Pope’s Address to Popular Movements

“Thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss so many grave social problems that afflict the world today you who suffer inequality and exclusion in your own flesh”

Here is a translation of the Pope’s address Tuesday to participants in the World Meeting of Popular Movements, organized and promoted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and with the Directors of several Movements.

He met with the group in the Old Hall of the Synod.

* * *

Again, good morning. I am happy to be among you; moreover, I will share a confidence with you: this is the first time I have come down here; I had never come here before. As I was saying, I am very happy and I give you a warm welcome.

Thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss so many grave social problems that afflict the world today – you who suffer inequality and exclusion in your own flesh. Thank you to Cardinal Turkson for his hospitality. Thank you, Eminence, for your work and your words.

This meeting of Popular Movements is a sign, it is a great sign: you have come to put in the presence of God, of the Church, of peoples, a reality that is often silenced. The poor not only suffer injustice but they also struggle against it!

They are not content with empty promises, excuses or alibis. Neither are they waiting with folded arms for the aid of NGOs, welfare plans or solutions that never come or, if they do come, they arrive in such a way that they go in one direction, either to anaesthetize or to domesticate. This is a dangerous means. You feel that the poor will no longer wait; they want to be protagonists; they organize themselves, study, work, claim and, above all, practice that very special solidarity that exists among those who suffer, among the poor, whom our civilization seems to have forgotten, or at least really like to forget

Solidarity is a word that is not always welcomed; I would say that sometimes we have transformed it into a bad word, it cannot be said. However, it is a word that means much more than some acts of sporadic generosity.  It is to think and to act in terms of community, of the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few. It is also to fight against the structural causes of poverty, inequality, lack of work, land and housing, the denial of social and labor rights. It is to confront the destructive effects of the empire of money: forced displacements, painful emigrations, the traffic of persons, drugs, war, violence and all those realities that many of you suffer and that we are all called to transform. Solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history, and this is what the Popular Movements do.

This meeting of ours does not respond to an ideology. You do not work with ideas; you work with realities such as those I mentioned and many others that you have told me about … you have your feet in the mud and your hands in the flesh. You have the odor of neighborhood, of people, of struggle! We want your voice to be heard that, in general, is little heard. Perhaps because it annoys, perhaps because your cry bothers, perhaps because there is fear of the change you call for, however, without your presence, without really going to the fringes, the good proposals and plans we often hear about in international conferences stay in the realm of an idea, it is “my” plan.

The scandal of poverty cannot be addressed promoting strategies of containment that only tranquilize and convert the poor into domesticated and inoffensive beings. How sad it is to see that, behind alleged altruistic works, the other is reduced to passivity, is denied. Or, worse still, businesses and personal ambitions are hiding: Jesus would call them hypocrites. How lovely is a change when we see peoples in movement, especially their poorest members and young people. Then the wind of promise is felt that revives the hope of a better world. My desire is that this wind be transformed into a whirlwind of hope.

This meeting of ours responds to a very concrete desire, something that any father, any mother wants for his/her children; a desire that should be in everyone’s reach; however, today we see with sadness the majority increasingly far away: land, roof and work. It is strange, but if I speak about this some say the Pope is a Communist.

They do not understand that love of the poor is at the heart of the Gospel. Land, roof and work, what you struggle for, are sacred rights. To claim this is nothing strange; it is the Social Doctrine of the Church. I am going to pause a while on each one of these, because you have chosen them as the motto for this meeting.

Land. At the beginning of creation, God created man, custodian of His work, charging him to cultivate and protect it. I see that there are dozens of farm workers here and I want to congratulate you for protecting the earth, for cultivating it and for doing it in community. I am concerned about the eradication of so many brother farm workers who suffer uprootedness, and not because of wars or natural disasters. The monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. This painful separation, which is not only physical, but existential and spiritual, because there is a relation with the land that is putting the rural community and its peculiar way of life in notorious decline and even in risk of extinction.

