Pope Francis kisses the foot of an inmate during Holy Thursday Mass March 29, 2018, at Regina Coeli prison in Rome. "Christian wisdom can never be separated from mercy toward our neighbor," the pope wrote in his apostolic exhortation, "Gaudete et Exsultate" ("Rejoice and Be Glad"), released April 9, 2018. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Politics can be regenerated by recognizing the importance of spirituality in people's lives, Pope Francis said.

"That is why it is essential that faith communities meet together and fraternize in order to work 'for and with the people'" and why it is urgent to build the future "from below, from a politics with the people, rooted in the people," he said in a video message.

The pope's message in Spanish was sent to an international conference held online April 15 discussing ways people could answer the pope's call for the church to embrace "a politics rooted in the people," with a focus on broad-based grassroots organizing and inclusive "popular movements."

Titled "A Politics Rooted in the People," the conference theme was inspired by the pope's book, "Let Us Dream," and participants included Catholic and Christian workers, community organizers, academics and clergy.

The event was organized by the U.K.-based Centre for Theology & Community, the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development and other Catholic organizations and institutions.

With the Catholic Campaign for Human Development celebrating its 50th anniversary, the pope sent members special greetings in his video message, highlighting CCHD's work in "helping the poorest communities in the United States to live with greater dignity, promoting their participation in the decisions that affect them."

The increased poverty and loss of employment that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic have made "all the more urgent and necessary" the work and witness of the groups attending the conference, he said, given that their mission is to "walk with the people in their search for work, wages and housing."

He noted how they have spent many years in "the peripheries," working with the people and their movements, resulting in some people accusing them of being "too political, others of trying to impose religion."

"But you understand that respect for the people means respect also for their institutions, including their religious ones; and that the role of those institutions is not to impose anything but to walk with the people, reminding them of the face of God who always goes before us," Pope Francis said.

This is why, he said, he wished every diocese in the world consistently would collaborate with grassroots or popular movements.

After all, he said, the church was born "in the margins of the cross," and the church's mission is reinvigorated by meeting "the risen, wounded Christ in our poorest communities."

"If the church disowns the poor, she ceases to be the church of Jesus; she falls back on the old temptation to become a moral or intellectual elite," and the same goes for politics, he said.

When political life turns its back on the poor, it "will never be able to promote the common good," and when it ignores the peripheries, it "will never be able to understand the center and will confuse the future with a self-projection, as if in a mirror."

Engaging and walking with the excluded avoids "political paternalism," he said.

"When people are cast aside, they are denied not just material well-being but the dignity of acting, of being a protagonist of their own destiny and history, of expressing themselves with their values and culture, their creativity and fruitfulness," which is why the church cannot separate its promotion of social justice from recognizing the culture, values and spiritual values of the people, he said.

"The contempt for the culture of the people is the beginning of the abuse of power," he said, and "in recognizing the importance of spirituality in the lives of the people, we regenerate politics."

Faith communities must come together and work "for and with the people," through dialogue, mutual cooperation, reciprocal understanding and always at the service of the people.

"Now, more than ever, dear friends, we must build a future from below, from a politics with the people, rooted in the people," he said.

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