By CINDY WOODEN, Catholic News Service | Published July 24, 2014
VATICAN CITY (CNS)—Job creation and respect for the environment were recurring themes as Pope Francis visited the southern Italian region of Molise July 5.
“We cannot resign ourselves to losing a whole generation of young people who don’t have the strong dignity of work,” Pope Francis said during a meeting with the region’s young people in the town of Castelpetroso. “Work gives dignity.”
“A generation without work is a future defeat for the country and for humanity,” the pope told the young people gathered under the hot sun outside the town’s Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows.
The Italian national statistics bureau reported in early June that the Molise region’s unemployment rate was 16.4 percent, which is worse than the national average. The situation is particularly bad for job seekers between the ages of 15 and 24, a full 50 percent of whom cannot find jobs.
Visiting three towns in Molise, Pope Francis began the day meeting with workers, business leaders and local politicians at the regional university in Campobasso.
“Not having work does not just mean not having what one needs to live,” the pope said. People can survive on charity and assistance, but “the problem is not being able to bring bread to the table and this takes away one’s dignity.”
Pope Francis called for a serious effort by national and local politicians, business leaders and workers to come up with some kind of “labor pact” that would create jobs.
Gabriele Maglieri, a 28-year-old farmer like his father and grandfather before him, told the pope about the importance of family farms in producing traditional Italian wines, olive oil, salami and cheese while protecting the soil, water resources and biodiversity.
In response, the pope said, “to stay and work the land is not to be stuck. It is to be in dialogue—a fruitful, creative dialogue with the land, making it flower.”
The pope said he “fully shares what was said about the importance of safeguarding the earth so that it bears fruit without being exploited. This is one of the greatest challenges of our age: to convert to a form of development that respects creation.”
Finding wisdom and lasting values was also on the pope’s mind earlier in the day when he met an estimated 20,000 young people in Castelpetroso.
Modern society’s “culture of the provisional” tries to convince young people that no vocation, no relationship and no passion will last, he said, but deep down people yearn to construct their lives on “the rock of love and responsibility rather than on the sands of shifting emotions.”
“The human heart aspires to great things, important values, deep friendships and bonds that are strengthened, not broken, by trial,” he said. “The human being aspires to love and be loved.”
Pope Francis told young people they could look to their “big brother,” Jesus, for help and guidance in discerning their vocations and finding the path that will lead to happiness in serving God and others.