In an address that is likely to raise at least eyebrows in economic and political power corridors around the world, Pope Francis will speak this evening before the World Meeting of Popular Movements. Vaticanistas expect Pope Francis to expound on some of the themes of his recent encyclical "Laudato Si'" while continuing his broad criticism of the current global free market system, one he suggests treats people and Mother Nature too often as disposable components, a system which propels the "globalization of indifference" he has deplored.
The "popular movements" meeting brings together folks who can be said to subsist on the peripheries of the global market and traditional sites of power—a periphery Francis has exhorted the church to embrace—groups representing the indigenous, the poor, the unemployed and the landless, folks who might be regarded as the casualties and left-behinds of the current world economic order. The church, especially in Latin America, has lauded popular movements for their often creative and courageous resistance in typically vastly uneven confrontations over land rights, economic justice and cultural identity. The encounter with popular movements in Bolivia tonight represents the pope's second outreach to these groups.
At a first meeting in the Vatican in October last year, organized with the support of the Pontifical Justice and Peace Council and the Academy of Social Sciences, Pope Francis welcomed the efforts of popular movements as a means of addressing global inequities, citing the problem of landlessness in South America and high unemployment in Europe. He told them: “We need to return to making human dignity the center [of society]… and we need to create the alternative societal structures that we need.”
“I want to unite my voice with yours in this fight,” Pope Francis said to the group, urging Christian solidarity with such movements. “Solidarity is a word that…means more than some generous, sporadic acts," he told the representatives of popular movents in Rome. "It is to think and act in terms of the community…It is also to fight against the structural causes of poverty, inequality, unemployment, and [loss of] land, housing, and social and labor rights. It is to confront the destructive effects of the ‘Empire of Money:’ forcible displacements and migrations, human and drug trafficking, war, violence and all of these realities that many of you suffer and that we all are called to address and transform.
"Solidarity, understood in its most profound sense," Pope Francis said, "is a way of making history, and that is what the Popular Movements movement are doing.”
Putting people before profits is not exactly a new theme in church teaching, but Pope Francis has made this a consistent criticism and one which he expresses with a compelling frankness and compassion. He recently called on the Greece crisis to be resolved with an eye on protecting the people of Greece ahead of bondholders in Europe. "The dignity of the human person must remain at the centre of any political and technical debate," the pope said, "as well as in the taking of responsible decisions."
Though it certainly has a deeper lineage, the pope's attention to the concerns of popular movements can be documented as far back as 2007's Aparecida statement (he chaired its drafting committee) which worried that "Globalization is causing the emergence of new faces of the poor" before detailing the "new excluded" who warranted the attention of the church: "migrants, victims of violence, displaced people and refugees, victims of human trafficking and kidnappings, the disappeared, people sick with HIV and endemic diseases, drug addicts, adults, boys and girls who are victims of prostitution, pornography and violence or of child labor, abused women, victims of exclusion and traffic for sexual exploitation, differently-abled people, large groups of unemployed men and women, those excluded by technological illiteracy, street people in large cities, the indigenous and Afro-Americans, landless peasants and miners" (402).
Many of these "new faces" will be found tonight among those listening to the pope's speech.
At Aparecida, Latin American bishops also claimed a role at, if not prescribing socio-economic systems, to at least guiding lay people about that work:
The Church is called to be "advocate of justice and of the poor" in the face of intolerable social and economic inequalities, which "cry to heaven." We have much to offer because
The Church's social teaching is able to offer hope even in the worst of situations, because, if there is no hope for the poor, there will be no hope for anyone, not even for the so-called rich.
The preferential option for the poor demands that we devote special attention to those Catholic professional people who are responsible for the finances of nations, those who promote employment, and politicians who must create conditions for the economic development of countries, so as to give them ethical guidelines consistent with their faith" (395).
But while there may be nothing altogether new about the issues Pope Francis will raise tonight in Bolivia, these are the kind of Franciful sentiments and injunctions which have already led to allegations of papal Marxism by fuming pundits and anxious first world capitalists who have trouble imagining economic gradations between laissez faire and Leon Trotsky. Everyone else can simply take a breath and try to take the pope's overriding message to heart: can we imagine a future economic system that makes room alongside the profit-making for the protection of creation and people?