Church must address own racism, Vatican conference hears

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) — Speakers at a Vatican-sponsored conference in Northern California have called on the Roman Catholic Church to acknowledge its own racism and urged those attending to fight against oppression.

More than 600 clergy and social justice activists are meeting in Modesto, California, for a conference on economic inequality that also included a session Friday on racism in the United States.

Pope Francis welcomed the group Thursday night with a letter in which he said "no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist" and he urged those gathered to make neighbors of anyone in need,especially those without homes, money or work.

The gathering comes as the world grapples with the effect of President Donald Trump's efforts to change U.S. immigration policy. The agenda does not mention Trump, and speakers did not name him.

But his recent announcement of a crackdown on people illegally in the country and limitations on whois allowed into the U.S. are likely to be discussed.

Innocent Rugaragu, a 42-year-old member of the PICO National Network immigration reform group, said he never thought people could be rounded up and deported from a country as wealthy as the United States, which he said has always stood for hope to people around the world.

Rugaragu, who is from Kigali, Rwanda, does not know how to convey to the Trump administration thatthe worries are real and not an attack on the president. "These are genuine people who are reallyconcerned and don't have evil intentions," he said.

The conference opened with the first names called of some two dozen activists who did not attend because they were fearful of the political climate.

Catholics have long worked with refugees and migrants, but not all of them are opposed to the president's orders.

Chris Jackson of the organization Catholics4Trump said in an email that Trump's ban limiting entry from seven predominantly Muslim countries is reasonable and designed to protect citizens."Catholicism has always recognized the right of nations to have and enforce borders," he said.

The conference was scheduled before the U.S. presidential election and before the Trump administration's orders. The travel ban is legally on hold, and Trump is drafting a new order.

Speakers at Friday's panel on racism urged people to stand together, regardless of class or color,gender or immigration status.

"We may not all look alike; we may not all act alike" said Pastor Traci Blackmon, executive director of the United Church of Christ. "But here's the deal: No matter what ship you came on, we're all in this boat together.

"Bishop Shelton Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana said the church has whispered at times when "the church should have spoken boldly."He said the church should use its influence to eradicate racism in action, thought and "from the human heart.

"Modesto lies in California's agricultural heartland where Latino immigrants represent a significant part of the labor force for the area's farmers. It's the first time that the event will be held in the United States after Pope Francis nearly three years ago launched global meetings to explore the"economy of exclusion.

"A session on migration is scheduled for Friday afternoon.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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