Vol. X, Bulletin No. 5                                                     April 12, 2005

John Paul II on Work and Globalization

On May 1 five years ago Italy's three major labor federations took the unusual step of canceling their traditional May Day demonstrations in favor of an open-air Mass and mass rally presided over by Pope John Paul II.  Close to 200,000 people, including union leaders, government officials, and employers from more than 40 countries, attended the event, called the Workers' Jubilee.  Many more watched it on Italian and Europe-wide television.

The Pope chose the rally that day, and a meeting with a smaller group the next day, to talk about globalization, not to denounce it, but to urge taking much greater advantage of its boundless opportunities for human progress.  On both occasions, he promoted the Jubilee Year (2000) campaign to reduce the international debt of poor nations, "a debt so huge that repayment is practically impossible."  He cited that challenge as an example of his overall theme: everyone's personal responsibility to respect the dignity of the human person in the global marketplace.

'Human Solidarity Must Become Globalized'

In the address he gave after the May Day Mass on a field near Rome, the Pope made these major points:
'The More Global the Market, the More Attention to the Needs of the Weakest'

Then, at the Vatican on May 2, the Holy Father met with a representative group of business and union leaders. Highlights of his remarks to them on "The Ethical Dimension of the Global Economy": 
As indicated in the links underlined above, the words that the Pope spoke at these occasions can be found on the Vatican Website, in English and several other languages.  So can the homily at the May 1 Mass.

Thoughts from a Working Person's Pope 

Initiatives, a publication of the National Center for the Laity, has just published a timely special edition. It deals with what its editor, William Droel, calls one of the "top achievements of Pope John Paul II's pontificate" -- his contribution to the theology of work, or the "gospel of work."  From the Pope's many talks and writings on the subject, Droel has compiled pertinent excerpts, which, he notes, are "slightly edited for consistent pronouns [because] the Pope, at least in translation, sometimes spoke in the third person; sometimes in the first."  That compilation is reprinted here, with permission.

'I Am A Worker'

"I have no fear of working people. You have always been particularly close to me. I come from your midst. I come from the quarries of Zakrzowek, from the Solvay furnaces in Borek Falecki, and then from Nowa Huta. Through all these surroundings, through my own experience of work, I boldly say that I learned the gospel anew."  --Homily in Nowa Huta, Poland, July 1979  

"I do not forget that I myself had direct experience of physical work such as yours, of daily toil and its dependence, its heaviness and monotony. I shared the necessities of workers, their rightful demands and their legitimate aspirations. I know very well that work should not alienate and frustrate, but should correspond to people’s higher dignity." --Talk in Monterrey, Mexico, January 1979 

The Meaning of Work 

"Work is the fundamental dimension of our life on earth. Work has a significance that is not merely technical but ethical." --Homily at Jansa Gora, Poland, June 1979 

"Work is good for us. Through work we not only transform nature, adapting it to our needs, but we also achieve fulfillment as human beings and indeed in a sense become more human." --Homily in Monterey, California, September 1987 

"Work must not be a mere necessity, but it must be considered a real vocation…Work must be the means by which all of creation serves the dignity of humankind and the Son of God. Work offers the opportunity to commit yourself with the whole community without resentment, without bitterness, without hatred, but with the universal love of Christ that excludes no one and embraces everyone." --Talk in Guadalajara, Mexico, January 1979 

"I come to announce the gospel of work…During the first four years of my pontificate, I have unceasingly proclaimed the centrality of humankind…insisting on people’s primacy over things and the importance of the subjective dimension of work, based on the dignity of the human person." --Talk in Barcelona, Spain, November 1982  

"Through work people not only transform nature, adapting it to their needs, but also achieve fulfillment as human beings and indeed, in a sense, become more human. Without this consideration it is impossible to understand industriousness [and other work virtues]." --Encyclical Laborem Exercens, September 1981 

"It must be said over and over again that work is for man, not man for work…The worker is always more important than profits and machines." --Talk in Sydney, Australia, November 1986 

Work, Creation and Redemption
   (from Genesis to Joseph’s Carpenter Shop to the Cross) 

"Work corresponds to God’s design and will. The first pages of Genesis present creation to us as the work of God, God’s labor. So to be like God, God calls on many to work. Hence, work is not something off on the side.  Even less is it a curse from heaven. On the contrary, work is a primordial blessing from the Creator, an activity permitting people to realize themselves and to offer service to society." --Talk in Barcelona, Spain, November 1982

"The Son of God became man and worked with human hands…So we know, not only by reason alone but through revelation, that through their work people share in the Creator’s work. We continue it and, in a sense, perfect it by our own work, our toil, by daily effort to wrest a livelihood from the earth, or from the sea, or by applying energy to the many different processes of production…Indeed, we Christians are convinced that the achievements of the human race—in art, science, culture and technology—are a sign of God’s greatness and the flowering of God’s mysterious design." --Talk in Pusan, South Korea, May 1984

