L'Osservatore Romano

Pope's Address to Popular Movements

‘I ask you not to underestimate the value of example, because it is stronger than a thousand words, than a thousand fliers, than a thousand likes, than a thousand retweets, than a thousand YouTube videos.’

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Below is a ZENIT working translation of Pope Francis’ address when receiving Saturday afternoon in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, the participants in the Third World Meeting of Popular Movements, Nov. 2-5, in Rome. Before the Pope’s arrival, the participants enjoyed some festivities, alternated with songs and testimonies. On his arrival, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, received Pope Francis and expressed a brief greeting to him. Then, a video was presented summarizing the works of the meeting and a programmatic document of the Popular Movements.
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Sisters and Brothers, good afternoon.
In this, our third meeting, we express the same thirst, the thirst for justice, the same clamor: earth, roof and work for all. I thank the delegates, who have come from urban, rural and labor peripheries of the five Continents, from more than 60 countries, who have come to debate once again how to defend these rights, which bring us together. Thank you to the Bishops who came to accompany you. Thank you also to the thousands of Italians and Europeans who have united themselves to you today at the close of this meeting. Thank you to the observers and to the young people committed to public life, who came with humility to listen and to learn. How much hope I have in young people! I thank you, too, Cardinal Turkson, for the work you have done in the Dicastery and I would also like to mention the contribution of the former Uruguayan President, Jose Mujica, who is present.
In our last meeting, in Bolivia, with a majority of Latin Americans, we spoke of the need for change, for a change of structures, so that life is worthy. We also <spoke about> how you, the Popular Movements, are sowers of change, promoters of a process in which millions of great and small actions linked creatively can come together, as in a poem, that is why I wished to call you “social poets,” and we also enumerated some indispensable tasks to walk towards a human alternative given the globalization of indifference: 1. To put the economy at the service of peoples; 2. To build peace and justice; 3. To defend Mother Earth.
That day, in the voice of a scavenger and a peasant, the conclusions were read, the ten points of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where the word change was pregnant with great content, it was intertwined with fundamental things that you claim: fitting work for the excluded from the labor market; land for the peasant and for native peoples; housing for homeless families; urban integration for popular neighborhoods; eradication of discrimination, of violence against women and new forms of slavery; an end to all wars, to organized crime and repression; freedom of expression and democratic communication; science and technology at the service of peoples. We also heard how you were committing yourselves to embrace a plan of life that rejects consumerism and recovers solidarity, love between us and respect for nature as essential values. It is the happiness of “living well,” which you claim, the “good life,” and not that egoistic ideal that inverts words deceitfully and proposes the “good life” to us.
Those of us who are here today, of different origins, beliefs and ideas, perhaps are not in agreement with everything, no doubt we think differently on many things, but we certainly agree on these points.
I learnt also of meetings and workshops held in different countries where the debates were multiplied in light of the reality of each community. That is very important because the real solutions to current problems will not come from one, three or a thousand conferences. They must be the fruit of a collective discernment that matures in territories with brothers, a discernment that becomes a transforming action, “according to the places, times and persons,” as Saint Ignatius would say. Otherwise, we run the risk of abstractions, of “slogans” that are beautiful phrases but that are unable to support the life of our communities” (Letter to the President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, March 19, 2016). Globalizing ideological colonialism attempts to impose supra-cultural recipes that do not respect the identity of peoples. You follow another path, which is, at the same time, local and universal — a path that reminds me how Jesus asked that the crowd be organized in groups of fifty to distribute the bread (cf. Homily on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Buenos Aires, June 12, 2004).
We just saw the video that you presented by way of conclusion of this third meeting. We saw your faces in the debates on what to do in face of “the anxiety that engenders violence.” So many proposals, so much creativity, so much hope in your voice, you who are perhaps the ones who have the most reason to complain, to remain shut in conflicts, to fall into the temptation of the negative. Yet, nevertheless, you look ahead, you think, discuss, propose and act. I congratulate you, I accompany you, and I ask you to continue opening paths and struggling, which gives me strength, which gives us strength. I believe our dialogue, which is added to the effort of so many millions who work daily for justice worldwide, is taking root.
I would like to touch upon some more specific subjects, which are those I have received from you, which have made me reflect and I return them at this moment.
