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Catechesis on work, fundamental dimension of human existence
19 March 1997 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Today’s solemnity invites us to contemplate St Joseph's particular experience of faith beside Mary and Jesus.

The Church holds Joseph up for the veneration of the faithful as the believer who was completely docile to the divine will, the man capable of a chaste and sublime love for his wife, Mary, and the teacher ready to serve God’s mysterious plan in the Child Jesus.

Tradition, in particular, has seen him as the worker. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:55), the inhabitants of Nazareth exclaim when they see the miracles worked by Jesus. For them he is first and foremost the village carpenter, who expresses himself in work, fulfilling himself in God's sight by serving his brothers and sisters. The Christian community has also considered the life of St Joseph as exemplary for all who are involved in the vast and complex world of work. Precisely for this reason the Church wishes to entrust workers to his heavenly protection and has proclaimed him their patron.

2. The Church turns to the world of work, contemplating the carpenter's shop in Nazareth sanctified by the presence of Jesus and Joseph. She wishes to promote man’s dignity in view of the questions and problems, the fears and hopes connected with work, a fundamental dimension of human life. She considers it her task “always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide the above-mentioned changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society” (Laborem exercens, n. 1).

With regard to the dangers present in certain expressions of our contemporary culture and economy, the Church does not cease to proclaim the greatness of man, the image of God, and his primacy in creation. She carries out this mission principally through her social teaching, which “is itself a valid instrument of evangelization”; indeed this teaching “proclaims God and his mystery of salvation in Christ to every human being, and for that very reason reveals man to himself. In this light, and only in this light, does it concern itself with everything else: the human rights of the individual” (Centesimus annus, n. 54).

The Church reminds all who attempt to assert the predominance of technology, thereby reducing man to a “product” or a means of production, that “man is the subject of work”, since in the divine plan “work is ‘for man’ and not man ‘for work’” (Laborem exercens, nn. 5-6).

For the same reason, she also opposes the claims of capitalism, proclaiming “the principle of the priority of labour over capital”, since human labour “is always a primary efficient cause, while capital, the whole collection of means of production, remains a mere instrument or instrumental cause” (ibid., n. 12) of the process of production.

3. While these principles emphasize the condemnation of any form of alienation in human activity, they are particularly timely with regard to the serious problem of unemployment, which today affects millions of people. They reveal in the right to work the modern guarantee of man's dignity; without suitable work he is deprived of the sufficient conditions for the adequate development of his personal and social dimension. In fact, unemployment creates in its victims a grave situation of marginalization and a painful state of humiliation.

The right to work must therefore be combined with that of the freedom to choose one’s own activity. These prerogatives however must not be understood in an individualistic sense, but in relation to the vocation to service and co-operation with others. Freedom is not exercised morally without considering its relationship and reciprocity with other freedoms. These should be understood not so much as restrictions, but as conditions for the development of individual freedom, and as an exercise of the duty to contribute to the growth of society as a whole.

Thus work is primarily a right because it is a duty arising from man’s social relations. It expresses man’s vocation to service and solidarity.

4. The figure of St Joseph recalls the urgent need to give a soul to the world of work. His life, marked by listening to God and by familiarity with Christ, appears as a harmonious synthesis of faith and life, of personal fulfilment and love for one's brothers and sisters, of daily commitment and of trust in the future.

May his witness remind those who work that, only by accepting the primacy of God and the light that comes from Christ's Cross and Resurrection, can they fulfil the conditions of a labour worthy of man and find in daily toil “a glimmer of new life, of the new good, as if it were an announcement of ‘the new heavens and the new earth’ in which man and the world participate precisely through the toil that goes with work” (Laborem exercens, n. 27)."


After his Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims at the General Audience in numerous languages:

"Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française, notamment un groupe de prêtres de la région de Montréal avec le Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, leur archevêque. Je salue également les dirigeants de l'association française pour le quinzième centenaire, le groupe de Sainte-Marie de Neuilly et tous les jeunes ici présents à qui je souhaite de bien entrer dans la Grande Semaine qui nous mènera jusqu'à Pâques.

À chacun d'entre vous, mes chers amis, je donne de grand coeur ma Bénédiction apostolique !

