Catholic Charities: Promoting dignity through work

By Sara Ramirez
Catholic Charities of Central Texas

In today’s society, much of an individual’s identity is defined by his or her work. “What do you do?” is the question that often follows an introduction. For children, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” 
We teach our kids that they can be anything they want to be –– the sky is the limit. They dress up as doctors, astronauts and fire fighters, in awe of the possibilities before them. And we encourage them to dream, because we want them to know and experience the dignity that comes with living out their God-given gifts to the fullest potential.
The foundational principle of our Catholic social teaching (CST) is “life and dignity of the human person.” Each subsequent theme of CST expands upon the first, providing guidance and practical instruction for what it really means to promote human life and dignity at every stage. One of these themes is “dignity of work and the rights of workers,” which was brought to the forefront of our teachings when Pope Leo XIII penned Rerum Novarum, commonly considered to be the first of the papal documents that define modern Catholic social teaching. Pope Leo XIII and many after him have spoken out against unsafe working conditions, child labor and unfair wages.
In the U.S. we are blessed to have protections like a minimum wage, overtime compensation and safety regulations that promote the wellbeing of laborers. We believe in the American dream –– the idea that as long as one is willing to work hard, nothing is impossible. And we are joined each day by more and more of our sisters and brothers from around the world who have left their homelands in search of that dream. This Labor Day we celebrate the contributions of those who have been a voice for dignity in work and pay homage to all of those who labor day after day to provide the best lives for their families.
The sad reality for many workers is that they are not afforded the rights granted to them under the law. They live in fear of the potential consequences of speaking out for justice, such as hostility, job loss or deportation. Some work multiple jobs to cover the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter, and still others desperately seek any work at all. 
This year Catholic Charities partnered with community and governmental agencies to celebrate Labor Rights Week, the week leading up to Labor Day and dedicated to educating the most vulnerable in our midst about their rights in the workplace. Rights to which all are entitled regardless of education, legal status or occupation, but simply because they are human. The week included educational sessions, visits to local day labor centers to distribute information to individuals without steady employment and opportunities for all workers to learn how to protect themselves in the workplace.
Catholic Charities helps the families we serve to fulfill their right and desire to work. Our Counseling Services Office helps families overcome challenges such as strained relationships and self-doubt that may distract from successful participation in the workplace. Our Gabriel Project Life Center provides education to new moms on how to best take care of their bodies to achieve a safe delivery and quick recovery so that they are physically ready to return to work, whether that be inside or outside of the home.  In the last year Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services helped 100 individuals in Central Texas to gain or retain work authorization and the ability to come out of the shadows and live up to their full potential. We helped families to stay together and safe, so that they too have every chance of achieving the American dream. 
But we know that there is more to do. My dream is that one day the American dream will be shared by families living in all corners of the world, and that we will live in a world where every person thrives in their God-given gifts and dignity. I challenge you to join us. Join us in being a voice for the voiceless and in building a society where all are invited to participate in God’s creation through meaningful work.
To learn more about the work of Catholic Charities of Central Texas, visit ccctx.org.