Argentine lawyer Juan Grabois, a friend of Pope Francis, was among the speakers at the US Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements, in Modesto, California, last week.
Grass-roots organising that seeks to overcome what Pope Francis has called "the economy of exclusion" is vital to the work of the Church, Grabois told the conference.
"We are helping Church, the institutional Church, if you want to say, in this mission because Church is like an iceberg," he said.
"It's imperative (to organise). We see the bishops, maybe the priests, maybe the pope, but the real Church is the holy people of God, which is at the bottom. We are helping the tip of the iceberg to do its job."
Grabois, 33, told Catholic News Service he met Pope Francis when confederation leaders decided to invite then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to an action to protest the treatment of Bolivian textile workers at a Buenos Aires factory about 10 years ago.
"We asked him one time to come. We sent a letter, but with not great hopes and not great interest," Grabois recalled.
"He didn't come, but he called us. We had a conversation (about) what social movements were doing, the new forms of discrimination, exclusion. We were very surprised by his approach. For instance, (he saw the) pandemic of crack in Buenos Aires as something designed, not something accidental. He spoke about the planned extermination of slum-dweller boys. So we started having a relationship from that moment onward," he said.
Occasionally, Grabois would meet the future pope, walking with him to the bus or the subway and discussing the progress on a campaign or efforts to press for worker rights.