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Each Pope of the Catholic Church carries a distinct brand in the course of performing their functions as very influential people in the world. The euphoria that greeted the choice of Pope Francis as the reigning Pope which makes him Bishop of Rome and absolute sovereign of the Vatican city state seems to be increasing as the world gets to know him better.

Being the first Jesuit Pope, the first from the Americas and the first non-European Pope since the Syrian Gregory III after 1,272 years is enough basis to show that Pope Francis carries a unique performance of his role as the Holy Father.

Throughout his public, individual and religious life, Pope Francis is known to be a humble grass root person, a friend of the poor and somebody who believes in dialogue as a way of breaking down the political, racial and religious barriers which fuel conflicts. Pope Francis was described as the “Slum Bishop” when he worked with other Catholic Priests and groups in the slums of Buenos Aires to improve the living conditions of slum dwellers when he was the Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires.

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With a background of an activist and a strong religious conviction of commitment to work for a just world where the poor have dignity of rights, Pope Francis through the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences organised the first Global Meeting of Popular Movements in the Vatican on three thematic areas of Land, Housing and Labour from 27th to 29th October 2014.

The meeting brought together over hundred and fifty representatives of Popular Movements, Priests, Bishops, Arch Bishops and Cardinals working on different issues relating to land, housing and labour which affect the poor and marginalised in all the corners of the earth.

The Global meeting was opened by His Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson who described the meeting as an opportunity to listen not only to the sufferings but the hopes and aspirations of the poor and marginalised.

“The poor must be protagonists of their own lives, and not simply passive recipients of the charity or plans of others. They must be protagonists of the needed economic and social, political and cultural changes,” he said.

His Eminence Cardinal Turkson was of the view that individuals and families live with enormous sufferings and every country seems to be infected with what he described as a “ throw-away” culture with the population of marginalised and rejected people especially among the youth and the old increasing.

Cardinal Turkson reminded the meeting that it is for these reasons that “Pope Francis continually reminds the Church to go to the peripheries of human existence and embrace the excluded, the marginalised, those who are rejected and in danger of being discarded.”

His Eminence Cardinal Turkson asked the representatives of the Popular Movements to regard themselves as people who have been entrusted with the responsibility of stewardship for the poor and marginalised when he led the celebration of mass for the representatives of the Popular Movements in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on the second day of the meeting which was followed by a meeting with the Holy Father, Pope Francis.

The meeting with Pope Francis took place in an old Synod Hall in the Vatican and his presence in the Hall aroused very electrifying applause and shouts of “Viva Pope Francis”, “Viva Papa” from all the participants.

Pope Francis spoke strongly against global inequalities and called for a change of the system which he described as “an idolatrous cult of money and global indifference.” The Holy Father expressed the strong view that Jesus would call “hypocrite” those who want to face “the scandal of poverty by promoting strategies of containment that only convert the poor into domestic and inoffensive beings”.

Pope Francis admitted that the Popular Movements find themselves confronting strong forces which he described as “the destructive effects of the empire of money,” and asked the Popular Movements to build alternative social structures with courage but also with intelligence, tenacity, passion and not violence. He said that the meeting of the Popular Movements is a great sign that the poor “will not settle for illusory promises, excuses or alibis”.

The Holy Father said that solidarity “means more than some generous, sporadic acts. It is to think and act in terms of the community. It is also to fight against the structural causes of poverty, inequality, unemployment, loss of land, housing problems, social and labour rights”.

On the issue of unemployment, Pope Francis said that “There is no material poverty worse than the one where it is impossible to earn a living and without the dignity of work. Unemployment is not inevitable, but is the result of a “social option, of an economic system that puts profits before the person”, a culture that rejects the human being as “a commodity.” The Pope told the popular movements to raise their voices when he said that “We want your voices to be heard than in general go unheard… perhaps because people are afraid of the change you demand,” he stated.

Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia who attended the meeting in his capacity as an indigenous person addressed the meeting and affirmed the statements of the Pope that land, work and housing should be recognised as human rights.

I am proud of my participation in the historic Global Meeting of Popular Movements organised by the Vatican. The humility of Pope Francis and his commitment to the poor encouraged all the participants. Though not all of us belong to the Catholic Faith, we were linked together by a common goal of working towards a just world where the poor and marginalised would have improvements in their living conditions and enjoy their God-given dignity.

The message of the Holy Father that, “there should be no family without a home. No farmer without land. No worker without rights,” continues to resonate in my mind.

I am grateful to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences for inviting me to the First Global Meeting of Popular Movements which gave me the opportunity to carry a message from the poor mining communities in Ghana to the Holy Father.

Source: Hannah Owusu-Koranteng (Associate Executive Director of Wacam

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