In an essay for The New York Times last November, Pope Francis exhorted us to “dare to create something new.” With the coronavirus pandemic reaching new heights, he challenged us to reject a strain of selfishness fed by a distorted ideology of personal freedom.
For this reason, the primary audience for Let Us Dream includes ordinary citizens and the institutions in which they organize. The book was written in collaboration with Austen Ivereigh, who previously worked with Citizens UK—which is a sister organization of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the largest and longest-operating community organizing coalition in the United States. (Listen to an interview with Mr. Ivereigh about the book on America’s “Inside the Vatican” podcast.) The “inclusive populism” of community organizing is a practical embodiment of Pope Francis’ vision.
In Let Us Dream, Francis urges the church to be more receptive to such popular alliances—accompanying them both practically and spiritually, without seeking to dominate. He identifies “labor” and “lodgings” as two of the key issues for grass-roots action. The success of the I.A.F.’s Living Wage campaigns, and its renewal of whole neighborhoods in New York and Baltimore through the Nehemiah Housing program, demonstrates the power of institution-based organizing. If parishes and dioceses heed the pope’s call to engage with new vigor in this work, it can play a significant role in the civic renewal that is so urgently needed.
Pope Francis has Criticized Both the Left and the Right’s Politics. Community Organizing Offers a Third Way, America, The Jesuit Review [pdf]
One way that ordinary people of faith can grow in the virtue of solidarity is to join a ministry or organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of those who Jesus called the “least brothers of mine.”
Take the Industrial Areas Foundation for instance. As one of the nation’s largest and oldest broad-based organizing networks, the IAF has its roots in the Catholic social tradition. By bringing together communities across the social, political and religious lines that usually divide, the IAF is effective at helping local faith and community-based organizations live out “their missions to achieve lasting change in the world.”
In May 2020, the IAF affiliates of California mobilized their networks to do just that. Although undocumented residents are vital to California’s economy, pay taxes and have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic, early COVID relief legislation enacted by Congress prevented them from accessing critical economic aid.
Through the IAF’s organizing of an unprecedented statewide Zoom action that included 1,200 faith leaders, 10 bishops and several lawmakers, ordinary people of faith succeeded in persuading Gov. Gavin Newsom to include undocumented workers and their families in the state’s COVID relief measures.
Like the IAF, CRS understands that lasting change, both social and spiritual, often comes about when ordinary citizens work together for a just and peaceful world. Through the building of God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven,” Christians can cultivate the virtue of solidarity while also giving witness to the radical communion that God desires for all of humanity and creation.
[Photo Credit: Sara Fajardo/Catholic News Service]
Catholic Social Teaching: Solidarity Means Commitment to the Common Good, The Dialog/Catholic News Service [pdf]