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Pope stresses human dignity, value of work


The CCCB Commission for Justice and Peace resource A Church Seeking Justice: The Challenge of Pope Francis to the Church in Canada examines three aspects of Catholic social teaching to which Pope Francis is giving significant attention: the dignity of the human person and work; teachings on war and peace; and ethical reflections on economics and political responsibility. The Prairie Messenger will carry excerpts from all three sections.

The full document is available in English and French at: Included in the text are a series of text boxes which focus on the Canadian context.

8. Pope Francis’s message about our world has not been one of doom and gloom. He has proclaimed a Gospel message that joyfully gives and calls us to life. But he has also focused repeatedly and at length on places of human suffering and injustice, places where human dignity has been wounded or is under threat. The Holy Father has pointed us to economic structures which deny or undermine the primacy of the human person (Evangelii Gaudium 55), and reminded us that “the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day,” faced with fear and desperation, violence and disease, making it “a struggle to live” (EG 52). He has decried political discourse which treats human dignity and the common good as a mere addendum while lacking strategies for integral development (EG 203). “It’s necessary to put the dignity of the human person at the center of every perspective and every action. . . . Other interests, even if legitimate, are secondary.”

9. From a Christian perspective, every human person carries an inherent dignity, not attached to particular human traits, but grounded in our creation in the image and likeness of God. Following his predecessors, Pope Francis has stressed that life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death, challenging moves towards the legalization of abortion and euthanasia in many countries, including Canada.

He has lamented how postmodern values have distorted family bonds, wounding the basic building blocks of society. And he has cried out against the “anthropological reductionism” of social and economic systems where the human person becomes a tool of the system, or where people are simply thrown away: “Children are thrown away . . . the elderly are thrown away, because they are of no use. And now? A generation of young people is being thrown away . . . they don’t work because there are no jobs. More waste. What will be the next thing thrown away? We must stop before it’s too late, please!”

10. The Gospel summons us to engagement whenever human dignity is threatened, binding. . . . It not only moves us to action on the levels of both charity and justice, it also calls us to a vision which “considers the other ‘in a certain sense as one with ourselves’,” seeing their beauty, esteeming them as of great value. “This is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest” (EG 199).

11. Pope Francis describes the task at hand in terms of “restoring solidarity to the heart of human culture,” a task which requires a conversion in the way we see those in need. Confronting the “individualism of our postmodern and globalized era,” he summons us to break through our indifference. . . .

The call to solidarity is a summons to our parishes and communities to “really be places of hospitality, listening and communion” for those in need, to be places of healing which strengthen the bonds of humanity. Solidarity “is not an additional attitude, it is not a form of social almsgiving but, rather, a social value,” one essential for a civil society.

12. In continuity with Catholic social teaching, Pope Francis draws a close connection between human dignity, the nobility of labour, its relation to the common good, and the crises which inevitably result when labour is dehumanizing or absent altogether. God created human beings in his own image and likeness to be stewards of his handiwork, responsible for the earth’s cultivation and protection. “Human labour is part of that creation and continues God’s creative work. This truth leads us to consider work as both a gift and a duty.” Addressing steelworkers, the Holy Father affirmed that “employment is necessary for society, for families and for individuals. . . .”

14. Over and over again, Pope Francis has spoken about the great damage caused by unemployment, both to a society and to the unemployed and their families. Work is indispensable to our human development and to family life; it allows us to plan our future, to establish a family, to educate our children. . . . Pope Francis has commented on how unemployment “is spreading like an oil slick in vast areas of the west and is alarmingly widening the boundaries of poverty,” and has particularly lamented the number of young people who find themselves without work. . . .

15. Far more horrific than unemployment is slave labour and human trafficking. . . . (Pope Francis said) the physical, economic, sexual and psychological exploitation of men, women and children that is currently inflicted on tens of millions of people constitutes a form of dehumanisation and humiliation.” . . .