I wish to greet the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrim groups from Korea, the Philippines, Canada and the United States. I thank the Catholic Central Concert Choir from Canada for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Mit diesen Gedanken grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger sehr herz-lich. Besonders heiße ich eine Gruppe des Bayerischen Landesverbandes des Katholischen Deutschen Frauenbundes willkommen. Im Rahmen der Vorbe-reitung auf das Jahr 2000 seid Ihr nach Rom gepilgert. Durch eine Unter-schriftenaktion bringt Ihr den Wunsch von vierzigtausend Frauen zum Aus-druck, daß mein geschätzter Vorgänger Papst Johannes XXIII seliggespro-chen werde. Wie er auf die wichtige Rolle der Frau in Kirche und Welt hinge-wiesen hat, so baue auch ich auf Euch! Mit dem Dank für Euren vielfältigen Einsatz in den Pfarrgemeinden verbinde ich die Bitte, auch in Zukunft ge-meinsam für eine Kirche von Brüdern und Schwestern zu wirken. Diesen Wunsch drücke ich auch den zahlreichen Schülerinnen und Schülern gegen-über aus, die heute bei dieser Audienz anwesend sind. Ihr seid die Zukunft der Kirche! Dazu erteile ich Euch und Euren Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen mit uns verbundenen Gläubigen den Apostolischen Segen.

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española. En particular a la Asociación "Mensajeros de la Paz", a los que aliento vivamente a continuar su meritoria obra de proveer del tan necesario ambiente familiar a los niños, jóvenes o ancianos que carecen de él, así como a la Coral "Verge del Lliri" y a los diversos grupos de colegios provenientes de España. A todas las personas y grupos venidos de España y América Latina, imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica. Muchas gracias.

Saúdo cordialmente os visitantes e peregrinos, provenientes sobretudo de Portugal: Que a vinda a Roma vos fortaleça na fé e avive no vosso animo a coragem para testemunhar a grandeza do amor de Jesus Cristo, vencedor do mal, pelo seu sofrimento, e ressuscitado para ser a nossa esperança e a nossa paz. A todos desejo uma feliz e santa Páscoa.

[Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua danese]

Cari giovani nordici!
Spero che la vostra visita qui a Roma sia una buona preparazione per la festa Pasquale.
Buona Pasqua a voi e alle vostre famiglie.
Dio benedica tutti voi a tutta la Danimarca e la Norvegia.

[Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ceca]

Un cordiale benvenuto agli studenti della Facoltà di Teologia, di Olomouc.
Carissimi, vi invito ad imitare l'esempio di San Giuseppe, il quale ha vissuto accanto a Gesù e Maria con pronta disponibilità e generosa attenzione.
Con questi voti vi benedico di cuore!
Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

[Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua slovacca]

Con affetto saluto i pellegrini slovacchi da Spišský Štiavnik e da Poprad.
Cari fratelli e sorelle, vi auguro di cuore che il vostro pellegrinaggio a Roma serva al rafforzamento della vostra fede. Perché la fede in Dio indica la direzione giusta alla nostra esistenza. Imparate dall'esempio di San Giuseppe, l'uomo giusto, l'uomo laborioso, l'uomo di fede. Che la fede in Dio sia la luce e la forza anche per le vostre famiglie e per tutte le famiglie in Slovacchia.
Sia lodato Gesù Cristo.

[Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua croata]

Saluto i pellegrini croati qui presenti, e in particolare il gruppo di studenti universitari di Osijek.
Carissimi, nell'augurarvi che possiate conoscere ed amare sempre più Gesù Cristo, vero Dio e vero uomo, volentieri invoco su di voi la pienezza della benedizione di Dio.
Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

* * *

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare alla delegazione nazionale della "Fiaccola Benedettina" della pace. Auspico che quest'iniziativa, animata dal motto "pro Europa una", nel ricordo di san Benedetto patrono d'Europa, contribuisca a formare nel nostro continente una coscienza attenta alla solidarietà ed alla cultura della pace.

Saluto il gruppo di Ufficiali, Sottufficiali ed Allievi del Centro Militare Veterinario di Grosseto, ringraziandoli per la loro presenza.

Rivolgo, poi, un affettuoso pensiero ai bambini bielorussi, ospiti della Parrocchia Santa Maria Intemerata, di Lariano (Roma). Il Signore protegga voi, cari bambini, e quanti vi hanno accolto.

Saluto, infine, i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli.

Carissimi, l'odierna liturgia ci presenta in san Giuseppe l'uomo sempre disponibile a compiere la volontà di Dio.

Esorto voi ad imitarlo, cari giovani, perché possiate corrispondere generosamente ai desideri del Signore e prepararvi con serietà e fiducia a servire la vita con gioia.

San Giuseppe aiuti voi, cari malati, a cogliere nella sofferenza l'occasione per cooperare all'amore di Dio che conduce l'uomo alla salvezza.

E formulo per voi, cari sposi novelli, l'augurio di un amore casto e fecondo, che si nutre dell'ascolto di Dio e della preghiera."

© Copyright 1997 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana