Grass-roots leaders join call for 'disrupting' oppression that hurts many

IMAGE: CNS/Dennis Sadowski

By Dennis Sadowski

Calif. (CNS) — Affirming that all human life is sacred and all people are “protagonists
of their future,” more than 600 grass-roots leaders echoed the call of a
U.S. bishop to disrupt practices that cause oppression and violate human dignity.

leaders attending the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements concluded the
four-day meeting Feb. 19 saying in a final message that a “small elite is
growing wealthy and powerful off the suffering of our families.”

and white supremacy are America’s original sins. They (the elites) continue to
justify a system of unregulated capitalism that idolizes wealth accumulation
over human needs,” said the “Message from Modesto.”

message broadly echoed Pope Francis’ regular critiques of the world economy in
which he has said the accumulation of wealth by a few people has harmed the dignity
of millions of people in the human family.

representatives from dozens of faith-based and secular community organizations,
labor unions and Catholic dioceses representing an estimated 1 million people called
for eight actions to be undertaken. The actions included inviting faith
communities, including every Catholic parish, to declare their sites a
sanctuary for people facing deportation by the U.S. government; developing local
leadership to hold elected officials accountable and, when possible to recruit
grass-roots leaders to seek elected office; and a global week of action May 1-7
in which people “stand together against hatred and attacks on

too many leaders in this room not to mobilize,” Takia Yates-Binford of East St. Louis,
Illinois, who represented the Service Employees International Union, said as
the meeting ended.

delegates called for “bold prophetic leadership” from faith
communities to speak and act in solidarity with citizens on the margins of
society. Participants in plenary sessions and small-group discussions challenged
clergy, including the Catholic hierarchy, to be in the forefront of movements to
seek justice on social issues for people outside of mainstream society.

their message, delegates said they wanted to see the seeds planted in Modesto blossom
across the country in statewide and regional gatherings to bring the vision of
the four meetings of popular movements held to date and the pope’s message of
hope and courage to every U.S. community.

The final
message reflected the words of Bishop
Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, whose stirring presentation a day
earlier invited people to follow the example of President Donald Trump, who
campaigned as the candidate of “disruption.”

now, we must all become disruptors,” Bishop McElroy told the delegates Feb.
18 to sustained applause. “We must disrupt those who would seek to send
troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers
from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather
than our brothers and sisters in terrible need.

“We must disrupt those who train
us to see Muslim men and women as a source of fear rather than as children of
God. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition
assistance from the mouths of children.”

At the
same time, Bishop McElroy said, people of faith must rebuild society based on justice for everyone.

have to rebuild this nation so that we place at its heart the service of the
dignity of the human person and assert what that flag behind us asserts is our
heritage: Every man, woman and child is equal in this nation and called to be equal,”
he said.

McElroy’s words in a plenary session on labor and housing followed a video greeting from
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of
Newark, New Jersey, in which he said the concentration of wealth and
political power in the country “threatens to undermine the health of our

families cope with economic stress and feel no elected official at any level of
government cares about their plight, people tend to withdraw from civic
participation and effectively disenfranchise themselves, leaving special
interest groups, lobbyists and “even demagogues” to fill the void,
Cardinal Tobin said.

Such a
situation has given rise to populist and nationalist sentiments in the U.S.
under which the blame for the economic struggles of some are placed on today’s
“scapegoats” including immigrants, Muslims and young people of color,
he said, rather than toward the architects of what the pope has called the
economy of exclusion. The rising fear and anxiety among people in the dominant
culture has given rise to “the sins of racism and xenophobia,” he

Tobin used Pope Francis’ calls for encounter and dialogue as necessary steps to
overcome fear, alienation and indifference. “Encounter and dialogue create
the capacity for solidarity and accompaniment,” he said.

is our responsibility to respond to the pain and anxiety of our brothers and
sisters. As popular movements, your role is to knit together strong communal
networks that can gather up the experiences and suffering and aspiration of the
people and push for structural changes that affirm the dignity and value of
every child of God,” Cardinal Tobin said.

Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told the gathering as the final message was
adopted that the church was “here to accompany you and support you

Catholic Church believes that the joys and the hope, the grief and the anguish
of people of our time, especially those who are poor or who are isolated, these
also are the joys and the hope and the grief and the anguish of the followers
of Christ,” Cardinal Turkson said.

organizers, which included the PICO National Network of congregation-based organizations and the U.S. bishops’ Catholic
Campaign for Human Development, planned to send the message and a comprehensive
report on the proceedings to the pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The USCCB and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development co-sponsored
the gathering.

U.S. gathering was the first regional meeting in a series encouraged by Pope
Francis to bring people working to improve poor and struggling communities
around the world through organizing initiatives, prayer and social action. Three
previous meetings since 2014 — two in Rome and one in Bolivia — have focused
on land, labor and housing. The U.S. meeting added immigration and racism to
the topics being discussed.

with the grass-roots volunteer leaders and professional organizers, 25 prelates
attended the California meeting and several addressed the plenary sessions
including Archbishop Jose H.
Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, on immigration, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana,
on racism, and Bishop Oscar Cantu
of Las Cruces, New Mexico, on the environment.

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Editor’s Note: The
full Message from Modesto can be read online at

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Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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