First: Terror and walls. However, that germination, which is slow, which takes time, as does all gestation, is threatened by the speed of a destructive mechanism that works in the opposite sense. There are powerful forces that can neutralize this process of maturation of a change that is able to displace the primacy of money and place the human being again, man and woman, at the center. That “invisible thread” of which we spoke in Bolivia, that unjust structure that links all the exclusions that you suffer, can harden and become a lash, an existential lash that, as in Egypt of the Old Testament, enslaves, robs freedom, lashes some mercilessly, and constantly threatens others, to herd all as cattle where divinized money desires.
Who governs then? Money. How does it govern? With the lash of fear, of anxiety, of economic, social, cultural and military violence that engenders more and more violence in a downward spiral that seems endless. How much pain and how much fear! There is – I said a short while ago – a basic terrorism that stems from the global control of money over land and attempts against the whole of humanity. That basic terrorism fuels derived terrorisms, such as drug terrorism, State terrorism and what some erroneously call ethnic or religious terrorism, but no people, no religion is terrorist. It’s true that there are small fundamentalist groups everywhere. However, terrorism begins when one “has rejected the wonder of Creation, man and woman, and replaced it with money” (Press Conference on the Return Flight from the Apostolic journey to Poland, July 31, 2016). That system is terrorist.
Almost one hundred years ago, Pius XI foresaw the growth of a global economic dictatorship, which he called the “international imperialism of money.” (Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo Anno, May 15, 1931, 109). I am speaking of the year 1931. The Hall in which we are now speaking is called “Paul VI,” and it was Paul VI who, 50 years ago, lamented the “new abusive form of economic dictatorship in the social, cultural and also political field” (Apostolic Letter Octogesima adveniens, May 14, 1971, 44). These are the harsh, but just words of my predecessors who foresaw the future. The Church and the prophets said, millennia ago, what scandalizes what the Pope repeats in this time […] The whole Social Doctrine of the Church and the teaching of my predecessors rebel against the idol of money that reigns; instead of serving, it bullies and terrifies humanity.
No tyranny, no tyranny is sustained without exploiting our fears. This is key, hence all tyranny is terrorist. And when that terror, which was sown in the peripheries, with massacres, sackings, oppression and injustice, explodes in centers with different forms of violence, including odious and cowardly attacks, citizens who still have some rights are tempted with the false security of physical or social walls, walls that shut some in and exile others — walled, terrorized citizens on one side; excluded, exiled and more terrorized still on the other. Is this the life that God our Father wants for His children?
Fear is fuelled, manipulated … because fear, in addition to being good business for the merchants of weapons and death, weakens and unbalances us and destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, anestethizes us in face of others’ suffering and in the end makes us cruel. When we hear that the death of a youth is celebrated, who perhaps erred on the way, when we see that war is preferred to peace, when we see that xenophobia is generalized, when we see that intolerant proposals gain ground, behind that cruelty which seems monumental is the cold breath of fear. I ask you to pray for all those who are afraid, let us pray that God will give them the courage and that in this Year of Mercy we will be able to soften our hearts. Mercy is not easy, it is not easy … it takes courage. That is why Jesus says to us: “Have no fear” (Mathew 14:27), as mercy is the best antidote against fear. It is much better than anti-depressants and tranqulizers. <it is> much more effective than walls, bars, alarms and weapons. And it is free: it is a gift of God.
Dear brothers and sisters: all walls fall – all. Let us not be deceived. As you have said: “Let us continue working to build bridges between peoples, bridges that enable us to bring down the walls of exclusion and exploitation” (Conclusive Document of the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements, July 11, 2015, Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia). Let us face Terror with Love.
The second point I would like to touch upon is: Love and bridges. On a day like today, a Saturday, Jesus did two things that, the Gospel tells us, precipitated the conspiracy to kill Him. He was passing with His disciples through a field, a sown field. The disciples were hungry and they ate ears of corn. We are told nothing of the “proprietor” of that field … underlying was the universal destiny of goods. The fact is that, in face of hunger, Jesus prioritized the dignity of God’s children over a formalistic, accommodative and self-interested interpretation of the norm. When the Doctors of the Law complained with hypocritical indignation, Jesus reminded them that God wants love not sacrifices, and He explained to them that the Sabbath is made for the human being and not the human being for the Sabbath (cf. Mark 2:27). He confronted hypocritical and self-sufficient thought with the humble intelligence of the heart (cf. Homily, I Congress of Evangelization of the Culture, Buenos Aires, November 3, 2006), which always prioritizes the human being and rejects that specific logics obstruct his freedom to live, love and serve his neighbor.
