Melissa Wheeler
Catholic Relief Services: Rice Bowl
March 14, 2017 // Perspective

CRS: The dignity of work and the rights of workers

Melissa Wheeler
Catholic Relief Services: Rice Bowl

Each week of Lent, this series will provide ways to incorporate global solidarity and the struggles of our brothers and sisters throughout the world into your Lenten journey.

Nation focus: El Salvador

Catholic social teaching principle: Dignity of work and rights of workers

Question: What skills has God given you that you can share with others?

Scripture quote: But Jesus answered them, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” — John 5:17

Prayer intention: For all of us, that we may promote the rights of workers

Almsgiving challenge: Give $.25 to your CRS Rice Bowl for each chore you complete this week.

With a population of just over 6 million people in an area slightly smaller than Massachusetts, El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America. Income inequality is great in El Salvador, as is the likelihood of natural disasters. Catholic Relief Services has been on the ground in El Salvador since 1960. Agriculture was the focus then and continues to be a focus today, along with other work in disaster response, youth, peace building and microfinance.

In a country like El Salvador, where nearly 20 percent of the population emigrates, the growth of vocational development needs to be strong. This week we encounter a young man, Fernando, who is a beneficiary of the CRS YouthBuild project. Through this program, participants are trained in the ways of business. Through a six-month commitment to YouthBuild, Fernando learned about the commitment needed to found and run one’s own business. Currently he works selling cookbooks on buses. The program was a difficult one to complete, as the work could be dangerous and Fernando needed to spend a lot of time away from home. Now that he has completed the course, he stays connected to YouthBuild by mentoring other young people in the program. He has also been able to start a plan for his own business.

Fernando’s story demonstrates the principle that the United States bishops have called the dignity of work and rights of workers. We know that Jesus himself was a worker. He learned the trade of carpentry from St. Joseph. Work was an important part of Jesus’ life and should be an important part of all of our lives. It is essential to us being able to provide for ourselves and our families. Work is also a way for us to realize our dignity and worth, which is why fair wages are vital for those in need. The work of Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador with those in need is a demonstration of the love Christ had for the poor. When thinking of the plight of the poor in El Salvador, one cannot help but feel a connection to Blessed Oscar Romero.

Oscar Romero served as Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador from 1977-80. At the time, civil war was gaining speed in this small country. Most of the wealth in the country was held in the hands of very few people. There were gross inequities in the economic life of Salvadorans. There was also brutal violence taking hold in the country. Disappearances and other human rights violations were common. Many priests and nuns spoke out on behalf of those who were being persecuted.

Blessed Oscar Romero entered into the fray as well. He denounced the violence against the people in weekly addresses and homilies. His voice became known as the “voice of the voiceless”. He spoke for the thousands of people who did not have a platform to do so.

Blessed Oscar Romero was shot and killed while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980. He was formally declared a martyr by Pope Francis in February 2015 and beatified in May 2015.

There are many lessons to be learned from the lives of the people of God. Here is a piece of advice from Blessed Oscar Romero on the life of the Christian. I will let these words end the reflection.

“Each one of you has to be God’s microphone. Each one of you has to be a messenger, a prophet. The church will always exist, as long as there is someone who has been baptized. … Where is your baptism? You are baptized in your professions, in the fields of workers, in the market. Wherever there is someone who has been baptized, that is where the church is. There is a prophet there. Let us not hide the talent that God gave us on the day of our baptism, and let us truly live the beauty and responsibility of being a prophetic people.”

Melissa Wheeler is the diocesan director for Catholic Relief Services.

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