Pope Asks: Is Working on Sunday “True Freedom”?

“Maybe it is time to ask whether work on Sunday is true freedom.”

Pope Francis spoke on Saturday, July 5, to a group of young workers in the remote Italian region of Molise, southeast of Rome.  Speaking in the auditorium of the University of Campobasso, Pope Francis began his pastoral visit by challenging his audience of workers to “waste time with their children.”

As in his other pastoral visits, the Holy Father took time to listen to the testimonies of people from the local population:  a farmer, a pregnant woman with a fifteen-month-old daughter who was struggling to reconcile her work at Fiat with her family life.  He explained that the economy does not take precedence over the human person; and he encouraged the woman (and other parents) to “lose the time to play with your children.”

The Pope applauded the idea, more common in Europe than in America, of a “work-free Sunday”–insisting that the economy does not take precedence over the human, on free and non-commercial relationships, relationships with family and friends and, for believers, the relationship with God and the community.

In an area severely affected by unemployment, he spoke nonetheless about the link between work and dignity.   “The unemployed person can always find help from Caritas or another association… but he can’t bring the bread home,” the pope explained to highlight the importance of finding the dignity that only work can offer.  In his homily in the open-air Mass at Campobasso, he stressed that “dignity of the human person is at the center of perspective and of any action.”

He encouraged those gathered to embrace a “pact for work”:  “So many jobs,” he said,

“…could be recovered through a strategy developed with national authorities who can take advantage of the opportunities offered by national and European standards. “

Later in the afternoon, he returned to the theme in his address to a crowd of about 20,000  gathered at the Castelpetroso church, this time continuing the theme he introduced in his May 26 press conference after his Holy Land visit, and talking about the challenge of unemployment:

“We must not resign ourselves to losing a whole generation that does not work…a generation without work, it is a defeat for humanity. 

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Two years ago, I reported on the growing trend in European nations to close shops and businesses on Sundays.  I had read in L’Osservatore Romano that thirteen European nations had joined together to say “No” to working on Sundays.  The European Sunday Alliance—a special-interest group of various unions, associations of civil society, as well as Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox communities—united to confirm their belief that Sunday should be a day of rest.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered peacefully in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland and Spain.  At the same time, the Croatian Bishops’ Conference, through its Commission for Justice and Peace, released a statement intended to raise Christians’ awareness of the importance of the Sunday rest. “It is necessary,” said the Croatian bishops’ document,

“to respect Sunday as a day of rest for everyone, a day for families to be together, a day for volunteer and charitable works, for cultural and social activities and a day for Christians to celebrate and glorify the Lord.”

I recalled the days when stores here in the U.S. were shuttered on Sunday–when signs in shop windows said simply,

CLOSED SUNDAY

SEE YOU IN CHURCH

With grocery stores, big-box stores, department stores and most pharmacies closed on Sunday, and with no Internet and only three television stations from which to choose, families naturally spent more time together.  Parks were crowded with picnickers, baseball diamonds were in constant use, childhood obesity was rare because kids never stopped moving.

Those were the days.

What could we do to bring back that sense of community, that love of the outdoors, that place of honor given to Mom, who had prepared an aromatic, homecooked Sunday dinner?  Any ideas?


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