And later, that same day, Jesus did something “worse,” something that irritated the hypocrites and arrogant even more, who were watching Him because they were looking for an excuse to trap Him. He cured a man’s withered hand. A hand, that is a strong sign of doing, of work. Jesus gave back to that man the ability to work and with that He gave him back his dignity. How many withered hands <there are>, how many individuals deprived of the dignity of work, because, to defend their unjust systems, hypocrites are opposed to their being healed. Sometimes, I think that when you, the organized poor, invent your own work, create a cooperative, recover a broken fabric, are recycling the discarded <items> of the consumerist society, facing the inclemency of the weather to sell in a square, claiming a parcel of land to cultivate and feed the hungry … when you do this, you are imitating Jesus because you seek to heal, even if only a little, even if precariously, this atrophy of the prevailing socio-economic system, which is unemployment. I am not surprised that you too are watched and persecuted sometimes, nor am I surprised that the arrogant are not interested in what you say to them.
On that Sabbath, Jesus staked His life because, after healing that hand, the Pharisees and Herodians (cf. Mark 3:6), two parties opposing one another, who feared the people and also the empire, made their calculations and conspired to kill Him. I know that many of you stake your life. I know, I want to remind you that some are not here today because they staked their life … but there is no greater love than to give one’s life. Jesus teaches us this.
The “3-T,” that cry of yours that I make my own, has something of that humble but at the same time strong and healing intelligence – the project-bridge of peoples in face of the project-wall of money – a project that aims at integral human development. Some of you know that our friend, Cardinal Turkson, is now presiding over the dicastery that bears that name: Integral Human Development. The contrary of development, one can say, is atrophy. paralysis. We must help so that the world is cured of its moral atrophy. This atrophied system can offer certain cosmetic implants, which are not true development: economic growth, technical advances, greater “efficiency” to produce things that are purchased, used and thrown away lumping us all in the vertiginous dynamic of the disposable, but this world does not make possible the development of the human being in his totality, a development that is not reduced to consumption, that is not reduced to the wellbeing of a few, that includes all peoples and persons in the fullness of their dignity, enjoying fraternally the wonder of Creation. That is the development we need: human, integral, respectful of Creation, of this common home.
Another point is: Bankruptcy and bailout. Dear brothers, I want to share some reflections with you on two other subjects that, together with “3-T” and integral ecology, were central to your debates in the last days and are central in this historic time.
I know that you dedicated a day to the drama of migrants, refugees and displaced. <individuals>. What should be done in face of this tragedy? In the Dicastery that Cardinal Turkson is in charge of, there is a Department for attention to these situations. I decided that, at least for a while, that Department should depend directly on the Pontiff, because there is an ignominious situation here, which I can only describe with a word that came to me spontaneously in Lampedusa: shame.
There, as also in Lesbos, I was able to feel up close the suffering of so many families expelled from their land for economic or violent reasons of all sorts, exiled multitudes – I have said it in front of authorities worldwide – as the consequence of an unjust socio-economic system and of warring conflicts that they did not seek, that they did not create –who today suffer the painful uprooting from their homeland’s soil; instead, those who created them refuse to receive them.
I make my own the words of my brother Archbishop Jeronimos of Greece: “Those who see the eyes of the children we meet in the refugee camps are able to recognize immediately, in its totality, the ‘bankruptcy’ of humanity” (Address in the Refugee Camp of Moria, Lesbos, April 16, 2016). What is going on in today’s world that, when a bank is bankrupt scandalous sums appear to save it, but when this bankruptcy of humanity happens, there is not a 1000th part to save brothers that are suffering so much? And so the Mediterranean has become a cemetery, and not only the Mediterranean — so many cemeteries beside the walls, walls stained by innocent blood. During the days of this meeting, they said it in the video: How many died in the Mediterranean?
Fear hardens the heart and it is transformed into blind cruelty that refuses to see the blood, the pain, the face of the other. My brother Patriarch Bartholomew said it: “Whoever is afraid of you has not looked at you in the eyes. Whoever is afraid of you has not seen your faces. Whoever is afraid does not see your children; he forgets that dignity and freedom transcend fear and transcend division. He forgets that migration is not a problem of the Middle East and of the North of Africa, of Europe and of Greece. It is a problem of the world” (Address in the Refugee Camp of Moria, Lesbos, April 16, 2016).
