On Wednesday, November 8th members of the Villanova community gathered in solidarity to honor and support workers affected by poor working conditions. The event took place at the Grotto, which holds a shrine to Our Mother of Good Counsel, a place of peace and prayer. The vigil was co-sponsored by Villanovans Against Sweatshops (VAS) and Catholic Student Association (CSA). The speakers encouraged participants to live out the Catholic tradition of honoring and protecting workers. As we stood in solidarity in front of Our Mother of Good Counsel with our candles lit, we remembered abused workers and our own values. The vigil gave us the space to contemplate how we can uphold our values through supporting workers globally with our actions.
The location, co-sponsors, and attendees created a beautiful dynamic that allowed participants to reflect on their lives from multiple different angles. Our Mother of Good Counsel, standing peacefully in the Grotto, serves as a figure of guidance and advice to help worshippers through the difficulties of daily life. She encourages us to reflect upon our daily lives, actions, and the influence we have on others. At the vigil, this reminded participants of the significance of their daily power as consumers over workers across the globe. VAS students spread awareness of the atrocities taking place in sweatshops, most notably the Nike factory in Hansai. CSA students and Father Joseph Murray reminded participants of our Augustinian roots and our principles as a Catholic school. They reminded participants to act in correspondence with these principles.
As an Augustinian university, it is crucial for us to understand the connections between our faith and our daily lives. To bridge this gap, Father Joseph Murray led prayers to bless the workers globally “who are exploited, denied fair wages, and whose families are suffering.” He then discussed the writings of both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict regarding labor rights. Pope Francis describes the workplace as a setting for personal growth—a place where both workers and managers can cultivate a sense of self, grow spiritually, as well as make a decent living. This is all dependent, to some extent, on some element of leisure and self-reflection. It is clear that sweatshops completely violate everything that should comprise a workplace. Bosses abuse workers, force them into horrendous conditions, and pay minimal, unlivable wages. They are stuck in an endless cycle that negates personal growth and prohibits any leisure or rest. Pope Francis also reminded us of the Sabbath, emphasizing that everyone has the right to rest around the world, even God. The act of denying workers of proper rest is sinful by its nature. Finally, Pope Francis argues that to deny workers of a fair wage, and therefore restrict their access to the means of a decent life, is murder. This highlights the intensity of the problem. Denied of rest and fair wages completely depletes the sweatshop workers, creating an agonizing workplace and inhibits the personal growth of workers. Father Joseph Murray also incorporated some of Pope Benedict’s writings on workers’ rights. In Pope Benedict’s writings, he discusses the overall purpose of labor. While labor is crucial to an economy, he argues that humanity is the true source of economic and social life. The sweatshop workers are stripped of their humanity, treated as tools rather than people, thus destroying economic and social life in their homeland and globally. The impact of such evil is undeniable. As an Augustinian university, it is our job to uphold our values and to protect and support these workers who lack a platform of their own with which they can articulate their concerns. Father Joseph Murray beautifully integrated Catholic beliefs and workers’ rights to emphasize the importance of our own role as an Augustinian University in the issues.
Following Father Joseph Murray’s speech, a few students expressed their own ideas regarding the workers’ rights issues and how they relate to their personal faith. Christina Diezler discussed our role as consumers, and the need for us to be more conscious of our purchases. Through purchasing products made under humane conditions, we can respect human dignity and dismantle situations in which labor has become contrary to God’s will. Rabia Koureissi brought an interesting perspective to the Vigil, stating an ideal that originates in Islam: “the only race is the human race” Rabia demonstrated that we are all one, regardless of religion and regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Thus, it is our job to support and protect each other. These students and others reaffirmed many of Father Joseph Murray’s statements, while offering their own personal perspective of the issues through a religious lens.
After the vigil, Christina Diezler, Catholic Student Association member, discussed the importance of the event. She explained, “prayer has the power to transform us to act on behalf of those experiencing injustice.” The vigil was an eye-opening experience where we took time to “reflect on how we can uphold human dignity in our purchasing habits,” Christina noted. It provided us with a time to escape the clutter and noise of our daily life, urging us to shift our perspectives. Through dedicating this time to the global impact of our actions, we could reflect and improve our daily lives to correspond with our religious, spiritual, and humanitarian beliefs. Other students commented on the beauty in the communal aspect of the vigil. The vigil united VAS and CSA students, Father Joseph Murray, and faculty in our individual pursuits of justice. Moreover, many students agreed that the variety of religious perspectives was a beautiful aspect of the vigil and encouraged them to reflect upon the sacredness of human life.
After the vigil, Father Joseph Murray spoke regarding workers’ rights and our role as consumers, students, and members of society in it. He encourages students to challenge the status quo and capture people's’ imaginations to spread our message of justice. Through challenging the societal norms set by generations before us, we can reimagine the world as we would like it to be. We have the power to reform the system. However, to do so, we must gather the support of our peers and our community. Father Joseph Murray believes that “people’s hearts are touched by stories they can relate to,” and encourages us to show the world the detrimental effects of sweatshops. He explained,
“We need more exposure. We need the narrative. Who are these sweatshop people we’re talking about? What does it mean to live on 45 cents a day? People just don’t understand the reality.”
Our goal should be to educate ourselves and our communities, and to explain the detrimental effects that companies such as Nike create across the globe. Furthermore, he restated the importance of recognizing the deeply-rooted Catholic tradition of respecting workers. He explained, “Catholic bishops have created beautiful documents [about workers’ rights]. We haven’t done a great job of sharing those documents. It’s all there.” We hope that using these documents and our own personal beliefs and faith experience can better communicate our message and liberate exploited workers globally.
The vigil was an incredibly enlightening experience. It brought together groups sharing the same values through different perspectives.The groups that made this event possible hope to hold the vigil annually.
“My goal is to assist people in understanding better what is going on and the power they have to affect change.” –Father Joseph Murray