Steelworkers Hear of Pope's Concern

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2004 ( John Paul II voiced sympathy for the plight of Italian metallurgical workers whose jobs are threatened by the possible closure of their steel mill.

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After praying the Angelus today with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope greeted several hundred workers of the AST factory in Terni, in central Italy.

Fifteen workers arrived in Rome after a 26-hour walk, which they started the previous day. The others arrived by bus. Some of them were wearing white helmets such as the one John Paul II wore on March 19, 1981, when he visited the AST factory.

On that occasion, «I made my first pastoral visit to an Italian factory,» the Pope recalled.

«Dear workers, as I said then, I appreciate your firm determination to ‘defend your work and your dignity,'» he said. «I am with you in these moments of difficulty and I hope that a just solution will be found for you and your families.»

On Friday, the city of Terni organized a general strike against the closure of AST, a company that since 1994 has belonged to the German multinational ThyssenKrupp.

On Thursday, Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, reminded ThyssenKrupp directors of their promises to protect existing jobs when they acquired the company. ThyssenKrupp explained that it is a problem of excessive production.

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