In 2015, Ceres resident Silvia Camarillo traveled to Bolivia to take part in the third Vatican-led social justice conference, where she was inspired and energized to return to the Central Valley and continue her mission to help those in need.
Now, the Vatican’s fourth such gathering will travel to Camarillo when the World Meeting of Popular Movements brings 600 grassroots social justice leaders to Modesto this week.
The WMPM, which will run Thursday through Sunday, will be held at Central Catholic High School’s new event center. The interfaith conference, which is not open to the public, encourages community social leaders leaders to share and learn with and from each other in an effort to combat injustices in their various communities – notably on the topics of environment, labor and housing.
Camarillo sees such issues as the administrator at St. Jude Catholic Church in Ceres as well as during her social justice work in low-income parts of Modesto. She said not only do those topics set forth by the Vatican for the WMPM resonate here, so do two topics added by organizers after conferring with the grassroots leaders: immigration and racism.
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It’s those last two topics that Camarillo feels will be key when she joins the international gathering in Modesto, particularly because the recent presidential election put Donald Trump and his hard stance on immigration into the White House.
“Now we’re facing the consequences (of the election) and that is affecting the minority groups,” she said. “A lot of students (in Stanislaus County) are in the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects youths who came here as children from deportation),” she said. “So what’s going to happen to them? We have a lot of students that are here because of that. And we have a lot of students that are here who were born here but their parents are not legal residents, so what’s going to happen to those families?”
Those are questions she expects to be addressed at the WMPM; she hopes there will be a good dialogue that ultimately will lead to answers at the community level.
We have to continue to work together and we all can put in our little seed to make that difference.
“We’re faced with this problem, so what can we do to help? How are we going to make a difference to all of these families that are already living in fear?” she said. “You have people who are even afraid to register as a member (of the St. Jude parish) because they’re thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, are you going to be sending that information to immigration?’ And it’s just the registration here for a parishioner.
“It is something real, it is affecting our communities and you see it in the families.”
No matter the topics, Camarillo feels confident that everything discussed will be taken back to the Vatican by Cardinal Peter Turkson, one of Pope Francis’ closest and most prominent advisers and prefect of Integral Human Development. She was able to spend a great deal of time with Turkson while in Bolivia.
“I was seated next to the cardinal. Every morning for breakfast, that’s who we got to network with,” she said. She found Turkson to be particularly “humble and very approachable.”
“He really listened to what we had to say,” Camarillo said. “Who would have thought that the Central Valley would have been of interest?”
Turkson will offer the keynote address at the Modesto gathering on Thursday evening.
Camarillo’s experience in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, included a “front row seat to the pope” who spoke at the WMPM and offered Mass to residents there. While there’s no confirmation one way or the other, it’s possible that Pope Francis will teleconference into the Modesto gathering; as of now, a letter from the pope is on the agenda for Sunday morning’s closing program.
While most of the attendees in Modesto will be from the United States, there will be 10 or 11 delegations from other countries, according WMPM organizers. That will be starkly different from Camarillo’s experience in Bolivia, she said, where she was one of only five people from the U.S.; the others were two each from Fresno and Los Angeles.
It took some ice breaking for the small American contingent to feel welcome, she said.
“They were very held back in the sense that ‘What does the United States have to offer in this? Your country does not suffer from poverty; you don’t have any problems like we do here.’ So at first we were not very welcome,” Camarillo said. But Camarillo and the other four American attendees were able to speak during the small workshops, enabling them to share that Americans also face issues such as low wages, homelessness and environmental concerns.
Among those at the Bolivia meeting who particularly touched Camarillo was a group of women who work in the landfills in the country, recycling garbage as a means to supplement their income while also helping the environment. “To them, cleaning the garbage was their way of contributing to cleaning up our environment. They were saying how that’s not respected,” she said.
“It was there that I got to speak about the United States and our Central Valley and I told them, ‘No, we suffer from homelessness, we have poverty, we have similar issues that you do,’ ” she said. “ ’The one thing that maybe is distinctive about the United States is here we have more possibilities to make a change, it’s up to us to want to do it. Whereas you have maybe a government that isn’t supportive of that, maybe you’re more limited in resources.’ ”
The early cold shoulders quickly warmed and the Americans were welcomed into the networking circles – important because networking is the greatest asset that attendees came away with from the meetings.
“I’m hoping that from here, with the networking from the leaders, we can say, ‘You go in here, you do this, how about helping here,’ ” she said. “Our resources are here, it’s a matter of who’s willing to step up and who’s willing to dedicate and sacrifice their time to help those in need.”
Pat Clark: 209-578-2312