It is, in truth, a problem of the world. No one should feel obliged to flee from his homeland. But the evil is twofold when, in face of these terrible circumstances, the migrant sees himself thrown to the claws of the people traffickers to cross the borders and it is threefold if when he arrives at the land in which he believed he would find a better future, he is scorned, exploited, and even enslaved. This can be seen in any corner of hundreds of cities – or he is simply not allowed to enter.
I ask you to do all that you can. Never forget that Jesus, Mary and Joseph also experienced the dramatic condition of refugees. I ask you to exercise that very special solidarity that exists among those that have suffered. You know how to rescue factories from bankruptcy, recycle what others throw away, create work posts, till the earth, build dwellings, integrate segregated neighborhoods and claim tirelessly, as that widow of the Gospel who asks insistently for justice ((cf. Luke 18:1-8). Perhaps with your example and insistence, some states and international organizations will open their eyes and adopt the appropriate measures to receive and integrate fully all those that, for some circumstance or another, seek refuge far from their home. And also to address the profound causes by which thousand of men, women and children are expelled every day from their native land.
To give example and to claim is a form of involving oneself in politics and this leads me to the second pivot that you debated in your meeting: the relation between the people and democracy — a relation that should be natural and fluid but which runs the risk of getting blurred to the point of being unrecognizable. The breach between peoples and our present forms of democracy is enlarged increasingly as a consequence of the enormous power of economic and media groups that seem to dominate them. I know that Popular Movements are not political parties and let me say to you that, to a great extent, their wealth is rooted in that, because they express a different, dynamic and vital form of social participation in public life. However, do not be afraid to involve yourselves in great discussions, and in politics with a capital “P”, and I quote Paul VI again: “Politics offers a serious and difficult path – although not the only one – to fulfil the grave duty that Christian men and women have to serve others” (Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens, May 14, 1971, 46). Or that phrase that I repeat so often, and I am always confused – I do not know if it is Paul VI or Pius XII: “Politics is one of the highest forms of charity, of love.”
I would like to point out two risks that have to do with the relation between Popular Movements and politics: the risk of being corseted and the risk of being corrupted.
First, not to let yourselves be corseted, because some say: cooperatives, soup kitchens, the agro-ecological kitchen gardens, micro-enterprises, the desire for welfare plans … that is fine up to a point. While one is kept in the corset of “social policies,” while the economic policy is not challenged or politics with a capital “P”, one is tolerated. That idea of social policies conceived as a policy towards the poor but never with the poor, never of the poor and much less so inserted in a plan that reunifies peoples at times seems to me a sort of made up dump to contain the refuse of the system. When you, from your rootedness in what is close to you, from your daily reality, from the neighborhood, from the spot, from the organization of communal work, from person-to-person relations, dare to question “macro-relations,” when you scream, when you shout, when you presume to point put to power a more integral plan, then you are no longer tolerated. You are not tolerated so much because you are getting out of the corset, you are entering the terrain of great decisions that some hope to monopolize in small castes. Thus democracy is atrophied, it becomes a nominalism, a formality, it loses its representativeness, it is disembodied because it leaves the people outside in its daily struggle for dignity, in the building of its future.
You, the organizations of the excluded and so many organizations of other sectors of society, are called to revitalize, to found again the democracies that are going through a real crisis. Do not fall into the temptation of the corset that reduces you to secondary actors, or worse, to mere administrators of the existing misery. In these times of paralysis, disorientation and destructive proposals, the protagonist participation of the peoples that seek the common good can overcome, with God’s help, the false prophets that exploit fear and despair, that sell magic formulas of hatred and cruelty or of an egoistic wellbeing and illusory security.
We know that “while the problems of the poor are not resolved radically, renouncing the absolute autonomy of the markets and of financial speculation and attacking the structural causes of inequality, the problems of the world will not be resolved and, in fact, no problem <will be resolved>. Inequality is the root of the social evils” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 202). Therefore, I said and repeat: “The future of humanity is not only in the hands of the great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is essentially in the hands of peoples, in their capacity to organize themselves and also in their hands that water with humility and conviction this process of change” (Address during the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, July 9, 2015). The Church, the Church also can and must, without pretending to a monopoly of the truth, pronounce herself and act especially in face of “situations where wounds and dramatic suffering are touched, and in which values, ethics, the social sciences and faith are involved (Address at the Summit of Judges and Magistrates against the Trafficking of Persons and Organized Crime, Vatican, June 3, 2016). This was the first risk: the risk of the corset, and the invitation to enter great politics.
