BY: Larry Miller
POSTED: September 25, 2015
Overlapping with the two-day visit of Pope Francis here is a three-day, interfaith conference of clergy and lay leaders called the Faith Matters in America summit.
The conference begins Friday at Noon and ends Sunday, after the papal Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway. The purpose of the conference is to bring together more than 300 faith leaders from more than a dozen states and refocus the church and society toward helping the marginalized and oppressed. The conference is meant to help participants deepen their understanding about how Pope Francis’ leadership is calling them to action for the betterment of families and society. It is being hosted by the PICO National Network and its local affiliate POWER — Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild. The conference will be held at the Sheraton Downtown Philadelphia, Liberty Ball Room, 201 North 17th Street.
Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER and who was part of the PICO delegation to the Vatican earlier this year, said Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the country and Pope Francis’ message is not new.
“This is a broad faith-based call for social justice,” he said. “The pope’s message is not a new one, the faith-based community has been preaching about this for a long time. But Pope Francis is on the world stage right now and we’re embracing this opportunity to spread the message of justice and hope. We want to reorient faith for justice and bring about a 21st century covenant with America. Our work is rooted in race and economics. We intend to help refocus the church and society based on the needs of people who are most oppressed and marginalized. That includes immigrants, the incarcerated, struggling workers, and young men and women of color who have little or no hope for their futures. Philadelphia is one of the poorest big cities in America and we have an underfunded school system. If you can’t educate the young people you basically set them up for failure.”
Faith leaders will hold panel discussions with key advisers of Pope Francis including His Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Discussions will also be held with Ferguson Commission member Pastor Traci Blackmon and other members in the Black Lives Matter movement.
At the summit, nearly 300 key faith leaders and allies from more than a dozen states will gather to make plans to bring Pope Francis’ message home and put his call into action. The goal of the summit is to help participants to deepen their own faith and understanding about how Pope Francis’ religious leadership is calling them to act in this moment and train people to return home and put their faith into action collectively.
PICO National Network is the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the country. It works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 45 local and state federations. PICO was founded by Fr. John Baumann, a Catholic Jesuit priest, in 1972 as a Ministry of the California Province of the Jesuits.
“Pope Francis, through his words and actions, is clearly calling us to work for structural changes that address the ‘economy of exclusion,’ through efforts aimed at supporting racial and economic justice,” said the Most Rev. Joseph W. Tobin, Archbishop of Indianapolis. “The work of faith-based community organizing is a constitutive element of our Christian faith, and the Catholic Church in the U.S. is deeply engaged in working for restorative justice, immigration reform, economic justice, and racial healing. The Holy Father’s visit provides an opportunity to reflect on the inequalities which persist in our society and to deepen our commitment to work for justice.”
POWER represents different congregations from all across the city. It strives to bring together people across the lines of race, faith, income level and neighborhoods divisions, which have historically kept Philadelphians divided. It is a coalition of people of faith committed to the work of bringing about justice here and now, in the city and the region.
Royster said race affects everything in America. Families, he said, are being torn apart by poverty, mass incarceration and other social injustices.
“There’s something truly sinister about that. By strengthening and mobilizing our networks of relationships, we seek to exercise power in the public arena so that the needs and priorities of all Philadelphians are reflected in the systems and policies that shape our city,” he said. “Something is stirring in the religious community in America. Pope Francis’ visit presents the opportunity to reassert an urgent and imperative emphasis on human dignity and godly love.”