Year of Encounter—Days of Preparation

By Rich Fowler, Staff to Bishop Soto
Diocese of Sacramento

Pope Francis has captured the imagination of the world with his compassionate encounters with people of all walks of life and circumstance, and his insistent reminder that we have organized our economy in a way that undermines family and community life, while excluding whole groups of people seen as “disposable.”

From April 29 to May 1, almost 300 representatives of PICO organizations, parishes, and congregations across the United States gathered at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in preparation for Pope Francis’s visit to the United States in September. We launched an effort of faith-formation, education and organizing in response to Pope Francis’s leadership.

Sacramento ACT was represented in Philadelphia at this powerful event by Father Michael O’Reilly, pastor of the Cathedral of the Annunciation, Father Jovito Rata from St. Rose Parish in Sacramento, Antonio Campos, a Sacramento ACT Board Member and leader, Gabby Trejo and Danielle Williams, organizers with Sacramento ACT, and myself, representing Bishop Jaime Soto. We were all deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend.

Pope Francis has been clear and outspoken in his support for organizing as a way to confront the “evil of exclusion”. In a speech he delivered at the Vatican in October, 2014, Pope Francis said:

"The poor not only suffer injustice but they also struggle against it!...The poor will no longer wait; they want to be protagonists; they organize themselves, study, work, claim and, above all, practice that very special solidarity that exists among those who suffer, among the poor, whom our civilization seems to have forgotten,or at least would really like to forget.”

In Philadelphia, one of Pope Francis’s closest advisors, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, urged us to continue pressing policymakers to ensure the rights of poor people who are too often excluded and considered disposable. “There is money to rescue the banks, but no money to rescue the poor. This is unjust!”  he said.

The Cardinal shared Francis’ vision that it is in encountering one another, hearing one another’s stories, that we find grace and healing of societal wounds. “Only when people recognize the equality of one another, that we have the same rights, will we have respect for each other and love each other.”

Before we left Philadelphia, we considered how Pope Francis’s message can be more deeply shared in our own parishes and congregations, planning for a more in-depth look in small faith sharing groups at the evil of exclusion and the grace of encounter.