In late October, the Catholic Labor Network and interfaith labor solidarity organization Arise Chicago teamed up to lead a “labor pilgrimage” in Chicago for a group of seminarians from Mundelein Seminary and the Catholic Theological Union. After a review of the roots of Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work, participants visited the Haymarket Memorial to reflect on the fight for the 8-hour workday, met with workers fighting for justice at the El Milagro tortilla factory and joined Catholic labor leaders for lunch at the IBEW Local 134 union hall.
The seminarians were deeply moved by the experience. Brother Jason Damon OFM observed,
I found the experience to be a helpful and eye-opening one. It was powerful to see how values from the Catholic social teaching tradition can be and have been applied for the betterment of society and for the well-being of workers. It was moving to see how deeply the Catholic faith impacted some of the people we met. The encounter that sticks out the most to me was our conversation with the workers from El Milagro. It was obvious that they had such pride in their work and in their product, but that the conditions that they were subjected to were hurting their ability to flourish like they could have and wanted to. That was a conversation I’ve thought about a lot in the time since we had it.
Assistant Professor Sr. Kathleen Mitchell, who accompanied the Mundelein seminarians, was also enthusiastic.
It was wonderful to see how Catholic Social Teaching is inspiring Catholics to work for justice for laborers, especially workers who are vulnerable and exploited in our society. I was encouraged to learn of priests who are supporting worker rights, as well as many religious and laity who are dedicated to empowering vulnerable workers… The seminarians were able to make a meaningful pilgrimage for workers’ rights and meet laborers who are struggling to find justice in the workplace, as well as faith leaders who are committed to justice and human dignity. I believe all of the encounters helped the seminarians, many of whom will be priests in the Church, put a face to workers who are exploited, as well as see how faith is integral to fighting workplace injustice and how faith leaders are making a difference.
The Catholic Labor Network hopes that events such as these can serve as a model for seminarian engagement with the good news of Catholic Social Teaching.