The Feb. 16-19 conference was held in Modesto, about 30 miles southeast of Stockton. It was organized with the support of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the PICO National Network.
The PICO network is composed of faith-based community organizations. It claims 1,000 member institutions representing over 1 million families in 17 U.S. states. The network’s Latin American branch has been supported for a decade by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, who now coordinates the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis. The cardinal addressed a launch event PICO’s “Year of Encounter with Pope Francis” campaign in early 2015.
The Pope himself sent a message to the California meeting that praised the gathering’s “constructive energies” and criticized the brutality of an economic system “that has the god of money at its center.” He encouraged their efforts “to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants.”
For Bishop McElroy, the meeting was an opportunity to call to rebuild the country.
“Let us disrupt and rebuild. And let us do God’s work,” he said, advocating the advancement of human dignity and equality.
“We must rebuild a nation in solidarity, what Catholic teaching calls the sense that all of us are the children of the one God,” he said, calling for a $15 minimum wage, decent housing, food for the poorest, and attention to environmental issues in the face of industrial threats.
“We must identify the ways in which our very ability to see, judge and act on behalf of justice is being endangered by cultural currents which leave us isolated, embittered and angry.”
Citing Benedict XVI, he said that truth itself is “under attack” and “whole industries have arisen to shape public opinion in destructively isolated and dishonest patterns.”
He said social issues like jobs, housing, immigration, economic disparities and the environment must be made “foundations for common efforts rather than of division.”
Bishop McElroy flatly criticized free market ideology as a rival to human dignity.
“The fundamental political question of our age is whether our economic structures and systems in the United States will enjoy ever greater freedom or whether they will be located effectively within a juridical structure which seeks to safeguard the dignity of the human person and the common good of our nation,” he said.
“In that battle, the tradition of Catholic social teaching is unequivocally on the side of strong governmental and societal protections for the powerless, the worker, the homeless, the hungry, those without decent medical care, the unemployed.”
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He placed property and wealth in the context of Catholic teaching that sees creation as God’s gift to all humanity.
“Wealth is a common heritage, not at its core a right of lineage or acquisition,” he said. “For this reason, free markets do not constitute a first principle of economic justice. Their moral worth is instrumental in nature and must be structured by government to accomplish the common good.”
The bishop stressed the “intrinsic human rights” to medical care, decent housing, protection of human life, food, and work. These rights are not merely negotiating points to discuss after the free market system has distributed wealth, he said.
“Rather, these rights are basic claims which every man, woman and family has upon our nation as a whole,” he said, warning that these rights are being denied to large numbers of people.
Bishop McElroy cited Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium and its description of an economy that excludes some people from meaningful participation in social, political, and economic life.
The bishop said that statements like “this economy kills” are not simply exaggerations. He suggested many people have known someone the economy has killed: a senior citizen who can’t afford medicine or rent; a mother or father who is working two or three jobs and is “really dying because even then they can’t provide for their kids;” and young people who turn to drugs, gangs, or suicide because they cannot find a job.