New Orleans I don’t know if Pope Francis sees himself as a community organizer or not, but if he doesn’t, I’m pretty sure he’s vying for a position as head cheerleader, and I swear I can see him waving an ACORN banner in the stands. John Russo, professor emeritus from Youngstown State and co-director of a center on workers there, sent me a link and a suggestion to check out a speech the Pope made in the Vatican in October to participants in a World Meeting of Popular Movements. My respect for John is towards the top of my list, but in all honesty, reading a speech by the Pope is about at the bottom of my list.
I was wrong for that. Reading about the Pope saddling up and riding in to address the European Parliament and essentially kicking their butt from here to tomorrow got me thinking that if he’s willing to stand that tall to the big whoops of Europe, what might he have really said when he was talking to people committed to building movements of change. The short answer: a mouthful! Sit back, because here it comes right at you.
There’s no sugar coating either. First he takes a well-deserved shot at NGO’s, saying,
Neither are they [the poor] 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 anesthetize or to domesticate.
Then he’s clear about the role of what he calls the “empire of money” and the role of solidarity:
…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.
As an organizer, if you ever need a pick-me-up, rather than another cup of coffee, you might want to take some props from the Pope, as he names us out for praise,
…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…
All of that is just Pope Francis’ warm-up, then he lets rip with the fire…
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.
Bam! Then here comes his one-two-three punch:
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.
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 in regard to some — but in general, behind a euphemism there is a crime.
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.
And, then in closing he pretty clearly tells all of us working with organizations and movements to build power for change and justice to get on the job!
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.