The other dimension of the now global process is hunger. When financial speculation conditions the price of foods, treating them like any merchandise, millions of people suffer and die of hunger. On the other hand, tons of food are thrown away. This is a real scandal.  Hunger is criminal; nourishment is an inalienable right. I know that some of you are calling for agrarian reform to solve some of these problems, and let me tell you that in certain countries, and here I quote the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, “agrarian reform is, moreover, a political necessity, a moral obligation” (CSDC, 300).

I am not the only one who says it. It is in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Please, continue the struggle for the dignity of the rural family, for water, for life and for all to be able to benefit from the fruits of the earth.

Second, roof. I said it and I repeat it: a house for every family. We must never forget that Jesus was born in a stable, because there was no room in the place; that his family had to leave their home and flee to Egypt, persecuted by Herod. Today there are so many homeless families, either because they have never had a home or because they have lost it for different reasons. Family and dwelling go in hand. But, moreover, to be a home a roof must have a community dimension, and it is in fact in the neighborhood where the great family of humanity begins to be built, from the most immediate, from coexistence with one’s neighbors. Today we live in huge cities that are modern, proud, and even vain. Cities that offer innumerable pleasures and wellbeing for a happy minority. However, a roof is denied to thousands of our neighbors and brothers, including children, and they are called, elegantly, “persons in a street situation.” It is curious how in the world of injustices, euphemisms abound. A person, a segregated person, a person put aside, a person suffering poverty, hunger, is a person in a street situation: an elegant word, no? You must always look – though I might be mistaken is regard to some — but in general, behind a euphemism there is a crime.

We live in cities that build towers, commercial centers, engage in real estate business, but they abandon a part of themselves in the margins, in the fringes.  How painful it is to hear that poor settlements are marginalized, or, worse still, they want to eradicate them! Cruel are the images of forced displacements, of bulldozers pulling down small houses, images so like those of war. And we witness this today. 

You know that in many of the popular slums where many of you live values exist that are now forgotten by rich centers. The settlements are blessed with a rich popular culture: there the public area is not just a place of transit but an extension of one’s home, a place where bonds can be generated with neighbors. How lovely are the cities that surmount sickly mistrust and integrate those who are different and make of integration a new factor of development. How lovely are the cities that, also in their architectonic design, are full of areas that connect, relate and foster the recognition of the other. Therefore, neither eradication nor marginalization: we must follow the line of urban integration. This word must, henceforth, displace totally the word eradication, but also those projects that pretend to varnish poor neighborhoods, tidy the fringes and put makeup on social wounds instead of curing them by promoting a genuine and respectful integration. It is a sort of makeup architecture, no? And it is going that way. Let us continue to work so that all families have a dwelling and so that all neighborhoods have adequate infrastructure (sewage, light, gas, asphalt and I go on: schools, hospitals, or first aid rooms, sports clubs and all the things that create bonds and unite; access to health care – I said – and to education and tenancy security).

Third, work. There is no worse material poverty – I must stress it – there is no worse material poverty than one that does not allow for earning one’s bread and deprives one of the dignity of work. Youth unemployment, informality, and the lack of labor rights are not inevitable; they are the result of a previous social option, of an economic system that puts profit above man; if the profit is economic, to put it above humanity or above man, is the effect of a disposable culture that considers the human being in himself as a consumer good, which can be used and then discarded.

Today, added to the phenomenon of exploitation and oppression, is a new dimension, a graphic and hard hue of social injustice; those that cannot be integrated, the excluded are discarded, the “leftovers.” This is the disposable culture and I would like to enlarge on this, though I do not have it written down, but I have just recalled it now. This happens when at the center of an economic system is the god of money, not man, the human person. Yes, at the center of every social or economic system must be the person, image of God, created to be the controller of the universe. When the person is displaced and the god of money comes there is this inversion of values.