The second risk, I was saying, is to let oneself be corrupted. Just as politics is not a matter of “politicians,” corruption is not an exclusive vice of politics. There is corruption in politics, there is corruption in businesses, there is corruption in the media, there is corruption in the Churches and there is also corruption in social organizations and Popular Movements. It is right to say that there is a naturalized corruption in some ambits of the economic life, in particular in financial activity, which has less press than corruption linked directly to the political and social realm. It is right to say that often cases of corruption are manipulated with evil intentions. But it is also right to clarify that those who have opted for a life of service have an additional obligation that is added to the honesty with which any person must act in life. The bar is higher: one must live one’s vocation to serve with a very strong sense of austerity and humility. This is true for politicians but also true for social leaders and for us, Pastors. I said “austerity.” I would like to clarify what I am referring to with the word austerity. It can be an ambiguous word — moral austerity, austerity in the way of living, austerity in how I lead my life, my family – moral and human austerity, because in the more scientific field, scientific-economic if you will, or of the market sciences, austerity is synonymous with adjustment. I am not referring to this. I am not speaking of that. I would advise any person who is too attached to material things or to the mirror, who likes money, exuberant banquets, sumptuous mansions, refine outfits, luxury cars, to see what is happening in his heart and to pray that God may free him from these attachments. However, paraphrasing the former Latin American President who is around here, one who is attached to all these things must not, please, enter politics, must not get involved in a social organization or Popular Movement, because he will do much harm to himself, to his neighbor and he will stain the noble cause he represents. Neither must he enter a seminary.
In face of the temptation of corruption, there is no better antidote than austerity, moral and personal austerity. And to practice austerity is, in addition, to preach by example. I ask you not to underestimate the value of example, because it is stronger than a thousand words, than a thousand fliers, than a thousand likes, than a thousand retweets, than a thousand YouTube videos. The example of an austere life at the service of one’s neighbor is the best way to promote the common good and the bridge-project of the 3.T. I ask the leaders not to tire in practicing that moral, personal austerity and I ask all that they exact of leaders that austerity, which, moreover, will make them very happy. Dear sisters and brothers, the corruption, arrogance, exhibitionism of leaders increases collective disbelief, the sensation of abandonment and retro-fuels the mechanism of fear that supports this iniquitous system.
To conclude, I would like to ask you to continue addressing fear with a life of service, solidarity and humility in favor of peoples and, especially of those who suffer most. You will make many mistakes, we all make mistakes, but if we persevere on this path, sooner than later we will see the fruits. And I insist, the best antidote against terror is love. Love cures everything. Some know that after the Synod on the Family, I wrote a document that is entitled Amoris Laetitia — the joy of love — a document on love in each one’s family, but also in that other family, which is the neighborhood, the community, the people, humanity. One of you asked me to distribute a notebook that contains a fragment of the fourth chapter of that document. I believe you will be handed it as you go out. It goes, therefore, with my blessing. There is some “useful advice” there to practice the most important of Jesus’ commandments.
In Amoris Laetitia, I quoted a deceased Afro-American leader, Martin Luther King, who opted for fraternal love even in the midst of the worst persecutions and humiliations. I want to recall it today with you, that is: “When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, the only thing you seek to defeat is malignant systems. You love the individuals trapped in that system, but you try to defeat that system […] Hatred for hatred only intensifies the existence of hatred and evil in the universe. If I strike you and you strike me, and I return your blow and you return it to me and so successively, it is evident that one reaches the infinite. It simply never ends. Somewhere, someone must have some sense, and that is the strong person. The strong person is the person that can break the chain of hatred, the chain of evil”. He said this in 1957 (n. 118 Sermon in the Baptist Church of Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama, November 17, 1957).
I thank you again for your work and your presence. I want to ask God, Our Father, to accompany you and bless you, to fill you with His love and defend you on the way, giving you abundantly that strength that keeps us upright and gives us the courage to break the chain of hatred: that strength is hope. I ask you, please, to pray for me, and those who cannot pray already know they must think of me well and send me a good wave. Thank you.
[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]

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