The suffering workers of the world

Intervention by Cardinal Cardijn, 5 October 1965 

Venerable Fathers, 

In my previous intervention, I spoke of young people and the Third World. Please allow me today to speak of the workers who suffer around the world 

At present, the number of workers in every country is increasing day by day. The outcome and the future of the world and of the Church depends on their work. Facing this fact, our Council must address itself to the workers of the whole world in more realistic and less theoretical terms. More than other people, workers are waiting for a message from the Council that will echo the voice of Christ crying out: “I have pity on this crowd”. 

The sub-human situation of the majority of the working world 

But the majority of or even the great majority of workers presently experience deplorable and gravely unjust working conditions as well as personal, family, social, cultural and often even political conditions: 

  • Wages are often derisory; 
  • Preparation for qualified and truly human work is non-existent or insufficient; machines force men and also women to work too quickly and unsafely; 
  • Unemployment or interruptions to work are imposed unilaterally on workers without adequate compensation; 
  • Trade unions whose role is to defend the legitimate rights and responsibilities of workers at work do not exist or are forbidden; 
  • Workers are often required to travel with increasing frequency without regard for their family life; 
  • Lodging, food, education and instruction of children are also lacking. 

These sub-human conditions of life and work, which we cannot detail owing to the lack of time, affect countless workers and worker families and constitute a universal and very serious sin against man and against God for the present world.

Whatever is contrary to Catholic Social Teaching must be considered as gravely sinful 

To create new conditions of work, workers of the whole world, conscious of their solidarity, must unite and collaborate freely and in peace. They must collaborate more effectively with national and international public authorities as well as with the leaders of the economic and social world. 

It is certain that workers will be liberated by work and by the workers; and the Church must solemnly manifest her confidence and her approval for this difficult challenge. 

By this effort workers aspire to conditions which will improve their own life and also the lives of all people, and above all those in the Third World who suffer the worst conditions. 

This Council must beg heads of enterprises to become conscious of their responsibilities for workers. It must demand that they take into consideration the social doctrine that the Church’s magisterium has developed over the course of the centuries, above all from Leo XIII to Paul VI. 

In the renewal of Christian discipline which will take place after this Vatican Council in line with its constitutions and decrees, it will certainly be necessary that all that is contrary to the social teaching of the Church on human work should be considered as a grave sin by Christian communities 

I will say it again again: the Church which loves the workers as Our Lord Jesus Christ loved them must be convinced that workers are and must be their own liberators. 

As Pius XI said: “The first apostles, the immediate apostles of the workers are the workers themselves.” The Church repeats this invitation with love and insistence. 

The world has been saved by Jesus the worker, Messiah of men and Son of God. 

Likewise, the world today must be saved by workers taking to heart the salvation of the whole of humanity and the promotion of universal brotherhood under the paternity of God. 

All workers have seen the Pope at the UN 

Venerable Fathers and Very Dear Brothers, 

Forty years ago, Pope Pius XI deplored what he described as the greatest scandal of the 19th century: the loss of the working masses by the Church. 

Yesterday, for the first time, workers from around the world saw on television Pope Paul VI, the greatest missionary of peace and brotherhood. They heard his voice calling for justice and respect for all peoples even the smallest. Today in workshops around the world, workers are speaking of this. 

And they hope that henceforth their work will no longer serve to produce arms which destroy houses and kill children but to build houses, to provide food for children and to better instruct and train young people. 


Thus I request that we should insert in this Pastoral Constitution – in a way that our Commission considers opportune – a solemn invitation to all world authorities, religious or political, private or public, national or international to renounce their present conflicts and to effectively and without delay set out to coordinate all the immense opportunities present in the world created by God as well as by the efforts of people for the liberation of young people, workers and the Third World. 

In doing so, our Vatican Council will fulfil its pastoral mission. Those who direct human affairs will render a great service to the common good and to all people. And in this general reconciliation and effective concord, the divine economy will, with God’s help, lead to new victories in the history of the people. 

I have finished. 

Joseph Card. Cardijn 


The suffering workers of the world (Joseph Cardijn Library)