Mission, Work and Workers’ Pastoral Care

On the Anniversary of Laborem Exercens and Laudato Si’

Mission Work and Workers’ Pastoral Care
Workers © Pxhere

Agustin Ortega, Ph.D. in Humanities and Theology and a collaborator of Exaudi, offers this article entitled “Mission, Work and Workers’ Pastoral Care,” on the commemoration of Saint John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens, on human work, and Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti.

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In this article, we will discuss the transcendence of the reality of work for life and faith, in commemoration of the anniversaries of those very significant encyclicals: Saint John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens (LE), and Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti (FT). Saint John Paul II teaches that “one of the most important contents of the New Evangelization is constituted by the proclamation of the ‘Gospel of Work,’ which I presented in my encyclical LE and that, in the present conditions, has become especially necessary. It implies an intense and dynamic pastoral care of workers, so necessary today, as in the past, in regard to which, under certain aspects, has become even more difficult; the Church must always seek new ways and new methods, without yielding to discouragement.” (John Paul II’s Allocution on January 15, 1993).

Hence we stress the importance of workers’ pastoral care, which is a constitutive dimension of the Church’s evangelizing mission, following Jesus the Worker, poor, crucified, and Risen, who gives us His liberating and integral salvation. This mission of the Church in the working world, to take the Good News of the Kingdom of God and His justice to the reality of work, is not something of strict specialists or for a few that feel called to it. It’s a reality inherent in the faith and life of the Church.

As the Spanish Bishops stress, “the evangelization of the working world, central objective of workers’ pastoral care, is the concern, responsibility, and task of the whole Church (EN 14; CLIM 19). It is she, in as much as visible Body of Christ’s presence among us, who receives from Him the mission to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15-20). Faithful to the will of her Lord, the whole Church must feel herself and show herself co-responsibly united, also in the Christian witness, in the evangelical service to workers, and also in the transforming will of those social conditions that affect the working world so directly. Therefore, it is fundamental that in the believing community there is, and is consolidated, a common awareness, sincerely shared by all the members of the People of God, in regard to the necessity, importance, and fundamental dimensions of a truly ecclesial Workers’ Pastoral Care (The workers’ pastoral care of the whole Church II, Introduction).

 In this line, the work, the life, and dignity of the working person, with all his rights to stimulate social (global) justice for the poor of the earth, is an intrinsic part of integral ecology, as Pope Francis shows us in Laudato Si’ (LS 124-129). Because the Pope continues teaching that “the great theme is work. What is truly popular — because it promotes the good of the people — is to ensure to all the possibility to develop the seeds that God has placed in each one, his capacities, his initiative, his strengths. That is the best help for a poor man, the best way for a worthy existence. Therefore, I insist that to “help the poor with money must always be a provisional solution to resolve urgencies. The great objective should always be to enable them to have a worthy life through work.’ No matter how much the mechanisms of production change, politics cannot give up the objective to succeed in the organization of a society to ensure to each person the way to contribute his capacities and his effort. Because ‘there is no worse poverty than that which deprives one of work and of the dignity of work.’ In a truly developed society, work is an absolute dimension of social life, given that it is not only a way of earning the bread, but also a channel for personal growth, to establish healthy relations, to express oneself, to share gifts, to feel co-responsible in the improvement of the world and, in short, to live as a people” (FT 162).

Thus a genuine humanism is promoted, as communal personalism is, where people in communion are the center and protagonists of all the social and historical reality, of a solidary culture from the works and the poor. In the line of Saint Thomas Aquinas, it is the “personalist” argument. The principle of the priority of work vis-a-vis capital, as postulate that belongs to the order of social morality. And, through this socialization of the means of production, it is made possible for the human being to preserve the awareness of working “in something of one’s own” (LE 14-15).

In fact, fitting work, with its rights such as a just salary, must be above capital and profit that, to be legitimate, cannot be the fruit of speculation and usury, of fenerism; but the endeavor of work and social activity at the service of the common good, of decent work and of human and integral development. So key, for this distribution with the equity of resources, is the social morality of the just remuneration of work. The best way to fulfill justice in worker-businessman relations is that constituted, precisely, by this remuneration of work. The just salary is the concrete and key verification of the justice of the whole socio-economic system, of its correct functioning (LE 19).

It is about promoting a policy-oriented to the common good, with an economy at the service of human beings’ needs. Guide for the universal destiny of goods, equity in the common distribution of resources, which has priority over property and the means of production, so that they serve human work (LE 14). Pope Francis reaffirms this teaching of “Saint John Paul II whose forcefulness perhaps has not been perceived: ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race, so that it sustains all its inhabitants, without excluding anyone or privileging anyone.’ In this line, I remind that the “Christian tradition never recognized as absolute and untouchable the right to private property and stressed the social function of any form of private property.” The principle of the common use of goods created for all is the “first principle in the whole ethical-social ordering,” it is a natural, original and priority right” (FT 120).