And, to make it graphic, I remember a teaching of about the year 1200. A Jewish Rabbi was explaining to his faithful the story of the Tower of Babel, and he then recounted that to build that Tower of Babel, much effort was required; the bricks had to be made, and to make the bricks one had to have mud and bring straw, and knead the mud with the straw, then cut it in squares, then dry it, then cook it, and when the bricks were cooked and cold, take them up to build the Tower.

If a brick fell – a brick was very expensive given all the work – if a brick fell it was almost a national tragedy. The one who dropped it was punished or suspended, I don’t know what they did to him; but if a worker fell, nothing happened. This happens when the person is at the service of the god of money, and this story was told by a Jewish Rabbi, in the year 1200, explaining these terrible things.

And in regard to discarding, we must also pay some attention  to what happens in our society. I am repeating things I have said, which are in Evangelii Gaudium. Today children are disposed of because there is no food or because they are killed before being born – children are discarded.

The elderly are disposed of, well, because they are useless, they do not produce, neither children nor the elderly produce; then, with more or less sophisticated systems they are slowly abandoned and now, as in this crisis it is necessary to recover some equilibrium, we are witnessing a third very painful discarding – the discarding of young people.  Millions of young people, I do not want to give a figure because I do not know it exactly and the one I read about I think is somewhat exaggerated, but millions of young people are discarded from work, are unemployed.

In the countries of Europe, and these are very clear statistics, here in Italy, there is slightly more than 40% of unemployed young people; you know what 40% of young people means – a whole generation, cancelling a whole generation to keep the balance. In another country of Europe it is over 50% and in that country of 50%, in the south 60%, are clear figures, discarded bones. The disposal of children, of the elderly, who do not produce; and we have to sacrifice a generation of young people, we dispose of young people to be able to maintain and balance again a system at whose center is the god of money and not the human person.

Despite this, this disposable culture, this culture of leftovers, so many of you excluded workers, so many of you excluded workers, leftovers of this system, invented your own work with all of what seemed that you could not give more of yourselves … but you, with your craftsmanship that God gave you, with your quest, with your solidarity, with your community work, with your popular economy, have achieved it and are achieving it. And let me say it to you, that in addition to work, it is poetry. Thank you.

Henceforth every worker, be he or not in the formal system of salaried work, has the right to fitting remuneration, to social security and to retirement coverage. Here there are cardboard , recyclers, peddlers, seamstresses, artisans, fishermen, rural workers, builders, miners, recovered business laborers, all sorts of members of cooperatives and workers in popular jobs who are excluded from labor rights, who are denied the possibility of joining labor unions, who have no adequate and stable income. Today I want to join my voice to yours and support you in your struggle.

During this meeting, you have also talked about Peace and Ecology. It is logical: there cannot be land, there cannot be a roof, there cannot be work if we do not have peace and if we destroy the planet. These are such important topics that the nations and their grass-roots organizations cannot fail to debate. They cannot stay only in the hands of political leaders. All the peoples of the earth, all men and women of good will, we must raise our voice in defense of these two precious gifts: peace and nature – Sister Mother Earth, as Saint Francis of Assisi called her.

A short time ago I said, and I repeat it, we are living the Third World War but in quotas. There are economic systems that must make war to survive. Then arms are manufactured and sold and with that, the balance sheets of the economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money, obviously are healed. And no thought is given to hungry children in refugee camps; no thought is given to forced displacements; no thought is given to destroyed homes; not thought is given now to so many destroyed lives. How much suffering, how much destruction, how much grief there is. Today, dear sisters and brothers, the cry for peace rises in all parts of the earth, in all nations, in every heart and in Popular Movements: No more war!

An economic system centered on the god of money also needs to plunder nature, to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it. Climate change, the loss of bio-diversity, deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness, and you are the ones who suffer most, the humble, those who live near coasts in precarious dwellings or who are so vulnerable economically that, in face of a natural disaster, lose everything. Brothers and sisters: creation is not a property, which we can dispose of at will; much less so is it the property of a some, of a few: creation is a gift, it is a present, a wonderful gift that God has given us to take care of and to use for the benefit of all, always with respect and gratitude. Perhaps you know that I am preparing an encyclical on Ecology: be sure that your concerns will be present in it. I thank you, I take the opportunity to thank you for the letter I received from the members of the Rural Way, the Federation of Cardboard Dwellers and so many other brothers in this respect.

