The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 7, 2001 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

After the holiday, a challenge

Wisconsin bishops want all to take a serious look at state of labor

By Bishop Robert Banks

Related articles:

 • News article --
    Bishops: Work must fulfill us

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    Labor of love

President Bush's visit to Wisconsin captured the headlines this past Labor Day weekend. There was another piece of news, however, that merited at least a little attention as we celebrated Labor Day. I refer to the letter which the Catholic bishops of Wisconsin released last week: Making Wisconsin Work Well. A Labor Day Challenge by Wisconsin's Roman Catholic Bishops.

Letters last longer than presidential visits, so I am sure that more notice will be taken of the bishops' letter as time moves on. But let me use the occasion of our celebration of Labor Day to call attention to some of the letter's main points.

First, I would note that the letter was initially drafted by a statewide committee chaired by our own Bp. Morneau. Two committee members also came from our diocese: Tom Kurkowski, our diocesan finance officer and Dcn. Tim Reilly, a well-known business consultant.

The committee did the important spadework of researching the labor situation in Wisconsin and then we bishops spent considerable time making sure that the letter expressed our concerns and those of earlier papal documents.

A way we become human

One reason for issuing the letter this year was to mark the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Laborem Exercens ("On Human Work"). That letter, and others issued by him and his predecessors, lift up our human labor, paid and unpaid, as one of the most important ways by which we become human, reflecting God's image and God's purpose in creating us.

Usually our U.S. Labor Day celebration, if it thinks about labor at all, focuses on labor unions and the issues associated with salaried work. But our popes come from countries that don't celebrate Labor Day and they write for a world where most countries do not have the benefits that can be brought about by strong labor unions. So the papal letters have to stress first the fundamental importance and dignity of the work we do, paid and unpaid. They can then take up the issues of the rights of workers, the struggle for a just resolution of conflict between labor and capital, and a just distribution of the world's resources.

Besides marking the anniversary of the pope's encyclical, our intention in writing our own letter was to address some specific issues that face the citizens of Wisconsin. The challenge facing all of us is "to ensure that all Wisconsin workers are able to work in ways that fulfill their potential, care for their families and contribute to the common good of society."

My own observation, coming from outside 10 years ago, is that Wisconsin workers take their work seriously and are valued for their strong work ethic. That is true for those who work for pay in industry, but it seems to be equally true of our Wisconsin people who volunteer in all the various charitable and religious activities. I think that same work ethic is generally reflected in most of our homes and neighborhoods. So often I hear people say of their community that it is a good place to raise a family.

Finding a balance

But there are difficulties. A few years ago, it was unemployment; more recently, it has been a labor shortage. In our personal lives, it is often difficult for persons to find the right balance between the job, work at home, and time just to be. Need I say that time for religion and prayer can so easily be squeezed out of people's busy schedules?

Specific issues addressed in our pastoral letter include:

• the Church as an employer;
• work and education;
• women in the workplace;
• the right to a living wage;
• the valued place of employers;
• the importance of labor unions;
• the needs of the working poor;
• the future of Wisconsin Works;
• work on our farms;
• working people with disabilities;
• diversity in the workplace and;
• globalization.

(For more on the letter, see "Bishops: Work must fulfill us".)

Despite the number of issues, the letter is only 12 pages long, so it should be an easy read for those who are interested.

Everyone will have his or her own opinion as to what issues are the most important. Probably the issue that affects most people is simply the stress of keeping up with the demands of life in our modern society. It helps to know that our work - paid and unpaid - is important in the sight of God and in our own personal development and fulfillment. At the same time, we have to remember that, according to the Bible, even God rested.

Keeping well-knit

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had occasion to reflect on the importance of family conversations. I happened to mention in a homily that the serious issues in a family are often discussed at the dinner table.

It did not take long for a few of the parishioners to let me know that, in many homes, there is no time spent together at the dinner table. That means then that those families will have to figure out other ways to come together for the conversations and activities that knit families together.

A societal issue that has divided our state and nation concerns the relationship of work and welfare. I think our letter recognizes the importance of work for the development of persons and families, but it also insists that those who have jobs should receive the wages and benefits necessary for a decent life.

A final note. When we bishops were putting this letter together, my one refrain was the importance of education. If a youngster doesn't receive an adequate education, then there will not be much possibility of a decent job in the future.

(A copy of the Wisconsin bishops' letter, Making Wisconsin Work Well. A Labor Day Challenge by Wisconsin's Roman Catholic Bishops, can be found at the web site for the Wisconsin Catholic Conference at

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