João Pedro Stedile

With his critiques and statements on injustice among human beings and his positions in favour of the poor, of workers and of all those excluded, Pope Francis, from the outset of his Pontificate, has pleasantly surprised militants of people’s movements around the world, in contrast with his two predecessors.

The fact of having chosen the name Francis, with all the symbolism associated with Saint Francis of Assisi, whether in relation to personal conduct or within the Church, represents a historical and revolutionary event. No other Pontiff has had the courage to honour Francis of Assisi.

In all the issues on which he has spoken out – the war in Syria, hunger, the migration of Africans to Europe, unemployment, homeless people, etc. – he has always spoken clearly and strongly, without fear of naming the guilty, abandoning the traditional diplomatic discourse that justified the position of the Vatican being always on the side of the powerful and international entities.

Moreover, from the beginning, he has introduced changes leading to a process of internal democracy in the Vatican organizations, which had become veritable centralized monarchies, while he has boldly established sanctions against those figures in the Church implicated in criminal acts, which had previously been quietly swept under the rug.

Dialogue with popular movements

With these winds of change, from the second half of 2013, we began to hear signals that he would like to build bridges with popular movements in the whole world. He had historical ties with movements of precarious workers in Argentina, and through them, we began the first dialogues for the organizing of a worldwide meeting of popular movements.

Toward the end of 2013, in the Vatican, with the participation of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Commission of Justice and Peace, we held several conversations in order to bring about the aspiration of Pope Francis. We put together an initial seminar to debate the reasons for the social inequalities in the world, and how we saw these within the popular movements.

Later, we presented a document drafted by nine scientists from around the world, tied to the international Via Campesina, to explain to the Pope the reasons why GMO seeds and agrotoxins are a danger for humanity and nature.

Following our ongoing dialogue, we organized a World Meeting of Popular Movements with Pope Francis in October of 2014. In the preparation for this meeting, there was a consensus to the effect that the representation should be from popular movements organized and engaged in the struggle to resolve three fundamental rights of persons: land to cultivate, a roof to live under and decent work. We were also explicit in our insistence that we should avoid representations tainted by international mechanisms, such as representatives of the Church, since these already have spaces to express themselves at an international level.

Thus, more than 180 representatives of workers movements from the whole world gathered, with a broad plurality of religious beliefs, ethnic origins, gender, youth, sexual orientation and geographic representation from all continents. Neither Pope Francis nor the Vatican imposed conditions.

The encounter was historic. For the first time in the history of the Vatican, the Pope met with representatives of popular movements. We met in the hall of the old Synod, which for centuries had been used only by cardinals. He revealed to us that he had never been in this place. And there we looked at the problems faced by workers, their causes, and proposals to find remedies.

In his own presentation, Pope Francis defended a program that was a synthesis of our struggles, in which we must persevere, so that never again will there be farmers without land, workers without decent jobs, nor families without decent housing.

Now we shall meet again in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia (July 9, 2015), on the occasion of his visit to that country. The representation of popular movements will be larger, with around 1500 of our companions, principally from South America. The objectives are the same: to reflect on our reality and look for real solutions that can contribute to a society that is more egalitarian, just and fraternal.’

(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)

– João Pedro Stedile is a member of the National Coordination of the Movimento Sem Terra (Landless Workers) –MST –and of the Via Campesina of Brazil.

* Article published in Spanish in edition 505 (June 2015) of ALAI’s magazine América Latina en Movimiento, titled “Francisco y los movimientos populares: Tierra, Techo y Trabajo”. (Francis and the people’s movements: Land, Roof and Work)


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