We talk of the earth, of work, of a roof … we talk about working for peace and taking care of nature. However, instead of that, why do we get used to seeing how fitting work is destroyed, how so many families are dismissed, how rural workers are expelled, how war is engaged in and nature is abused. Why has man, the human person been taken out of this system, out of the center and been replaced by something else. Why is idolatrous worship rendered to money. Why has indifference been globalized! Indifference has been globalized: why should I care what happens to others so long as I can defend my own? Why has the world forgotten God who is Father; it has become an orphan because it left God to one side.

Some of you said: this system can no longer be endured. We must change it; we must put human dignity again at the center and on that pillar build the alternative social structures we need. It must be done with courage, but also with intelligence, with tenacity but without fanaticism, with passion but without violence. And among us all, addressing the conflicts without being trapped in them, always seeking to resolve the tensions to reach a higher plane of unity, peace and justice. We, Christians, have something very lovely, a guide of action, we could say a revolutionary program. I earnestly recommend that you read it, that you read the Beatitudes that are in chapter 5 of Saint Matthew and 6 of Saint Luke (cf. Matthew 5:3 and Luke 6:20) and that you read the passage of Matthew 25. I said it to the young people at Rio de Janeiro, with those two things you have the plan of action.

I know that among you there are persons of different religions, jobs, ideas, cultures, countries, continents. Today you are practicing here the culture of encounter, so different from that of xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance, which we witness so often. Among the excluded there is that encounter of cultures where the whole does not cancel the particularity, the whole does not cancel the particularity. That is why I like the image of the polyhedron, a geometric figure with many different faces. The polyhedron reflects the confluence of all the partialities that keep their originality in it. Nothing is dissolved, nothing is destroyed, nothing is dominated, everything is integrated, everything is integrated. Today you are also looking for that synthesis between the local and the global. I know that you work day after day in what is close and concrete, in your territory, your neighborhood, your place of work: I invite you also to continue looking for that broader perspective; may our dreams fly high and embrace everything.

Therefore, that proposal seems important to me which some of you have shared with me that these movements, these experiences of solidarity, which grow from below, from the subsoil of the planet, should come together, be more coordinated, meet one another as you have done these days. Be careful, it is never good to confine a movement in rigid structures, that is why I said you should meet; much less is it good to try to absorb, direct or dominate it; free movements have their own dynamic but yes, we must try to walk together. We are in this hall, which is the hall of the old Synod; now there is a new one, and synod means, in fact,“to walk together”: may this be a symbol of the process that you have initiated and that you are carrying forward.

The Popular Movements express the urgent need to revitalize our democracies, so often kidnapped by innumerable factors. It is impossible to imagine a future for society without the active participation of the great majorities and that protagonism exceeds the logical proceedings of formal democracy. The prospect of a world of lasting peace and justice calls us to overcome paternalistic welfarism; it calls us to create new ways of participation that include the Popular Movements and animate local, national and international government structures with that torrent of moral energy that arises from the incorporation of the excluded in the building of a common destiny — and this, with a constructive spirit, without resentment, with love.

I accompany you with my heart on this journey. Let us say together from our heart: no family without a dwelling, no rural workers without land, no worker without rights, no person without the dignity that work gives.

Dear sisters and brothers: continue with your struggle, you do good to us all. It is as a blessing of humanity. I leave you as a memento, as a present and with my blessing, some Rosaries made by artisans, cardboard dwellers and workers of the popular economy of Latin America.

And in this accompaniment I pray for you, I pray with you and I want to ask Our Father God to support and bless you, to fill you with His love and accompany you on the way, giving you abundantly that strength that keeps us standing: that strength is hope, hope that does not disappoint. Thank you.

[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]

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