Pope Francis with members of Italy's National Association of Building Contractors in the Vatican Pope Francis with members of Italy's National Association of Building Contractors in the Vatican  (Vatican Media)

Pope: Workers are people, not numbers

Pope Francis addresses Italy's National Association of Building Contractors and talks about the importance of their work, highlighting the necessity of ensuring safe working conditions for all.

By Vatican News staff writer

Addressing Italy's National Association of Building Contractors in the Vatican on Thursday, Pope Francis noted that their meeting, marking the association's 75th anniversary, was "an occasion to recall a history that goes back to the post-World War II period in Italy". In fact, he continued, the National Association of Building Contractors was founded in 1946 as an entrepreneurial association representing Italian companies of all sizes operating in the construction sector. 

Values that inspire workers

Pope Francis noted that for this sector, too, this is a difficult time. "In these times it is important to draw on the motivations, the fundamental choices". Pope Francis went on to share some of the teachings of the Gospel which, he said, can help members in their work". He described it as a "Christian interpretation" of the values that inspire their organization: competition and transparency; responsibility and sustainability; and ethics, legality and security.

The Pope noted that the Gospel testifies that Jesus, in His preaching, also used the metaphor of construction to convey his messages. For example, in Luke's Gospel "Jesus exposes the hypocritical and lazy behaviour of those who only talk without doing. Showing the wisdom of the building engineer, he compares the charlatans to those who build houses on sandy ground without foundations".

Of course, Jesus is not thinking of great buildings, added the Pope, "but he points out that these constructions are built by the river, while the good builder knows that at the first flood such a house is destined to be swept away".

Pope Francis continued by explaining that this parable, "continues with the other side of the coin": "Whoever comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice [...] is like a man who, building a house, has dug very deep and laid a foundation on the rock" (vv. 47-48). The Pope noted that this image becomes even more interesting when we think that such a builder also defended the house from possible future floods. 

Competition and transparency

Pope Francis then discussed the values he had previously mentioned, beginning with those of "competition and transparency". 

He noted that "competition alone is not enough", as it deludes one into thinking that one can win over the other or that the defeat of the other is to be factored into the economic performance. When this happens, the Pope continued, "it undermines the social fabric of trust that allows the market itself to function properly". Competition must be an incentive to do one's work well and to improve, rather than being a desire for domination and exclusion. This is why transparency in decision-making processes and economic choices is essential, continued the Pope. "It makes it possible to avoid unfair competition, which in the economic and labour spheres often means job losses, support for undeclared work, or underpaid work", he explained.

Responsibility and sustainability

The Pope then went on to speak of "responsibility and sustainability". "Never before have we heard so much talk about sustainability", said the Pope, explaining that "it involves the regenerative capacity of every ecosystem". In the building sector, it is essential to use materials that offer people safety; yet at the same time, he said, "we must avoid exploiting the environment by cooperating in making certain particularly exploited territories unviable". 

Ethics, legality and safety

Finally, Pope Francis turned to "ethics, legality, and safety". He noted that last year, "too many people died at work". They are not numbers, stressed the Pope, but real people. Construction sites, too, "have seen tragedies that we cannot ignore", but unfortunately, if we look at safety in the workplace as a cost, we are starting from the wrong assumption, stressed the Pope.

He explained that people are the real wealth, and that without them there is no working community, no business, no economy. "Working safely allows everyone to express the best of themselves while earning their daily bread", concluded the Pope, adding that "the more we take care of the dignity of work, the more certain we are that the quality and beauty of the work carried out will increase".

Pope Francis concluded with a prayer to St Joseph, patron saint of workers, asking that he might support them in their efforts, before asking that they pray for him, too. 

20 January 2022, 12:30