Because what is just is to possess only what is strictly necessary to live, thus uniting inseparably property and the use of goods in the line of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Given that everything that is a surplus for us, what we don’t use strictly for our vital needs, belongs to others, to the poor and the excluded, as the Holy Fathers of the Church also teach us. These “wise men developed a universal sense in their reflection on the common destiny of created goods. This leads to thinking that, if someone doesn’t have enough to live with dignity, it’s because another is hoarding for himself. Saint John Chrysostom summarizes it when he says ”not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to take life away from them. The goods we have are not ours, but theirs” ; or, in Saint Gregory the Great’s words: “When we give indispensable things to the poor we don’t give them our things, but we give back to them what is theirs: (FT 119).

Hence the denunciation of the root of the evil of totalitarianism, with their economic materialisms, as Capitalism and Communism are with their fenerisms. This is, that usury of the rent of everything, of loans and interests that are unjust, inhuman and dominating, impeding communion, the universal destiny of goods, and rejecting social justice in the equitable distribution of the resources. Access to money and to goods happens mainly due to work and its universal just salary, for all workers, of any activity or sector (LE 13). The revenues or other social loans, without failing to consider them as a right with the end to maintain a worthy life, are above all for all those that, because of some circumstances, are unable to work and to do so in worthy conditions.

In this line, businesses are human communities, and they must foster the communion of working people who are true subjects, possessors and architects of the march and business destiny (LE 13). A true business ethic, with its corporate social responsibility, has this corporate orientation. Co-operativism that promotes the honesty of the cooperative, the leadership of workers in this life, and possession of the business for this communion of life, goods, and action for social justice. And that, in this way, a truly economic democracy is realized. All this leads to giving importance to those solidarity movements, such as that of workers and associationism (LE 8), with the organization of workers, labor unions, houses and workers’ cultural centers, popular athenaeums, publications, editorials, newspapers, magazines, books, etc.

In fact, workers’ pastoral care is an inspiring key for the development of the life and history of the contemporary Church and of thought inspired in the faith, both at the philosophical as well as the theological level, for Vatican Council II, the DSI, the Episcopal Conferences and Latin American Churches with Medellin and Puebla. Here apostolic workers’ organizations shine with their testimonies of faith and holiness. The Christian Youth Worker  (JOC) with Joseph Cardijn and Catholic Action’s Workers’ Brotherhood (HOAC) in Spain with Eugenio Merino, Guillermo Rovirosa, Tomas Malagon, and J. Gomez del Castillo.

They witness to us a spirituality of Incarnation in the world and history, following from the Spirit the God incarnate in Jesus (FT 277), to promote the new commandment of love in the promotion of justice with workers, the oppressed, and the poor. It is the mysticism of communion with God, with others, and with the whole world in a conversation and love of Jesus, the Church, and the poor.  In the image of the God-Trinity (FT 85), a communion of life, of goods, and of solidary action for justice, in the option for the poor and workers as protagonist subjects of their personal, social, liberating, and integral promotion. An existence surrendered in poverty, humility, and sacrifice for the Kingdom of God and His justice, who gives us His salvation and integral liberation in face of the sin of egoism and idolatries of wealth — to be rich –, of power and violence.

Put this way is a believing reading of the reality, with a revision of life and survey following the method of: see, know the reality and society — the world with its slaveries and injustices; judge, a critical-ethical and evangelical judgment, in the light of faith, on these realities and injustices; and the transforming action on this reality, going to the causes of these evils and injustices. As we observe, they transmit to us the key of the vocation to universal holiness of every baptized person, realized in the life of the world and history as the theological place where the Grace of God is incarnate in Christ and His Spirit of Love (FT 91-93).

It is a social thought inspired in the faith and Christian militancy with a profound renewal, with this pioneer and genuine option for the poor, for workers, and for the oppressed. Not as objects of paternalist welfare, that humiliating welfarism, imposed by elites or leaders. Workers, the poor, and victims are subjects and protagonists of the mission, authors, and managers of the liberating and integral social praxis. All these witnesses of the faith and workers’ pastoral care  are

The advanced <beings>  of the SDI, of an adult, mature, formed, responsible, and militant laity. Of a believing reading of the real discerning of the signs of the times, with this method of seeing, judging, and acting.

To summarize, we end with Saint John Paul II, a worker Pope that, as already mentioned, in LE together with the rest of the DSI picks up what we’ve said up to here. “One must continue to ask oneself about the subject of work and the conditions in which one lives. To bring about social justice in the different parts of the world, in the different countries, and in the relations between them, new workers’ movements of solidarity are necessary and of solidarity with workmen. This solidarity must always be present where the social degradation of the subject of work requires it, the exploitation of workers, and the growing areas of misery and even hunger. The Church is intensely committed to this cause because she considers it her mission, her service, as verification of her faithfulness to Christ, to be able to be truly the ‘Church of the poor.’ And the poor are found under diverse forms: they appear in different places and in different moments; they appear in many cases as the result of the violation of the dignity of human work: whether it is because the possibilities of work are limited — namely because of the plague of unemployment –, or because the work and rights that flow from it are scorned, especially the right to a just salary, to the security of the person of the workman” (LE 8). and of his family.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester