Mayday! Mayday! – Pope Francis and Vincentian Voices

by | May 11, 2022 | Formation, Reflections

MaydayMayday! It’s the call that no airplane pilot or ship’s captain ever wants to make. Why? Because it means trouble. Big trouble!

Mayday became an international distress call in 1923. Frederick Mockford came up with the idea for “mayday” because it sounded like the French word m’aider, which means “help me.”

Many meanings of May Day

The Communist party used May 1 to call for solidarity with workers.

Pope Pius XII designated May 1 as the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. This feast highlights the long relationship between St. Joseph and the cause of workers in both Catholic faith and devotion.

This Mindwalk, however, reflects on what some might call Pope Francis’ ‘Mayday signal’ for workers today. One of his recent weekly General Audiences triggered my juxtaposing workers today and mayday calls.

Pope Francis and “Maydays” for workers today

Pope Francis reminds us that in the Palestine of Jesus’ time, wood was used not only to make plows and furniture but also to build houses, which had wooden frames and terraced roofs made of beams connected with branches and earth. This triggered thoughts of all the workers in the world especially hidden workers. Their work, or lack of work, is hidden or not seen by those who have work or the means to provide minimal support for their families.

He specifically thinks of those who…

  • Work labor in mines and intolerable conditions in factories
  • Are undocumented, exploited with well below minimum wages and no pensions
  • Long to be employed
  • Are children forced to work like adults or rummage in garbage dumpsters, etc.

He thinks of those who when they return home: from a day of labor (or seeking a job), face the question, “Have you found something?” — “No, nothing… I went to Caritas and I brought bread”.

What gives dignity is not bringing bread home. You can get it from Caritas — no, this does not give you dignity.

What gives you dignity is earning bread — and if we do not give our people, our men, and women, the ability to earn bread, there is a social injustice in that place, in that nation, in that continent.

He reminds us

Today, we should ask ourselves what we can do to recover the value of work; and what contribution we can make, as Church, [to ensure] that work can be redeemed from the logic of mere profit and can be experienced as a fundamental right and duty of the person, which expresses and increases his or her dignity.

Early Vincentian “Mayday” calls

As David Gregory argues, Frederic Ozanam pioneered the concept of the natural wage. He also called for voluntary labor unions.

Ozanam’s concepts of free, dignified labor, the natural wage, and voluntary unions helped set the stage for the great Catholic social encyclicals on the rights of workers, beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (On Labor) in 1891.

Some years ago I was surprised to learn about a follower of Ozanamm and an active member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Giuseppe Toniolo. He was a professor of political economy at the University of Paris and became the leading Italian authority on Catholic social teaching. Pope Leo XIII consulted him as he drafted Rerum Novarum.. (David Gregory).

Ozanam’ s socio-political-economic vision was markedly opposed to the laissez-faire markets that concentrated wealth, oppressed workers, and exacerbated poverty. He believed that enhancing workers’ rights to decent wages and to organize into unions were legitimate, affirmative instruments that could alleviate poverty.

What Vincentian “Mayday” calls are you aware of today?

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk



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