice of the periphery with its weeping, but also with its singing and its joy, provokes not fear but empathy in the rest of society.”
“Let us dream together, dream between yourselves, dream with others,” Pope Francis invited – dreams “of freedom and equality, of justice and dignity, the dreams of fraternity, that have improved the world.”
Dreams “transcend the narrow limits imposed on us and propose new possible worlds,” the Pope said, adding, that dreams are dangerous for those who defend the status quo because they “challenge the paralysis that the egoism of the strong and the conformism of the weak want to impose.”
He urged everyone to confront together “the populist discourses of intolerance, xenophobia, and aporophobia” (hatred of the poor) which have only served to “divide our peoples, and to undermine and neutralise our poetic capacity, our ability to dream together.”
Recalling his words to representatives of the Popular Movements in Bolivia, the Pope reiterated: “the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organise and carry out creative alternatives”.
Emerging better from the crisis
Insisting that “we will not come out of this pandemic crisis the same. Either we will emerge better or we will emerge worse,” Pope Francis asked: “How will we emerge from this crisis? Better or worse?”
To emerge better, he explained, we “have to break the bonds of what is easy, and of the docile acceptance that ‘there is no alternative’,” because that resignation “cancels us out so we can take refuge only in ‘every man for himself’”. “Let us choose the difficult path. Let us come out better,” he urged.
The Pope then thought of the parable of the Good Samaritan which he used in Fratelli tutti, noting that it is the “clearest representation of this committed option in the Bible.” He recalled the protests that followed the death of George Floyd (a 46-year-old African American who was killed in May 2020 by a police officer in Minneapolis during an arrest) noting that there was the “Collective Samaritan” as people did not turn the other way when they saw “the wound to human dignity, afflicted by such an abuse of power.”
Solidarity and subsidiarity
Proposing some guidelines “on the future that we must build and dream,” the Pope turned to the social doctrine of the Church which does not have all the answers, but has “some principles that can help along this journey to provide concrete answers, and to help Christians and non-Christians alike.”
The Holy Father pointed at the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. He said that solidarity, both a moral virtue and a social principle, “seeks to confront unjust systems” in order to build a culture of solidarity that expresses “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.”
On subsidiarity, he noted that it is a principle that stimulates and promotes participation between movements and peoples “capable of limiting any authoritarian mindset, any forced collectivism or any state-centric mindset.”
He emphasized that with these well-balanced and well-established principles in the Social Doctrine of the Church principles, “we can accomplish the next step from dream to action. Because it is time for action.”
Universal wage, reduction of the working day
Recalling past meetings in which the Movements have spoken about concrete measures to bring significant change, including urban integration, family farming and popular economy, Pope Francis went on to add two more: the universal wage and the reduction of the working day.
He said that a minimum wage or Universal basic income (UBI) is such that everyone in the world may have access to the most basic necessities of life. He added that it is right to fight for a humane distribution of these resources and it is up to governments to establish tax and redistribution schemes so that the wealth of one party is shared fairly without implying an unsustainable burden, especially on the middle class.
The Pope also noted that minimum income is a possibility but the reduction of the working day is another. He insisted that “working fewer hours so that more people can have access to the labor market is something we need to explore with some urgency.”
Concluding, Pope Francis expressed his conviction that “the world can be seen more clearly from the peripheries” and thus, we must listen to the peripheries, open the doors to them and allow them to participate. He urged the Popular Movements to reaffirm the commitment made in Bolivia to “to place the economy at the services of peoples to build a lasting peace based on social justice and on care for the Common Home.”
Finally, the Pope called on God to pour out His blessings on our dreams and urged everyone not to lose hope.