Grand Lady Visits with Pope Francis!

Grand Lady Sheila Thomas, (Ct 121)  visits the Pope at the Vatican!
Above: Grand Lady Sheila Thomas, Sacred Heart of Jesus Court 121 greets Pope Francis at the Vatican.

An interfaith delegation of 20 leaders and organizers from the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation met with Pope Francis to share their collective work of broad-based organizing at a time when the Pope is guiding the global church in a historic Synod listening process.

The Holy Father sat side by side with them in his residence, thanking each for inconveniencing themselves to come see him.  What ensued was a true dialogue, a 90-minute conversation in Spanish with lots of back-and-forth engagement.  The encounter was filled with many graced moments about both the joys and the struggles of their work, and the work of the Church, past, present, and to come. 

The invitation to meet was in large part due to the recognition of the work by local Bishops, in particular those involved with the Recognizing the Stranger strategy, which is dedicated to formation and leadership development of immigrant parishioners. As well, their involvement to support the Synod process in multiple dioceses has helped to bring those in the margins to the center of the synodal dialogue. 

As they shared their experiences of organizing, they were struck by how carefully he listened, asked questions, and engaged with much humor. Early on, he reflected back to them, “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar,’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes es parte de alguna teoría.  Ninguno dice ‘leí un libro y me interesó eso.’” (You constantly use the words “to see” and “to listen.. I am impressed that none of you start with any theory. No one says ‘I read a book and that interested me.’)  “El peligro es intelectualizar el problema” (The danger is when you intellectualize a problem.)

He stressed the importance of being with people and paying  attention to their reality, emphasizing Amor Concreto, love concretely in action, saying he understood our work as seeing and hearing of injustice in the real lives of our people, acting to change the situation, and being changed ourselves as a result. He expressed his appreciation for our focus on what we are doing, rather than to complain about what is not being done or to disparage anyone.No menosprecian a nadie.”

Before concluding, he thanked them for the visit, saying that although he had never known of IAF before, he was glad that he knew of it now.  He agreed to record a message of support for the Recognizing the Stranger convocation next February in San Antonio, and he welcomed further conversation around their continuing work with the Synod process.

Some in the delegation were able to meet also with others at the Vatican, including leadership in the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, the General Secretariat of the Synod, and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. It was a trip that opened many doors.

The attendees spent a full day in advance of the meeting with Pope Francis by conducting their own synodal process.  

The group teaches that power recognizes power.  For Pope Francis, “el verdadero poder es el servicio,” (“true power is service”).  Recounting the Good Samaritan, he clearly stated that the Gospel cannot be understood without acting with those who are suffering.  He recognized the leaders and organizations of the IAF and the powerful work that is happening every day at the margins. He referred to the IAF as “Good News for the United States.” 

The group was humbled to represent the many decades of work from those who preceded then, and they are encouraged in the continuation of their work into the future. 

Adapted from a communication from One LA - IAF