This March marked the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ 2013 election. The Holy Father has won the respect and affection of Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his message of love, his humble example, and not least, his advocacy for social justice. Pope Francis has inspired our Church to recommit ourselves to the promise of the Gospel and the premises of Catholic Social Teaching.
In America this anniversary provided the occasion for a remarkable event at Seton Hall University, in which Cardinal Joseph Tobin and AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka (as well as NJ Governor Phil Murphy) reflected on the Francis papacy at five years. Yet why should it be remarkable? In a culture obsessed with individualism — in the marketplace and in our personal identity — the Church and the labor movement are two rather lonely institutional bastions of solidarity.
Pope Francis famously observed that while “Solidarity, this word elicits fear in the developed world. They try not to say it. It’s almost a dirty word for them. But it’s our Word!” Consequently, Cardinal Tobin and President Trumka spoke on the theme “Solidarity Is Our Word.” Tobin feared that America had entered a new “gilded age,” marked by a concentration of wealth at the top and degraded wages and working conditions for workers at the bottom, and recalled how Francis, in a few short years, had brought the Church’s message of solidarity with the poor and oppressed back to the fore. Trumka electrified the crowd by telling how his father, a miner and union activist, was sheltered from the Coal and Iron Police by a supportive pastor. He thanked the bishops for their support in the Janus v AFSCME Supreme Court case on the union rights of public employees, and of the Holy Father observed
When Pope Francis says solidarity is our word, his message contradicts the morality adopted by so many of the world’s wealthy and powerful. His message is an affront to selfishness. It breaks isolation. It welcomes the outcast. It exposes the illusion and reveals the truth, which is that we are bound together by love, and we must care for each other and our world.
Thanks to CLN members Jeff Korgen (Archdiocese of NY), Julia Pignataro (OPEIU 153) and Vincent Alvarez (NYC AFL-CIO) for their reporting from the event! For more, check out:
Francis hailed for catapulting concerns of working people and labor (Christopher White, Crux)
Despite campaign to discredit him, Francis strikes a chord with workers (Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter)
Trumka Reflects on Pro-Worker Ministry of Pope Francis (Rich Trumka, AFL-CIO)