"The law of the cross is engraved on our work…Christ had himself put on the cross, as if on the great threshold of spiritual history, to oppose any form of degradation, including by work…This must be remembered by the worker and the employer." --Homily in Nowa Huta, Poland, June 1979

"Enter the house of Nazareth, approach this workbench where, beside Joseph and under the maternal glance of his mother, the Son of God worked. God-made-man knew the experience of human work. We want to enter there, into this house of Nazareth. We want to bring all the modern problems of work: all the social, economic, political, cultural and moral problems, all the anxieties connected with the world of work, especially the worry caused by unemployment…In this house in Nazareth we return close to Jesus the worker…There cannot be human work that is alienated [here]. I say this in the name of Jesus…Human work is redeemed, is restored in Jesus Christ." --Angelus Prayer in the Vatican, March 1984 

"People eat the bread produced by the work of human hands—and this means not only the daily bread that keeps the body alive but also the bread of science and progress, civilization and culture. It is also a perennial truth that people eat this bread by the sweat of their brow, that is to say, not only by personal effort and toil but also in the midst of many tensions, conflicts and crises, which, in relationship to the reality of work, disturb the life of society and also all humanity… People, created in the image of God, share by their work in the activity of the Creator…By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, people in a way collaborate with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity."  --Encyclical Laborem Exercens, September 1981 

Workers as Consumers

"It is not wrong to want to live better. What is wrong is a lifestyle which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward having rather than being, and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself." --Encyclical Centesimus Annus, May 1991

"Work must be rescued from the logic of profit, from the lack of solidarity, from the fever of earning ever more, from the desire to accumulate and consume. When work is subjected to inhumane wealth, work becomes a seductive and merciless idol."  --Talk in Vatican City, May 2004 

The Church’s Mission Is to the World of Work

"It is your duty, dear priests, to make [the church’s] wish come true…That workers’ figure and situation be reconsidered, to allow them to be more human and to recover their true greatness as collaborators with God’s creative work…So that the gap between church and factory begins to fill, and that the fumes of incense mix with those of industries in rising up to heaven."  --Talk to priests in the Vatican, April 1979.

"The church, it is sometimes said, only concerns itself with moral and religious values and does not take an interest in economic and temporal values, as if the church did not understand the reality of workers’ situations…I will answer you in all sincerity that these objections have no reason to exist…The true Christian element…brings peace, justice and unity into the factory." --Talk in Pomezia, Italy, September 1979  

"The church is convinced that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth…The church considers it her duty to speak out on work…It is her particular duty to form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God…This Christian spirituality of work should be a heritage shared by all."  --Encyclical Laborem Exercens, September 1981 

The Christian Concept of Enterprise

"People and human values must be the beginning and end of the economy. The standard for making decisions, even in the moment of major crisis, cannot be an overvaluation of profit." --Talk in Milan, Italy, May 1983 

"In the Christian concept of enterprise…economics and technology really have no meaning unless they have reference to humankind, whom they must serve…An enterprise is not just a production structure. It should also transform itself into a life-giving community, a place where people live with and relate to their peers, where personal development is not only allowed but also encouraged. The main enemy of a Christian sense of enterprise is a certain functionalism that makes efficiency the only and the immediate requirement for production and work." --Talk in Barcelona, Spain, November 1982 

"The purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons…Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one. Other human and moral factors must be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business." --Encyclical Centesimus Annus, May 1991 

How Pope Upgraded Doctrine of Work

In the special edition of Initiatives, its editor, William Droel, introduces the above excerpts with a profound analysis of Pope John Paul II's contribution to a recent sharp "turn in the Catholic doctrine on work," away from being seen "as strictly a penance for original sin, a necessary evil."  Droel writes that the development of the new "gospel of work...should be considered near the top achievements of John Paul II's pontificate," and adds:

"It should be no surprise that John Paul II continually preached a 'gospel of work' and repeatedly called for 'a spirituality of work' and 'a civilization based on work' -- evocative phrases, the full implications of which will continue to unfold in the coming years. John Paul II was, after all, a worker!  He and St. Peter, two of the four popes who served at least 25 years, are also among the very few popes to have held a job....

"Yet, John Paul II was unable to make 'the gospel of work' a salient feature in the spirituality of most Catholics -- at least that's the observation from Initiatives' attic office near Chicago's Midway Airport.  To carry out a legacy for John Paul II, Catholics will have to get more serious about the present vocation crisis in many occupations and professions. It is a crisis of meaning in which careerism is substituted for calling.  It is a crisis in which lots of jobs are not structured for health and meaningfulness.  It is a crisis about the quality of work, about ethical practices in the marketplace, about poverty amid plenty."
Droel's lengthy analysis is well worth reading in full. Unfortunately, it is not available on a Website.  For a printed copy of the special edition, write Initiatives at P.O. Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629., or send a fax to 773/776-9036.


Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. X-5    April  12, 2005
Robert A. Senser, editor
Copyright 2005
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