A Portland community service group has been invited to attend a Vatican conference on grassroots movements, a pet project of Pope Francis. 

Proud Ground has established a land trust and a funding pool so low-income families can purchase homes, even in Portland’s roaring housing market. Two representatives from the organization will attend the World Meeting of Popular Movements Feb. 16-19 in Modesto, California.

Similar gatherings have taken place in Rome and Bolivia. Those who attend share ideas and form partnerships aimed at reducing poverty. Previous meetings have resulted in proposals to lawmakers on worker rights, housing and safeguarding the environment. 

“You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot,” Pope Francis told the Bolivia conference in 2015. “I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives.”

The pope promotes what he calls the three T’s — terra, trabajo, techo — land, work and housing.

Proud Ground, founded in North Portland in 1999, has helped 329 first-time homebuyers. The organization purchases properties and sells them at a lower price or obtains grants to help buyers make down payments. It also works with developers to build affordable homes and offers counseling to buyers. 

Proud Ground has caught the notice of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the anti-poverty wing of the U.S. Catholic bishops. The Portland group last year received a $55,000 grant from the campaign, which funds projects that get at the roots of poverty. To get funds, a group must be led, at least in part, by people who are themselves poor. Low-income homeowners make up a third of the Proud Ground board.   

Pope Francis is expected to have a dialogue with the Modesto meeting via teleconference. More than 600 people are expected. A Catholic high school will be host.  

The Vatican’s Department of Integral Human Development has teamed up with the U.S. bishops and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to organize the meeting, to which urban and rural poor are invited. 

Among those from the Vatican planning to attend is Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the Department of Integral Human Development.

“The gathering is about the dignity of all people, which we don’t receive from any government; it’s something we are born with,” Cardinal Turkson said in a press release.  

Attending from Portland will be Yesika Arévalo, a legally admitted Salvadoran immigrant who owns a home purchased through Proud Ground. Arévalo now helps other families do what she did. Joining Arévalo will be Orlando Lopez, an organizer working on behalf of local bus riders. 

Briauna McKizzie, communications coordinator for Proud Ground, also will go to Modesto. 

“The lack of housing affordability, driven by the gap between rising home prices and stagnant incomes, continues to worsen in the Portland region,” McKizzie says. “To find affordable homes, middle-income families must increasingly look outside the region’s core. Often this is far from the family’s workplaces.”

McKizzie says lobbying for fair housing is needed now, since there are indications of federal cuts. 

Matt Cato, director of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace and the Campaign for Human Development, says Proud Ground is a good group to represent the archdiocese, since the city has a crisis of affordable housing. 

The group’s work, he says, “provides countless low-income families with the stability and wealth-building opportunities that come with homeownership.” Cato cites research showing that homeownership benefits families, communities and the country as a whole.