From the 16th to the 19th February, 2017 took place in Modesto, California first U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM).
Even though, Popular movements have a long history all around the world, those that made history during the 20th century were from Latin America. Their birth can be scheduled when “Latin America became independent from Spain in the 1820s”. At that moment, “popular groups faced the challenge of finding a place for themselves in the new, postcolonial nation-states.
From being subjects of a European monarch, subaltern groups—be they indigenous peoples, Afro-Latin Americans, artisans, campesinos, women, or soldiers—now occupied an undefined social and political space in nation-states created, at least initially, by powerful elites” (Popular Movements in Nineteenth-Century Latin America).
These Popular Movements often found themselves on the opposite side of the Catholic hierarchy in Latin America, due to John Paul 2nd and Cardinal Ratzinger’s opposition to Liberation Theology. On 2014, an initiative of Pope Francis, took place in Rome, the first WMPM’ whose purpose was to create an “encounter” between Church leadership and grassroots organizations working to address the “economy of exclusion and inequality” by working for structural changes that promote social, economic and racial justice.
“The poor not only suffer injustice, they also struggle against it! – said Pope Francis in his address to participants-. You are not satisfied with empty promises, with alibis or excuses. Nor do you wait with arms crossed for NGOs to help, for welfare schemes or paternalistic solutions that never arrive …You want to be protagonists.
You get organized, study, work, issue demands and, above all, practise that very special solidarity that exists among those who suffer, among the poor, and that our civilization seems to have forgotten or would strongly prefer to forget. Solidarity is a word that is not always well received.”
Then Pope Francis stressed the aims: “This meeting of ours responds to a very concrete desire, something that any father and mother would want for their children – a desire for what should be within everyone’s reach, namely land, housing and work.”
The second WMPM was held in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, on the 7th 8th & 9th of July 2015. The conviction that social and environmental issues are two sides of the same coin bringing to final commitments: Deepening the process of change; Living in harmony with Mother Earth; Supporting decent work; Looking for decent housing; Defending Land and Food Sovereignty; Building peace and culture of encounter; Combating discrimination; Promoting freedom of expression; Bringing science and technology to serve the people; Rejecting consumerism and supporting solidarity.
The address of Pope Francis there marked some poignant questions: “Do we truly realize that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farm workers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected? Do we realize that something is wrong where so many senseless wars are being fought and acts of fratricidal violence are taking place on our very doorstep? Do we realize something is wrong when the soil, water, air and living creatures of our world are under constant threat?
The 3rd WMPM was in Rome again (November 2nd -5th, 2016) and gathered 3,000 participants. The day after they assembled in Saint Peter Square. Addressing them, Pope Francis talked about the “invisible thread”: “What governs then? Money. How does it govern? With the whip of fear, of inequality, of economic, social, cultural and military violence.”
The Modesto WMPM brought together hundreds of grassroots leaders from various communities across the United States with representatives from the Vatican, international grassroots groups, and U.S. Bishops. It was thus opening the season of the WMPM regional meetings, raising the hope that popular movements can rise once again besides the politics as a sincere and non-violent strength of change. A real advocacy action.
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO
with consultative special status at UN