Let’s say you’re the top administrator at a small Catholic high school in Modesto. One day the bishop mentions that the Vatican – yes, the Vatican – wants to send about 600 people to spend four days on your campus for meetings literally geared to change the world in terms of social justice.
Oh, and one of the most prominent cardinals from within Pope Francis’s inner circle will be among those attending.
Wait, one more thing: The pope himself might teleconference in, as well.
Tremendous honor or logistical nightmare?
“Actually, we look forward to it,” chuckled Jim Pecchenino, president of Central Catholic High School, adding that it is, indeed, an honor.
“It” is the World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM), a mass gathering of grassroots social justice leaders from all over the world who will converge in Modesto from Thursday through Feb. 19 to discuss, share and learn with and from each other in an effort to combat injustices in their various communities.
Bishop Stephen Blaire from the Diocese of Stockton contacted Pecchenino several months ago about holding the conference at Central Catholic. The campus opened its new Mark Gallo Health and Fitness Center in August, which also was designed as a large event center. The facility made the school a perfect choice.
That conversation will revolve around three main themes as set by the Vatican, according to Steve Pehanich, director of communications and advocacy with the California Catholic Conference, one of several organizing groups behind the event – “land, labor and lodging.” In addition, organizers got together with some of the grassroots leaders to define additional topics to be discussed; racism and migration were added for the Modesto meeting.
While the conference is an interfaith gathering, more than 30 U.S. bishops as well as Vatican officials will attend. Most notably among them is Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development. Turkson is among Pope Francis’s senior leaders and president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
While Pope Francis could participate via satellite, there’s been no confirmation, Pehanich said, adding that making a firm commitment would mean a lot of disappointed people if something were to come up and make the pope’s presence impossible.
The goal is for each grassroots member to take what they learn over the four days and use it to implement change and improvement back home, according to Pehanich.
Organizers say the Central Valley was chosen for the WMPM because its diverse population knows firsthand the economic and social hardships within those main land, work and housing themes.
“The idea behind these (meetings) is to have them in the peripheries. The idea is to go where the people are that the pope is trying to energize,” Pehanich said.
This will be the fourth WMPM, with previous conferences held in 2014 and 2016 in Rome and 2015 in Bolivia. This week’s Modesto gathering marks the first in the United States, according to another of the organizers, PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing, the largest network of faith-based groups in the nation).
Full story at The Modesto Bee.