NEW YORK – According to a top official with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the unity of the Church that would be represented on a papal visit to Argentina could help create a new social dialogue and unity in the country at a critical economic and political juncture.

“In the Church we are together. People have different perspectives, but all of us are Catholics,” Emilce Cuda, the Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, told Crux. “That is Catholicism … working together with the people who think differently because we are Catholics.”

“So, in that sense, in Argentina the moment is absolutely critical economically and politically, and the people are saying that if Pope Francis arrives there, they represent unity and maybe they can help with a new social dialogue,” said Cuda, an Argentinian theologian.

Francis hasn’t visited his native Argentina since his pontificate began in 2013. Cuda added that a papal visit to Argentina would mean a great deal to Argentinians on the peripheries of society because “he spoke to those people, and they’re waiting because the pope represents unity that is the Church.”

Cuda also said the recent meeting between Francis and Argentinian President Javier Milei, who has previously spoken ill of the pontiff, was an important showing for the world.

“It was absolutely important not only for Argentine people but for other countries how to show that a person who in the past told Pope Francis not nice words, a person who represents another point of view or the economy and the politics, and Pope Francis received him,” Cuda explained.

“This is important because this is Catholicism. Catholicism is reconciliation, and in that situation people both from one place and from the other take steps to arrive at a commonplace,” she said. “I think that meeting was an excellent example not only for other countries, but for Catholics.”

Cuda spoke to Crux on Feb. 19 amid her visit to the United States. Last week, Cuda participated in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles annual Religious Education Conference. On Feb. 19 and Feb. 20, she met with the COPS/Metro Alliance in San Antonio, which is a coalition of congregations, schools, non-profits, and unions that works together to improve conditions for local families.

Cuda met with local parish leaders and organizers, and toured neighborhoods that have been transformed by the work of the COPS/Metro Alliance in developing neighborhood infrastructure, housing, health care, job training programs, and other economic development measures.

Cuda’s visit also built on a meeting that representatives of the COPS/Metro Alliance had with Francis as part of delegation from the West/SouthWest Industrial Areas Foundation in 2023, where, according to the organization, they shared the successes they’ve had transforming local communities through a parish-centered approach to community organizing.

Helping Latin American communities understand the importance of community organizing is a current focus of Cuda’s work, as well as the work of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which have started work on a “Building Bridges Organized Community” initiative.

The “Building Bridges Organized Community” initiative is the second part of Francis’s broader Building Bridges initiative, which began two years ago through conversations with university students. This second iteration of the program, Cuda explained, is to work together to find solutions to help people in Latin American countries stay in their own countries, opposed to immigrating to either another Latin American country, or the United States.

“The idea is not only to assist people – of course they need our help – but to help advocate in the public space for better conditions for them in their own countries,” Cuda said. “I think it’s a pastoral activity to advocate in the sense of this pontificate’s social magisterium because the idea of this social magisterium is not assistance, but to work for social justice in the sense of work opportunities, equality, etc.”

Meeting with organizations like the COPS/Metro Alliance, as well as other communities/organizations in the United States, Cuda said, is helpful to this mission because they’re able to share best practices for and approaches to community organizing that can then be shared with communities in Latin American countries, especially those in Central America and the Caribbean.

Cuda said that this push for community organizing is in line with the agenda of Francis.

“[Francis] said the way to arrive to a better life is better politics, and the better politics to him is a social dialogue, and my work is how to help to his agenda, so to open different ways to build bridges, to start a social dialogue between people that have a different interest and different necessities,” Cuda said.

“So the idea is how to, in this case, how to return to that time where the people had the opportunity to organize themselves in a community and start to advocate for their rights,” Cuda continued. “How can we return to that time? This is my challenge.”

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