Liberation Theology

Pope and People

Joao Pedro Stedile

With his critiques and statements on injustice among human beings and his positions in favour of the poor, of workers and of all those excluded, Pope Francis, from the outset of his Pontificate, has pleasantly surprised militants of people's movements around the world, in contrast with his two predecessors.

The fact of having chosen the name Francis, with all the symbolism associated with Saint Francis of Assisi, whether in relation to personal conduct or within the Church, represents a historical and revolutionary event. No other Pontiff has had the courage to honour Francis of Assisi.

In all the issues on which he has spoken out—the war in Syria, hunger, the migration of Africans to Europe, unemployment, homeless people, etc.—he has always spoken clearly and strongly, without fear of naming the guilty, abandoning the traditional diplomatic discourse that justified the position of the Vatican being always on the side of the powerful and international entities.

Moreover, from the beginning, he has introduced changes leading to a process of internal democracy in the Vatican organizations, which had become veritable centralized monarchies, while he has boldly established sanctions against those figures in the Church implicated in criminal acts, which had previously been quietly swept under the rug.

With these winds of change, from the second half of 2013, there emerged signals that Pope Francis would like to build bridges with popular movements in the whole world. He had historical ties with movements of precarious workers in Argentina, and through them, the National Coordination of the Movements Sem Terra [Landless Workers] began the first dialogues for the organizing of a worldwide meeting of popular movements.

Toward the end of 2013, in the Vatican, with the participation of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Commission of Justice and Peace, National Coordination held several conversations in order to bring about the aspiration of Pope Francis. NC put together an initial seminar to debate the reasons for the social inequalities in the world, and how these were seen within the popular movements.

Later, a document drafted by nine scientists from around the world, tied to the international Via Campesina was present to explain to the Pope the reasons why GMO seeds and agrotoxins are a danger for humanity and nature.

Following the ongoing dialogue, a World Meeting of Popular Movements with Pope Francis in October of 2014 was organized. In the preparation for this meeting, there was a consensus to the effect that the representation should be from popular movements organized and engaged in the struggle to resolve three fundamental rights of persons: land to cultivate, a roof to live under and decent work.

Thus, more than 180 representatives of workers movements from the whole world gathered, with a broad plurality of religious beliefs, ethnic origins, gender, youth, sexual orientation and geographic representation from all continents. Neither Pope Francis nor the Vatican imposed conditions.

The encounter was historic. For the first time in the history of the Vatican, the Pope met with representatives of popular movements. The meeting was held in the hall of the old Synod, which for centuries had been used only by cardinals. He revealed that he had never been in this place.

In his own presentation, Pope Francis defended a program that was a synthesis of popular struggles, in which agitators must persevere, so that never again will there be farmers without land, workers without decent jobs, nor families without decent housing.
[Translated from original Spanish]

Vol. 48, No. 5, Aug 9 - 15, 2015