The Rev. William J. Barber II, the former state NAACP head and architect of the Moral Monday protest movement, typically spends Thanksgiving Day meeting with inmates in jails and then sharing a holiday meal with family and others.
This year, Barber will be miles away from North Carolina on the holiday weekend, talking about his Poor People’s Campaign at a Vatican conference that includes a scheduled meeting with Pope Francis.
“It’s a deep honor and humbling,” Barber said in a telephone interview on Monday. “The pope has been on the forefront of declaring that poverty in our current world is a scandal and its eradication should be a top priority. He has called on government and moral leaders to adjust our policies to address the issues of systemic poverty.”
Barber stepped down as president of the state NAACP last month to focus on his new role as president of Repairers of the Breach, a new and growing social justice organization working to highlight problems across the country when all don’t have access to living wages, decent housing, health care and education.
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He has been a frequent commenter on national news shows, often speaking out against President Donald Trump and others whose stances conflict with the issues for which he’s advocating. Recently, he has been speaking out against Alabama’s U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has refused to step away from his campaign despite allegations of sexual misconduct years ago with teenage girls.
Barber said his invitation to the Vatican came earlier this fall, along with other worker and labor rights advocates from around the world.
The pope, Barber said, should be credited for “saying to the world what true evangelism should be saying.”
“If any theology is going to line up with the theology of Jesus Christ, it must begin declaring good news to the poor who have been made poor by systems of economic exploitation,” Barber added.
While at the Vatican, Barber will spend several days at a conference that opens with Ghanian Cardinal Peter Turkson discussing labor and the workers’ movement. The meeting with the pope is scheduled to happen at the end of the conference.
“For me, it’s not so much meeting the pope as meeting a pope who has been so consistent on meeting the challenges of and pastoring to the poor,” Barber said. “He’s been clear that the church theologically has to deal with poverty, that you have to deal with the moral issues of living wages, inadequate housing and more.”
The pope impressed Barber immediately, the Goldsboro pastor said, when he opted to live in the Vatican guesthouse, not the more palatial papal apartments.
“I’m really excited to be able to take my 84-year-old mother with me,” Barber said.