Even with some encouraging signs of economic recovery in the months to come, for which we can all be grateful, the number of people without work continues to increase and foreclosures on homes continue to threaten families. Joblessness and homelessness are two markers of individual and family distress that affect our sense of who we are as human beings and of what we are called to be as disciples of Jesus Christ. Work is more than a way of making money; work is a way of making a living. Work has dignity not just because a job well-done is a noble thing; work has dignity because of the one who works, a human being made in God’s image and likeness. Working is a way of participating in God’s creation, God’s activity. Ministries to workers have long been part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s life. Besides the traditional labor chaplains or worker priests for mainstream industries, archdiocesan deacons and priests in recent years have pioneered special ministries for truck drivers and circus workers. The movement to protect the human rights of workers has deep roots in Catholic social teaching. Unionization of workers is one way of addressing rights, along with other social and legal means. The labor movement has changed much in recent years because our economy is less dependent on manufacturing, and organizing efforts have shifted to include agricultural and service industries. Many of organized labor’s goals have been realized, at least in part. Child labor is illegal; the work week is limited; employers take responsibility for dangerous working conditions; paid vacation and sick leave are part of most full time contracts for workers. The principles behind the labor movement, however, remain as significant as ever in a globalized economy. Along with business and financial institutions, trade unions and regulatory bodies are indispensable parts of an economy directed toward the common good. Confidence in both business and labor organizations is undermined by stories of internal corruption, but the institutions themselves remain necessary for a just economic order. Pope Benedict has spoken of a globalized economy offering “the hope of wider participation in development;” but he has also observed that economic globalization runs the risk of “worsening economic inequality.” In other words, any economy must serve people, not the other way around. Obviously, an economy is not adequately serving people when many are homeless or out of work. Many loans given to buy homes in the last decade cannot be repaid when jobs are lost. Because the real estate market was inflated and home values have now fallen, some borrowers owe more than their home is worth. As banks become more careful about their own debt, credit sources dry up. Foreclosures doubled and tripled in Chicago and in many suburbs from 2007 to early 2009. Threatened with homelessness, some families have fallen victims to mortgage rescue scams. Foreclosures have an even greater impact on the community in areas with multifamily housing. When three- or six-flat buildings are foreclosed, several families are on the street and the buildings that were their homes are boarded up. People without homes and without jobs have sometimes taken to living out of their cars. Some find refuge with family or friends. Temporary shelters can help, as can food pantries. Catholic Charities and other agencies have increased their services many fold in the last two years. Many parishes have PADS programs, but these are usually not designed to serve families. Parishes are trying to help those without work in different ways. Great tact and respect are necessary, for many are jobless for the first time in their lives and find themselves disoriented in a social situation they never anticipated. Some are confused and scared, afraid they will not be able to support their families, feeling alone, their human dignity threatened. In response, many parishes sponsor support groups for those who have lost their job. Besides buttressing a worker’s spiritual and psychological strength, groups can also help in developing personal resumes and job interview skills. Some parishes go further and become centers for putting those out of work into contact with possible employers, either through listing new job opportunities in the parish bulletin or organizing parishioners into networks that can look for job possibilities in their respective fields. An ecumenical endeavor called “Careers in Transition” is headquartered at Old St. Patrick’s Parish. A consortium of Catholic parishes, Protestant congregations and synagogues funds a service that provides full time professional staff to those needing job hunting skills. In the evening, professional volunteers come to offer guidance and assistance in directing the unemployed to job possibilities. The archdiocese is now engaged in surveying the parishes to find out how such services for the unemployed might be multiplied. Joblessness and homelessness are religious concerns because they are human tragedies. A vulnerable person can either begin to despair or can search for new hope. Hope means knowing you are loved, no matter what happens. The basis for such hope can only be God. St. Paul, in the letter to the Romans (12:12), writes from his own experience of God’s love: “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Together we can pray with and for the unemployed and the homeless, as we do our best to be of help. God bless you.