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A Reflection on the World Meeting of Peoples’ Movements: An Interfaith Approach to Abundant Life

A Reflection on the World Meeting of Peoples’ Movements: An Interfaith Approach to Abundant Life

By Sylvia Knight

Tierra, Trabajo, y Techo in Spanish. Terra, Labora, Domus in Latin. Land, Work, Housing in English, as well as Immigration and Racism. These were the themes of a conference of roughly 500 people assembled by the social justice arm of the Catholic Church under Pope Francis’ direction. The interfaith grassroots organization People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) partnered with the Catholic Church in this endeavor. PICO is the interfaith parent organization for Vermont Interfaith Action (VIA). A delegation of six people from Chittenden County associated with VIA attended this convention: Marita Canedo of Migrant Justice, Rachel Kauppila, Hemant Tamang Ghising, a refugee from Nepal and employee of Burlington’s School District, Brother Francis Hagerty, Society of St. Edmunds, and Robert Wright and I of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. We gathered at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, in the Central Valley of California, from February 16 to 19. Our lodging at area motels, transportation between motels and the conference, and our food were provided by the Catholic Church.

What a wonderful gathering of God’s people it was: Immigrant farmworkers, ex-offenders, bishops, professors, community organizers, clergy, Franciscan brothers, women religious, black people, brown people, white people. One speaker remarked, “Heaven must look like this!” We listened to speakers ranging from domestic workers to bishops, talking about wage theft, water pollution, fair food campaigns, racism, droughts, climate change, unjust prison systems, and immigration. Racism runs through many of these human problems and was called America’s original sin by one speaker.

Are we engaged in “othering” processes that exclude people from the economic systems? How can we disrupt those  processes?

The Vermont delegation to WMPM: l to r: Hemant Demang Ghising, refugee from Nepal; Marita Canedo, outreach staff for Migrant Justice; Sylvia Knight and Bob Wright, members of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul and VIA and allies of Migrant Justice; Brother Francis Hagerty, Society of St. Edmund, working in prison ministry; Rachel Kauppila, member of St. Paul’s working with Local Organizing Ministry on Criminal Justice Reform.

All of us spent time in small groups with similar diversities, telling stories about what is happening in our communities, urging honest conversations, and sharing what we are doing to solve problems. We formed relationships. We were urged to teach and practice solidarity as compared to charity, and to disrupt economies that exclude people, or destroy us and our communities.  Our groups considered how we might disrupt the economy of exclusion. Are we engaged in “othering” processes that exclude people from the economic systems? How can we disrupt those “othering ” processes?  How is our economy an instrument of destruction of other people’s land and water?  Each group came up with several recommendations for a summary document to be shared with Pope Francis.

One of the most powerful speeches was that of Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego on Saturday. He spoke of God’s gift of Life and Creation to all humanity. We must identify how our ability to see, judge and act are being endangered, how we can keep united and maintain hope. Referring to Pope Francis’ encyclical “Joy of the Gospel”, McElroy said that human needs rather than corporate profit must be the basis of the economic system; that inequality is the root of social evil, that capitalism kills those who are not useful as consumers. He described work as a part of what it means to be created by God, that work can be a way in which we participate with God in Creation. We must work for humanization of truth, and disrupt the detention and criminalization of immigrants and become rebuilders of the new economy of justice.

My heart and mind are filled with the wisdom, spirit, strength and courage shared there, and have only touched on some of what I heard there. You can read and see more at  and  at   I am further convinced of God’s calling to work in solidarity with  those who are marginalized, to build a just, inclusive society and economy, to oppose mass deportation of our immigrant neighbors, and to dismantle racism and the economy of exclusion and death.

Lord Jesus, you came that all might have abundant life; be with us in this work!

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