We were an interfaith group of 20 lay leaders, clergy and professional organizers from the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation, a representation of a decades-long tradition of community organizing in the United States, of which Catholic communities and parishes have played a major role. Parish-based organizing began in earnest with the founding of Communities Organized for Public Service [COPS/Metro] in San Antonio 50 years ago.
We shared stories of organizing to bring running water and basic services to over a million people along the southern border, about working to combat human trafficking, of creating efforts to move poor families into living wage career paths and of helping to develop leadership among the immigrant community in our parishes. Our leaders spoke to their development as public persons, worthy of recognition in civil society and local democracy.
Not long into the conversation, Pope Francis interjected, “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar.’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes parte de alguna teoría. Ninguno dice ‘leí un libro y me interesó eso.’” (“You frequently used the words ‘to see’ and ‘to listen.’ I am impressed that none of you start from a theory. No one says, ‘I read a book and that interested me.’”) Then he added, “el peligro a veces es intelectualizar el problema.” (“The danger sometimes is to intellectualize the problem.”)
He stressed the importance of being with people and paying attention to one’s reality, emphasizing amor concreto, love concretely in action, saying that he saw our work as seeing and hearing of injustice in the real lives of our people, acting to change the situation, and being changed ourselves as a result.
[Photo Credit: Rabbi John A. Linder]
The Day Pope Francis Welcomed Community Organizers from the Southwest to the Papal Residence, America: The Jesuit Review [pdf]