A group of liberal clergy and union leaders headed to the Vatican this week to lobby for Pope Francis to address race relations, income inequality and immigration reform, among other issues, in his upcoming trip to the United States.
During the four-day trip, the group of 14 met with representatives from a host of Catholic organizations, including two key cardinals who work on social justice issues.
Organized by the U.S. faith-based grassroots group PICO and the Service Employees International Union, the trip’s main goal was to get Pope Francis to highlight some liberal causes during his September visit.
“God cares about poor, low-wage workers. God cares about immigrants. God cares deeply about racial justice,” Bishop Dwayne Royster of the Living Water United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, one of Francis’ three major stops, told TIME. “So it’s very important that the faith community continue to lift up a moral voice and also a mirror to those in power.”
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An advocate of the “Fight for 15” movement, Royster hoped to get the Pope’s attention on labor relations in his home city. When Francis arrives, Royster noted, “he will come into an airport where we support poverty wages and people are working in an oppressive environment.”
Participants on the trip also took to social media, tweeting images from the Vatican with captions such as “#TellthePope,” “BlackLivesMatter,” and “IBelieveWeWillWin.”
Overall, the people on the trip said their goal was to advocate for the marginalized.
A former undocumented immigrant from California, Father Jesus Nieto-Ruiz went on the trip to push for Pope Francis to back President Obama’s recent executive actions allowing undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.
“The Pope and his advisors should listen to the real stories that we have picked up from people who are struggling in this society of exclusion,” he said. “People who have been here for many years, 25 or 30 years, and are now facing deportation because they don’t have documentation—they suffer in the shadows. And that’s not human.”
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For PICO, the trip was also part of an ongoing “Year of Encounter” campaign to tie together various liberal causes, such as universal health care, a path to citizenship and police brutality, into a broader mission.
It succeeded in one respect, with Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace inviting PICO to send a delegation in July to the Bolivian Assembly, where Pope Francis will speak during a Latin American tour.
For clergy members on the trip, the issues are both political and moral.
“The Gospel is political,” said Nieto-Ruiz. “We cannot distinguish and say, ‘Okay, the Gospel must explain theocracy,’ and then let the politicians run our lives with no principles whatsoever. Pope Francis is really incarnating for us the meaning of the Gospel. He’s inviting us to get involved in politics, even when politics is dirty.”
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