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On this World Day of Prayer, we reflect on Pope Francis’ prayer intention for this month: “That all workers may receive respect and protection of their rights, and that the unemployed may receive the opportunity to contribute to the common good.”
Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical, Rerum Novarum broke new ground in its discussion of workers’ rights and the relationships, the duties and the mutual responsibilities of labour and capital. Leo famously spoke of the “misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.” This letter marks the birth of modern Catholic Social Teaching, often described as “the Church’s best-kept secret”!
Leo’s letter named the duty of the State as the protection of social justice. The Church, he asserted, always has a duty to remind the world that God is, and always has been, on the side of the poor. That mattered in 1894 when new social conditions were emerging and it matters now, in 2017.
Pope Francis has frequently reminded us of youth unemployment especially in Europe. But we must also be aware of those thrown on the scrap-heap while they still have many productive years to offer society, a dimension of another of the Pope’s frequent themes, the “throwaway culture.” What this month’s concern highlights, is that by discarding people society also takes away their opportunity to contribute to the common good.
Father David Stewart SJ.
National Director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (UK)