Tuesday, May 19, 2015

As Catholics and non-Catholics alike prepare for Pope Francis' visit to the United States in September, the pontiff's message of greater solidarity with poor people is resonating with a wide-ranging group of faith-based social justice advocates. Almost 300 representatives of parishes and organizations from 50 dioceses across the United States aligned with the PICO National Network gathered at St. Joseph's University April 30 and May 1 to launch a yearlong effort of faith formation and social action on poverty to take advantage of the momentum building around the papal trip. The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States is partnering with the PICO National Network, a coalition of faith-based advocacy organizations, in the effort. Event organizers cited the pope's apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel") and its searing critique of social and economic injustices as motivation for the initiative. Joseph Fleming, executive director of PICO New Jersey, said the yearlong faith formation project was developed because "Catholic parishioners are hungering to connect peace and justice." Catholic organizations make up one-third of PICO's 1.2 million members nationally, making them a prime audience for the effort, he added. While specific programs will be developed locally, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, president of Caritas Internationalis and one of the pope's advisers on Council of Cardinals, provided those gathered with a Gospel-based explanation of why it is important to engage with and advocate on behalf of poor people.