July 2014 – RELIGION – If your job has you working on Sunday, the world leader of the Roman Catholic Church says maybe that’s not a good thing. “A work-free Sunday — with the exception of necessary services — says that our priority is not to economics, but the human being, gratuity, non-commercial relations, rather family and friends, for believers it means a relationship with God and with the community,” Pope Francis told a massive crowd in Molise, Italy, on July 5, according to Vatican Radio. “Perhaps it is time to ask whether it is a true freedom to work on Sundays.” The address was the pontiff’s first public appearance in the southern Italian city and focused on the world of work and the needs of families. Francis initially met with a university official, a Fiat factory worker, and a young mother who is pregnant with her second child, he said. The Molise region is suffering from high unemployment, reports indicate, and Sunday work is often cited as a way to grow the local economy. “Another challenge was voiced by this good working mother, who also spoke on behalf of her family: her husband, her young child and the baby in her womb. Her’s is a plea for work and at the same time for the family. Thank you for this testimony! In fact, it is a case of trying to reconcile work with family life,” the pope stated, referencing the woman’s concern about having Sunday as a time to play with her children. Francis continued, “This also raises the issue of working Sundays, which affects not only believers, but it affects everyone, as an ethical choice. We are losing this free space!
The question is what do we want to prioritize?” The quest for “free space” once a week is not a new theme for a pope or for the Catholic Church. In 1998, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter, Dies Domini, or “The Lord’s Day,” in which the former archbishop of Krackow pleaded for a more spiritual emphasis. “(W)hen Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a ‘weekend,’ it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see ‘the heavens,’” John Paul wrote. “Hence, though ready to celebrate, they are really incapable of doing so. The disciples of Christ, however, are asked to avoid any confusion between the celebration of Sunday, which should truly be a way of keeping the Lord’s Day holy, and the ‘weekend,’ understood as a time of simple rest and relaxation.” Francis’ remarks did not go as far as those of his predecessor, but media reporting interpreted his words as calling for a return to a simpler age: “Pope Francis has lamented the abandoning of the traditionally Christian practice of not working on Sundays, saying it has a negative impact on families and friendships,” the Associated Press reported. The call for a work-free Sunday has expanded — in Europe, at least — beyond the confines of the Roman Catholic Church. A European Sunday Alliance exists to lobby for legal recognition of workers’ rights to a day off, as embodied in various European Union charters. Such calls have engendered concerns over the rights of individuals who do not observe Sunday as a holy day, however: “Economic arguments aside, religious minorities in Europe — among them Muslims, Jews and Seventh-day Adventists — worry the proposal could infringe on free expression of religious beliefs, despite its seemingly well-intentioned goals of reducing stress and overwork,” the Adventist News Network reported in February 2014. Taking a day off each week has clear benefits for individuals and their families, as a Deseret News report in April outlined. –Central Talky News/