The Holy See
back up



Geneva, 16 June 2003


Mr President,

We are meeting here in a special international context that is highly representative of societies, thanks to the tripartite structure of the International Labour Organization. I therefore feel particularly at ease in conveying to it the message of the Catholic Church, a message which is ethical, hence universal.

1. "Work: liberation from poverty", the theme of this 91st International Labour Conference, is a stimulating topic for the Holy See for three reasons.

The verb "to liberate" is already a strong term. It means "to set free", to release the human person, in this case, from poverty, a phenomenon that could be likened to slavery since it has a profound effect on the human being and his dignity:  a human being who lacks what he or she needs to live on is a humiliated being who is denied economic and social rights, and in the extreme, even the right to life. However, poverty is not - or is no longer - a sealed fate! That is why liberating human beings from poverty is an ethical imperative, "a problem which the conscience of humanity cannot ignore" (John Paul II, Message for World Day of Peace 1993, n. 1; ORE, 16 December 1992, p. 1), and the Catholic Church, whose mission is essentially to "serve men and women", every human being, and care for their daily needs (cf. Mater et Magistra, n. 2), must be in the front line in the fight against poverty.

Moreover, the word "to liberate" is used here in its reflexive form. This infers that the poor themselves are party to this process of liberation; they are meant to have a role in their own liberation from poverty. Moreover, people must "abandon a mentality in which the poor - as inviduals and as peoples - are a burden" (cf. Centesimus Annus, n. 28).

Lastly, the Holy See could not be more in agreement on the existence of a direct connection between poverty and work and the lack of work. The Catholic Church, which desires to be the Church of the poor and has made them her "preferential option", knows well that they "appear under various forms, in many cases... as a result of the violation of the dignity of human work:  either because the opportunities for human work are limited as a result of the scourge of unemployment, or because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family" (cf. Laborem Exercens, n. 8).

2. I would now like to draw attention to a value that has echoes in every human conscience which, to use a somewhat antiquated turn of phrase, is expressed through the "sense of honour".

Everything possible must be done to see commitments through. In this specific case, we cannot but think of the commitment made by the international community to reduce by half by 2015 the number of persons who live in extreme poverty.

In his Message for the World Day of Peace this year, Pope John Paul II stated precisely the need to keep one's word when he wrote:  "Pacta sunt servanda, says the ancient maxim. If at all times commitments ought to be kept, promises made to the poor should be considered particularly binding.... The suffering caused by poverty is compounded by the loss of trust. The end result is hopelessness" (Message for World Day of Peace 2003, n. 8; ORE, 18/25 December 2002, p. 4).

One category especially in need of confidence since the future lies before it, is that of youth who, in the poorer countries, account for the vast majority of the population. It is therefore necessary that the authorities responsible for supervising work policies at both national and international levels should focus first of all on the fundamental problem of unemployment which especially affects young people (cf. Laborem Exercens, n. 18).

It is very clear that this is an immensely difficult task! That is why it is right to recall here the need to ensure that objectives are realistic. An opportunity to move in this direction could perhaps be offered by strategic programmes for the reduction of poverty. Indeed, if it is true that what can be expected of the poor countries regarding the elaboration of these programmes is highly complex, since it implies the existence of technical equipment which they do not yet have at their disposal and of political institutions which have not always acquired credibility, it is equally true that recognizing the need for participation, however difficult, is one way to anchor the process of liberation from poverty to the local situation. The role that the International Labour Organization plays and must continue to play in integrating targets of employment and decent work in strategies for the reduction of poverty is fundamental. The Catholic Church, for her part, has in several instances put her experience at the service of local communities in the context of this process that involves the participation of poor persons who more and more frequently are asking to express their creative personality as citizens (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 15).

*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English n.28 p.7.