Pope: No Dignity Without Work

Jim Fair

Pope Francis repeated on October 26, 2017, one of his key themes that people have no dignity without work in a video message to participants in the 48th Social Week of Italian Catholics (Cagliari, October 26-29, 2017).

The dignity of work is the condition to create good work: therefore, it must be defended and promoted,” the Holy said.  And he called the gospel accounts of the calling of the first disciples: “the Lord calls while one is working, as happened with the fishermen that He invited to make them become fishers of men.”

  Here is a ZENIT translation of the Vide-Message that the Holy Father Francis sent to the

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The Holy Father’s Video-Message

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet you all warmly who are taking part in the 48th Social Week of Italian Catholics, being held at Cagliari. My fraternal greeting goes to Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, to the Bishops present, to Archbishop Filippo Santoro, to the members of the Scientific and Organizing Committee, to the delegates of the Italian dioceses, to the representatives of Movements and Associations connected with the work and to all the guests.

You gather under the protection and with the example of Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo who, in 1907, promoted the Social Weeks in Italy. His layman’s witness was lived in all the dimensions of life: spiritual, family, professional, social and political. To inspire your works, I suggest one of his teachings. “We, believers, feel in the depth of our soul, [. . .] that he who will bring salvation definitively to the present society will not be a diplomat, a scholar, a hero but rather a saint, rather a society of saints,” he wrote (From the wise Social Directions and Concepts). Make yours this “foundational memory”: one is sanctified by working for others, thus prolonging in history the creative act of God.

In the Scriptures, we find many personages defined by their work: the sower, the reaper, and winemakers, the administrators, the fishermen, the shepherds, the carpenters, like Saint Joseph. Emerging from the Word of God is a world in which one works. Jesus, the Word of God Himself, was not incarnate in an emperor or in a king but “emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7) to share our human condition, including the sacrifices that work requires, to the point of being known as a carpenter or the son of a carpenter (Cf. Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55). However, there is more. The Lord calls while one is working, as happened with the fishermen that He invited to make them become fishers of men (Cf. Mark 1:16-18; Matthew 4:18-20). We can also read the talents received as gifts and competencies to spend in the world of work to build communities, solidary communities and to help those that cannot manage on their own.

The theme of this Social Week is “The Work We Want: Free, Creative, Participatory and Solidary.” I wished to describe human work thus, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (n. 192). Thank you for having chosen the subject of work. “Without work there is no dignity”: I repeat this often, I remember in fact <that I did so> at Cagliari in 2013, and last May at Genoa. However, not all jobs are “fitting jobs.” There are jobs that humiliate the dignity of people, those that fuel war with the production of weapons, which undersell the value of the body with the traffic of prostitution and which exploit minors. Moonlighting also offends the dignity of the worker, that illegal recruitment of workers, jobs that discriminate women and do not include the disabled. Precarious work is also an open wound for many workers, who live in fear of losing their job. I have heard this anguish many times: the anguish of losing one’s job; the anguish of a person who has work from September to June and doesn’t know if he will have it the following September – total precariousness. This is immoral. This kills, it kills dignity, it kills health, it kills the family, it kills society. Moonlighting and precarious work kill. Then there is the worry of dangerous and unhealthy jobs, which every year cause hundreds of deaths and invalids in Italy.

The dignity of work is the condition to create good work: therefore, it must be defended and promoted. With Pope Leo XIII’s the Encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), the Social Doctrine of the Church was born to defend workers dependent on exploitation, to combat child labor, the 12-hour work-day, the insufficient hygienic conditions of factories.

My thought goes also to the unemployed who seek work and can’t find it, to the discouraged that no longer have the strength to look for it, and to the under-employed, who work only some hours a month without being able to exceed the poverty threshold.  To them, I say: don’t lose confidence.  I say it also to those that live in more difficult areas of the South of Italy. The Church works for an economy at the service of the person, which reduces inequality and whose objective is work for all.

The global economic crisis began as a financial crisis; then it was transformed into an economic and employment crisis. The crisis of work is both an environmental and a social crisis (Cf. Encyclical Laudato Si’, 13). The economic system aims at consumption, without being concerned about the dignity of work and the protection of the environment. However, this is somewhat like riding a bicycle with a flat tire: it’s dangerous! Dignity and protection are diminished when the worker is considered a line in a spending budget, when the cry of the discarded is ignored. Public administrations don’t escape this logic when they indicate contracts with the criterion of maximum decrease without taking into account the dignity of work as well as the environmental and fiscal responsibility of companies. Thinking of obtaining savings and efficiency, they end up by betraying their own social mission at the service of the community.

However, among so many difficulties, signs of hope aren’t lacking. The many good practices you have collected are like a forest that grows without making noise, and they teach us two virtues: to serve persons in need and to form communities in which communion prevails over competition. Competition: here is the sickness of meritocracy . . . It’s beautiful to see that social innovation is also born from encounter and relations and that not all goods are merchandise: for example, trust, esteem, friendship, love.

Nothing must come before the good of the person and the care of <our> common home, often disfigured by a model of development that has produced a grave ecological debt. Technological innovation must be guided by conscience and by principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. The robot must remain a means and not become the idol of an economy in the hands of the powerful; it must serve the person and his human needs.

The Gospel teaches us that the Lord is just also with the laborers of the last hour, without harming what is “just” for the labourers of the first hour (Cf. Matthew 20:1-16).  The difference between the first and the last labourers does not affect the compensation necessary for all to live. This is the “principle of goodness” able today also not to have anyone lacking anything and to fecund the work processes, the life of companies, the community of workers. A task of the entrepreneur is to entrust the talents to his collaborators, who in turn are called not to bury what <they> received, but to make it fruitful at the service of others. In the world of work, communion must win over competition!

My wish is that you be”social leaven” for the Italian society and that you live an intense synodal experience. I see with interest that you will touch upon very relevant problems, such as the overcoming of the distance between the scholastic system and the world of work, the question of feminine work, the so-called work of care, the work of bearers of disability and the work of migrants, who will truly be received when they are able to be integrated in work activities. May your reflections and discussion be translated into deeds and a renewed commitment at the service of the Italian society.

To the great assembly of the Social Week of Cagliari, I assure my remembrance in prayer and, while asking you to pray for me also and for my service to the Church, I send you all my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.

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