A four-day global social justice meeting in Modesto got off to a rousing start Thursday night with a cardinal from the Vatican exhorting attendees to be agents of change when it has never been needed more.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s department for integral human development, gave the keynote address for the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which has brought roughly 600 people from various faiths and secular organizations to the campus of Central Catholic High School through Sunday.
Turkson, who is a senior leader for Pope Francis and president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, read a letter from the pope “to encourage and strengthen each one of you.” The Vatican set three major themes – land, labor and lodging – for the sessions, which have taken place yearly since 2014 in Rome (twice) and Bolivia (once). Two other issues, racism and migration, were added for the Modesto meeting.
(Click here for the link to a video feed that will be live at various times this weekend.)
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Turkson acknowledged that the timing of the meeting, which had been planned for more than a year, has added resonance with the recent social upheaval in the United States following the election of Donald Trump as president.
“This title was not chosen in view of the present administration,” Turkson said. “It’s just very timely that we gathered to celebrate this year.”
The cardinal spoke of Trump’s plan to build a wall at the southern border of the United States and pointed out that the president is not the only one to pursue such an action.
“Hungary is also talking about building walls,” Turkson said. “You know the Eiffel Tower? The president of France is now thinking about building an 8-foot wall (to protect it).
“Now we’re going to start building walls,” he said, adding that such decisions are made out of insecurity, fear and desperation. Humans, he pointed out, are created in relationships – with God, with one another and with the Earth.
“We must respect the demands of the relationships in which we live,” he said. “Justice needs to be respected and observed on all levels.”
He urged attendees to be “the protagonists of change” and compared their efforts to a proverb of a broom.
“Individual spindles can be broken,” he said. “Together, (the broom is) not breakable. We cannot be broken.”
The sessions are not open to the public but may be followed online at popularmovements.org.