Pope's Address to Italian Christian Workers Associations (ACLI)

«Every man bears within himself an original and unique capacity to draw from himself and for the persons that work with him the good that God has put in his heart.» 

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Here is a translation of Pope Francis’ address to the Italian Christian Workers Associations (ACLI) given Saturday afternoon in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of their foundation:

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet you affectionately on the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Italian Workers Christian Associations, and I thank the President for his very courteous words. This anniversary is an important occasion to reflect on your associative “spirit” and on the fundamental reasons that drove you and still drive you to live it with commitment and passion.

New questions knock on the doors of your association today, which require new and qualified answers. What has changed in the global world is not so much the problems, but their dimension and their urgency. Unheard of are the breadth and speed of the reproduction of inequalities. But we cannot allow this! We must propose equitable and solidaristic alternatives that are really practicable.

The extension of precariousness, of black labor and of criminal blackmail, especially among the young generations, whose dignity is taken away by the lack of work, impedes the fullness of human life and calls for a solicitous and vigorous answer. A solicitous and vigorous answer against this global economic system where man and woman are not at the center, where there is an idol, the god of money. It is this that commands! And this god-money destroys, and causes the disposable culture: children are discarded because they are not made: they are exploited or killed before being born; the elderly are discarded, because they do not have fitting care; they do not have the medicines, they have miserable pensions. And now, young people are discarded. Think, in this very generous land, think of that 40% or a bit more of young people 25 or under who have no work: they are discarded material, but they are also the sacrifice that this worldly and egoistic society, offers to the god-money, which is at the center of our global economic system.

In face of this disposable culture, I invite you to realize a dream that flies higher. We must work so that, through work, “free, creative, participatory and solidaristic work” (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 192) – the human being expresses and grows in the dignity of his life. I would like to say something about these four characteristics of work.

Free work. The true freedom of work means that man, following the work of the Creator, works so that the world finds its end again: to be a work of God that, in the work carried out, incarnates and prolongs the image of his presence in creation and in the history of man. Too often, instead, work is dominated by oppressions at several levels: of man on another man; of new slavish organizations that oppress the poorest; in particular, many children and many women endure an economy that obliges them to unfitting work that contradicts creation in its beauty and its harmony. We must do so that work is not an instrument of alienation, but of hope and of new life. That is, that work is free.

Second: creative work. Every man bears within himself an original and unique capacity to draw from himself and for the persons that work with him the good that God has put in his heart. Every man and woman is a “poet,” able to be creative. This is what it means to be a poet. But this can happen when man is allowed in freedom and creativity some forms of enterprise, of collaborative work carried out in community, which makes possible for him and for other persons full economic and social development. We cannot clip the wings of all those, in particular young people, who have so much to give with their intelligence and capacity; they are freed of the weights that oppress them and impede them from entering in full right and as soon as possible in the world of work.

Third: participatory work. To be able to influence reality, man is called to express work according to the logic most proper to him, the relational. The relational logic, namely, to always see in the end of work the face of the other and responsible collaboration with other persons. There where, because of an economistic vision, as the one I said before, man is thought of in an egoistic key and others as means and not as ends, work loses its primary sense of continuation of the work of God, and is therefore the work of an idol; instead, the work of God is destined to the whole of humanity, so that all can benefit.

And fourth, is solidaristic work. Every day you meet people who have lost their job – this makes one weep – or are in search of occupation. And they take whatever comes. Some months ago, a lady told me that she had taken a job, 10/11 hours, in black, at 600 euros a month. And when she said: “But no more?” – “Oh, if you don’t like it, go!” Look at the queue behind you.” How many persons in search of occupation, persons who want to take bread home: not only eat but take things to eat; this is dignity — bread for their family. It is necessary to give these persons an answer. In the first place, it is right and proper to offer them our closeness, our solidarity. The many “circles” of ACLI, which today are represented by you here, can be places of hospitality and encounter. But then it is also necessary to give adequate instruments and opportunities. The commitment of your Associations and your Services is necessary to contribute to offer these opportunities of work and of new ways of employment and professionalism.

Therefore, freedom, creativity, participation and solidarity are part of the history of ACLI. Today more than ever you are called to put them in the field, without sparing yourselves, at the service of a fitting life for all. And to motivate this attitude, think of the exploited, discarded children; think of the discarded elderly, who have a minimum pension and are not taken care of; and think of the young people discarded from work – and what do they do? They don’t know what to do, and they are in danger of falling into dependence, of falling into gangsterism, or of going in search of horizons of war, as mercenaries. This is what lack of work does!

I would like to touch briefly on three aspects – this address is a bit long, sorry. The first: your presence outside of Italy. Begun following the Italian emigration, also overseas, it is a very present value. Today many young people leave to seek work appropriate to their studies or to live a different experience of professionalism: I encourage you to receive them, to support them in their course, to offer your support for their insertion. You can find in their eyes a reflection of the look of your fathers and grandfathers, who went far away to work. You can be a point of reference for them.

Moreover, your association is addressing the topic of the struggle against poverty and the impoverishment of the middle classes. The proposal not only of an economic support of persons below the threshold of absolute poverty, who have also increased in Italy in the last years, but which can bring benefits to the whole of society. Avoided at the same time is that those who up to yesterday lived a fitting life should slide into poverty. We, in the parishes, in the parish Caritas see this every day: men and women who approach in a somewhat hidden way to get food to eat – in a somewhat hidden way because they have become poor from one month to the other, and they are ashamed. And this happens, it happens, it happens. Up to yesterday, they lived a fitting life. Suffice it to have nothing today to become poor: the loss of work, an elderly man who is no longer self-sufficient, a sickness in the family, even – think of the terrible paradox – the birth of a child: it can bring so many problems, if you are without work. It is an important cultural battle, to consider welfare an infrastructure of development and not a cost. You can be the coordination and the motor of t
he “new alliance against poverty,” which proposes to develop a national plan for decent and fitting work.

And, finally, but not by importance, your commitment must always have its beginning and cement in what you call Christian inspiration, and which calls for constant fidelity to Jesus Christ and to the Word of God, to study and apply the Social Doctrine of the Church in addressing the new challenges of the contemporary world.

Christian inspiration and the popular dimension determine the way of understanding and of re-actualizing the historic triple fidelity of ACLI to workers, to democracy and to the Church. To the point that in the present context, in some way it could be said that your three historic fidelities – to workers, to democracy and to the Church – are summarized in a new and ever present fidelity to the poor.

I thank you fore this meeting, and I bless you and your work. And please, do not forget to pray for me, I am in need of it.

Now, before giving the blessing, I invite you to pray to Our Lady, Our Lady who is so faithful to the poor, because she was poor. Hail Mary…

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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