For more than 130 years, the popes have considered work, the treatment of workers and the creation of jobs as a religious and moral issue.
And although Pope Francis did not write an encyclical devoted to work like Pope Leo XIII did in 1891 and Saint John Paul II in 1981, he ensured that workers and their jobs stayed on. center of the concerns of the church.
During his weekly general audience on January 12, Pope Francis asked visitors and pilgrims to join him in a moment of silent prayer for the men and women who “are desperate because they cannot find job “.
As headlines in the United States continue to watch how some companies scramble to find new hires and how the COVID-19 pandemic has led many people to cut back hours in search of a better work-life balance or has given them the power to demand better wages and working conditions, the experience is far from universal, and Pope Francis knows it.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor reported on Jan. 7 that the unemployment rate in the United States was 3.9%. In contrast, the Italian government’s National Statistical Institute reported on January 10 that Italy had an employment rate of 9.2 percent. On the same day, Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, reported an unemployment rate in the EU of 7.2%, but noted that in Spain the rate was 14.1% and that Greece had an unemployment rate of 13.4%. Italy had the third highest percentage of people ready to work and actively looking for a job, but without success.
In his series of general audience addresses on Saint Joseph, Pope Francis briefly explained why work itself is a religious subject and why the church’s concern goes beyond charity for the unemployed.
“Work is an essential component of human life, and even of the path to sanctification,” the Pope said on January 12. “Work is not only a way to earn a living, it is also a place where one expresses oneself, feels useful and learn the great lesson of the concrete, which helps to prevent the spiritual life from becoming spiritualism.”
Work, he says, “is a way of expressing our personality, which is relational in nature. And also, work is a way of expressing our creativity; each of us works in our own way, with our own style: the same work but with different styles.
And that wasn’t the pope’s only comment on the dignity and importance of the work that day.
The Vatican’s COVID-19 Commission and Deloitte, a multinational professional services network, brought together academics and leaders in business, finance and development economics on January 12 to discuss “Prepare for future, build a sustainable, inclusive and regenerative economy ”.
In a message to the participants, Pope Francis asked them to bypass “declarations of intent or messages on major principles”, and instead “to make concrete commitments, to do your part so that the economy and finance are at the service of people and of our Mother Earth. “
“That your measures of success are not short-term and shorter-term profits, expansion and returns,” he said. “Instead, can the measure be the number of people coming out of extreme poverty, who can work decently. Is it so difficult to ensure the conditions in which everyone can contribute to transforming the world through their work?
His words illustrated a point made by Anna Rowlands, professor of Catholic social thought and practice at Durham University, England, in her new book on Catholic social education, “Towards a Politics of Communion.”
St. John Paul’s 1981 encyclical on labor, “Laborem Exercens,” Rowlands writes, “extended rather than simply repeated” the teaching of Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical on labor and capital, in especially on the fundamental points that “work is done for the human person and not the human person for work, and that work always has a value and priority over capital.”
One of the ways Pope Francis draws on the teaching of his predecessors, she said, is to develop the relationship between work and “social dialogue.” In other words, “work is the key to getting involved in constructive social dialogue. The absence of work is therefore not only an affront to dignity and self-determination as well as to creativity, but also frustrates social dialogue and exchange ”.
“Work is a religious matter because we are social creatures, wired to communicate, exchange, work and shape the world around us,” Rowlands told Catholic News Service on Jan. 13.
“In an important sense, we become who we are because of what we do,” she said. “We are looking for ways to contribute, to plan for the future and to meet those who are not ourselves. We also live in a world where, for many, paid work is simply a necessity, therefore the condition for it. work – that it is meaningful, worthy, fairly paid, non-exploitative – is vital. “
In his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”, Pope Francis insisted: “In a truly developed society, work is an essential dimension of social life, because it is not only a means of earning one’s daily bread, but also of flourish, building healthy relationships, self-expression and gift-giving. Work gives us a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the world and, ultimately, for our life as a people.
Work brings people together.