- St Francis Day
- Decent Work
- In brief ...
"In these last days [God] has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word." Hebrews 1:2-3
This week's Revised Common Lectionary epistle is a fitting reading for the end of Time for Creation! Pray that an awareness of the centrality of Christ in the creation, sustaining and redemption of all things may inspire us to worship God in caring for the gift of creation ... and may give us hope in times of environmental crisis.
St Francis Day (4 October)
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
St Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Sun (Laudato Si)
Time for Creation ends on the 4th of October, the Feast of St Francis. Francis' ability to see God's presence in all of creation, to love of all God's creatures, and to recognise the value of simple dependence on our loving Creator have offered inspiration to Christians throughut the centuries.
It is this combination of love of God, love of creation and love of humanity that caused Pope Francis to take the saint's name on his election as Pope and to use 'Laudato Si' as the title of his encyclical on integral ecology.
"I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically," the Pope writes in Laudato Si. "He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace."
One of the things to which Pope Francis calls attention specifically is the way in which the saint's "response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection ... His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, 'from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’'"
What does this mean for us today? Pope Francis notes that without such awe and wonder, a sense of fraternity and beauty, and a view of "nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness," our attitude towards the earth too easily becomes "that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs." "By contrast," he notes, "if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled."
As we come to the end of 'Time for Creation' and celebrate St Francis Day, please pray:
- that all Christians may recognise our unity with all of God's creation - and rejoice in our common calling to be signs of God's presence and instruments of God's praise
- that we may turn away from all that causes us to see people, animals and nature as objects which exist simply to serve our ends and may live in a way which values all of God's gifts
- that we may rejoice in a world that is not "a problem to be solved ... [but] a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise."
Elizabeth's Laudato Si powerpoint is one of our most popular resources ever: do take a look. There are also a number of prayer resources for celebrating Francis' spirituality on the Pray and Fast for the Climate webpage for 4 October.
“That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil - this is the gift of God” Ecclesiastes 3:13
Not all work is decent work. Take one example: around the world, millions of people are involved in artisanal and small scale mining, a sector which relies heavily on economically disadvantaged and vulnerable people and which can involve hazardous working conditions. Small-scale miners are frequently exposed to explosives and dangerous chemicals (such as cyanide and mercury, which are used to process gold), often without adequate protection or training in health and safety. And this comes on top of long hours and poor prices for their product!
Such situations, however, can be improved. In mining, for example, thanks to the introduction of Fairtrade gold standards, things are improving for some miners. In Peru, SOTRAMI Mining Organization is a company that was formed by its workers. Since its inception, it has been working towards international labour standards, and it is now Fairtrade certified. Among other things the Fairtrade certification requires that chemicals are only handled by trained workers, the use of protective gear is mandatory and all miners are trained in health and safety. Fairtrade miners also receive a fair price for their gold - plus the Fairtrade premium, a payment that goes to the cooperative for use in the community. The Fairtrade Foundation quotes one of SOTRAMI’s miners, Eugenio Huayhua Vera, as saying, “We have our very own slogan: We opt for mining with a human face. This mining with a human face is something we practice in our day-to-day operations, in our security handling, in how we treat people in our working environment, in our working conditions, in the agreements we have reached”.
October 7th is the World Day for Decent Work, when trade unions around the world will speak up for decent jobs and respect for workers’ rights. In the UK, the TUC will explore issues for workers at home and around the world. In Senegal, workers will draw attention to the misuse of legislation by companies in the country, whereby workers are employed as daily or seasonal workers but on a permanent basis – resulting in precarious employment, exclusion from social security provisions and health and safety protections, and lower salaries than permanent workers.
That unions, companies and governments can work together to improve working conditions and pay has recently been demonstrated by the new ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation) initiative to establish industry-wide agreements on wages and conditions in the garment manufacturing sector, which is to be rolled out first in Cambodia.
What can churches and individual Christians do to support "work with a human face"?
Making choices that support decent work when we shop is one obvious way. Whilst gold might not be top of our shopping lists, all Fairtrade products help provide decent working conditions and fairer reward for labour. Going beyond that, it's worth supporting companies that have defined ethical policies on wages and conditions - whether they are UK manufacturers/retailers that are living wage employers or companies that have signed up to agreements like the Bangladesh Accord. It's also worth thinking about labour costs when we look at prices: if the sticker price seems too low to be realistic, why not ask questions?
We can also support those agencies, people and groups involved in securing better conditions and rights for workers. For example, Christian Aid's partner SKA has run a successful campaign in India to end manual scavenging – the degrading 'profession' of manually clearing human waste from latrines - and to assist manual scavengers so that they can find alternative work. The Mission to Seafarers helps to challenge bad practice, as well as supporting seafarers who have been mistreated by employers. Kalayaan works to provide justice for migrant domestic workers in the UK, and Anti-Slavery International does the same in other countries. And issues raised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UK trade unions may inspire us to advocacy.
We might also choose to support organizations that seek to end forced labour, which the ILO defines as "situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities." One such is the International Justice Mission (IJM). In a recent case IJM helped in the rescue of 260 people from forced labour in brick kilns in Bangalore. Anti-Slavery International is also active in this area, as are anti-trafficking initiatives such as Finance against Trafficking.
Promoting “employment and decent work for all” is part of the 8th Sustainable Development Goal. Specific targets within the goal include: equal pay for work of equal value, eradicating forced labour and undertaking to “protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment”. Our prayer, as we move towards the World Day for Decent Work, is that these aspirations will become realities.
- For all whose work is demeaning, degrading, under-valued or unseen - and all who are working to end poor working conditions and unfair wages.
- For all who want paid work but can’t find it – or are prevented from seeking it
- For all who are in forced labour, that they may find freedom and decent work.
- For all who have lost their jobs. Pray especially for those for whom job loss involves a loss of identity and security
- For those who work to uphold and promote workers’ rights and to protect workers from harm
Could you support - through donations or taking part in advocacy - those who are seeking to maintain or improve working conditions in the UK or elsewhere in the world? If your church doesn't already have a Fairtrade policy, could you ask it to introduce one? Is your church or denomination or business a Living Wage Employer? If not, could you help it to become one?
In brief ...
- please pray for those affected by extreme weather events and their consequences, including a major landslide in Guatemala, Hurricane Joaquin, and extraordinary rains in the southeast US.
- please pray for the people of Kunduz in Afghanistan. Following a Taliban assault, the battle for the city has been fraught with danger for civilians. Amnesty International has reported "harrowing accounts" of Taliban killings and rapes, while attacks with high civilian casualties carried out by the Afghan and US forces fighting the Taliban, including a US strike which devastated an MSF hospital, have also resulted in deaths and injuries to the innocent. Pray for all who have been injured or killed, and for their families. Pray too for all working for a just peace in Afghanistan.