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Spirit of Trade Unionism, Epstein

Pope Francis spoke yesterday to members of the Young Christian Workers movement.

Reflecting on and responding to his words can lead us to a fresh appreciation of the vocational dimension of all work, (and the significance of how we do it)

Some of us may well be no longer ‘young’; some may be ‘retired’. Even so the Pope’s words can help us all to become more Christian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

It is a pleasure to receive you and I thank the President for the words he addressed to me. I give a cordial welcome to the Pastors who wished to be present with you, some of whom have come from far away. I greet you all and I thank the two representatives, Maria and Giovanni, for the testimonies they have written.

In her testimony, Maria referred to your vocation, speaking of the “vocation of work.” It is true: work is a vocation, because it is born from a call that God has made to man from the beginning, to “till and keep” our common home (cf. Genesis 2:15). Thus, despite the evil that has corrupted the world and also human activity, “in free, creative, participatory and solidaristic work the human being expresses and enhances the dignity of his life” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 192). How can we respond well to this vocation, which calls us to imitate actively the tireless work of the Father and of Jesus who, says the Gospel, are “working still” (cf. John 5:17)?

I would like to suggest three words to you, which can help you. The first is education. To educate means to “bring out.” It is the capacity to draw the best from one’s heart. It is not only to teach some technique or to impart ideas, but to render ourselves and the reality that surrounds us more human. And this is true in a particular way for work: it is necessary to form a new “humanism of work,” because we live in a time of exploitation of workers; in a time when work is not in fact at the service of the person’s dignity, but it is slave labor. We must form, and educate to a new humanism of work, where man, not profit, is at the center; where the economy serves man and does not use man.

Another aspect is important: to educate helps one not to yield to the deceits of those who want one to believe that work, the daily commitment, the gift of oneself and study have no value. I will add that today — in the world of work but in every environment — it is urgent to educate to follow the luminous and demanding way of honesty, fleeing from the short cuts of favouritisms and recommendations. Underneath this is corruption. These temptations, small or great, are always there, but it is always a question of “moral trades,” unworthy of man: they must be rejected, habituating the heart to remain free. Otherwise they will engender a false and harmful mentality, which must be combated: that of illegality, which leads to the corruption of the person and of the society. Illegality is like a leech that is not seen: it is hidden, submerged, but it grips and poisons with its tentacles, polluting and doing so much harm. To educate is a great vocation: as Saint Joseph trained Jesus in the art of the carpenter, you are also called to help the young generations to discover the beauty of truly human work.

The second word that I would like to say to you is sharing. Work is not only the vocation of the individual person, but it is an opportunity to enter into relation with others: “any form of work presupposes an idea on the relation that the human being can or must establish with someone other than himself” (Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 125). Work should unite persons, not separate them, rendering them closed and distant. Taking up so many hours of the day, it also offers us the occasion to share the everyday, to be concerned about the one who is beside us, to receive the presence of others as a gift and a responsibility.

In his written testimony, Giovanni talked about a way of sharing that is carried out in your Movement: the “projects of Civil Service, which enable you to approach new persons and contexts, making your own their problems and hopes. It is important that others are not only recipients of some attention, but of true and proper projects. Everyone makes plans for himself, but to plan for others enables one to take a step forward: it puts the intelligence at the service of love, rendering the person more integral and life happier, because one is capable of giving.

The last word I would like to give you is witness. The Apostle Paul encouraged witnessing the faith also through activity, overcoming sloth and indolence; and he gave a very strong and clear rule: “If any one will not work, let him not eat” (Thessalonians 3:10). At that time there were also those who made others work, so that they could eat. Today, instead, there are persons who would like to work, but cannot, and they have a hard time even to eat. You meet so many young people that do not work: truly, as you said, they are “the new excluded of our time.” Think that in some countries of Europe, of this our Europe, so cultured, youth unemployment reaches 40%, 47% in other countries, and 50% in others. But what does a youth do who does not work? Where does he end up?  — in dependencies, psychological illnesses, suicides. And the statistics on youth suicides are not always published. This is a tragedy: it is the tragedy of the new excluded of our time. And they are deprived of their dignity. Human justice calls for work for all. Divine mercy also interpellates us: in face of persons in difficulty and arduous situations — I am thinking of young people for whom to get married or to have children is a problem because they do not have sufficiently stable employment or a house — preaching is of no use. Instead, one must transmit hope, comfort with one’s presence, and support with concrete help.

I encourage you to witness, beginning with your personal and associative style of life, to witness gratuitousness, solidarity, and a spirit of service. When Christ’s disciple is transparent in his heart and sensitive in life, he takes the light of the Lord to places where he lives and works. I wish this for you, while I apologize for being late: you are patient! But the audiences [of the morning] took longer. And I bless all of you, your families and your commitment. Please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you.

Spirit of Trade Unionism. Jakob Epstein. TUC Building, London. (c) 2012, Allen Morris

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