Pope asks St. Joseph to help Catholics fight for dignified work for all

Pope Francis celebrates Mass May 1, 2020, with a statue of St. Joseph in the background. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis asked St. Joseph to help Catholics fight for dignified work for all as he celebrated Mass Friday.

To mark the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1, the Italian Christian Workers’ Associations (ACLI) brought a statue of the saint to the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, the pope’s Vatican residence.

In his homily, the pope said: “We ask St. Joseph – with this beautiful image with the tools of work in hand – to help us fight for the dignity of work, so that there might be work for all and that it might be dignified work, not the work of a slave.”

At the start of Mass, Pope Francis noted that it was both the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, established by Pope Pius XII in 1955, and Workers’ Day, a bank holiday in Italy.

He said: “Today, on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the day dedicated to workers, let us pray for all workers so that no one might be without work and all might be paid a just wage. May they benefit from the dignity of work and the beauty of rest.”

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the creation of man and woman in God’s likeness, described in Genesis 1:26-2:3. He noted that the Bible used the word “work” to describe God’s creation of the heavens and earth.

“Work is exactly the continuation of the work of God,” he said. “Human labour is the vocation that mankind received from God ever since the creation of the universe.” 

“It is work that makes us similar to God, because through work men and women act as creator, and are capable of creating many things, even of creating a family.”

He continued: “Work contains goodness within itself, creates harmony between things – beauty, goodness – and involves every part of the person. This is man’s first vocation: work. This gives dignity to mankind. Dignity makes us similar to God.”

He told the story of a man who visited a Caritas centre in search of food for his family. A Caritas worker told him: “At least you can bring some bread home.” To which the man replied: “But it’s not enough to bring food home. I want to earn my daily bread.”

The pope observed that the man lacked “the dignity to ‘make’ the bread himself, with his work, and take it home.”

The dignity of work has been trampled on throughout history, he said, citing the example of slaves brought from Africa to the Americas:

“But even today there are so many slaves, so many men and women who are not free to work: they are forced to work, to survive, nothing more.”

The pope referred to a newspaper report about a man in Asia who clubbed to death an employee who earned less than half a dollar a day because he had displeased him.

Workers are not only mistreated in Asia, he said, but all over the world, including Europe. He offered the example of a maid who does not receive a fair wage, social security assistance or pension.

He said: “Every injustice inflicted upon a person who works means trampling upon human dignity, even the dignity of the person who carries out the injustice… On the other hand, the vocation God gives us is much higher: to create, recreate, work. But this can be done only when the conditions are just and human dignity is respected.”

After Mass, the pope presided at adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, before leading those watching via livestream in an act of spiritual communion.

Finally, the congregation sang the Easter Marian antiphon “Regina caeli”.

In his homily, Pope Francis noted that there are also “good businessmen” engaged in the struggle for justice in the workplace. He recalled that an Italian entrepreneur had phoned him two months ago asking for his prayers because the man didn’t want to fire any of his employees. “Because to fire one of them is to fire me,” the man said. 

The pope praised “so many good entrepreneurs, who guard the workers as if they were children.”