It was an atmosphere of pride and solidarity as hundreds of men and women from different walks of life gathered for Mass in honor of the labor movement.
The annual Labor Mass was celebrated Sept. 9 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Union banners prominently displayed on the steps to the altar were the same banners carried by union representatives during the liturgy’s opening and closing processions.
The principal celebrant, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, delivered a poignant homily about how working class individuals deal with present day issues and how belonging to a union has impacted their lives.
“This generation did not begin the movement but this generation is the recipient of the gifts from the past generation and we accept this with humility,” he said.
He also noted that the tradition of unions is to serve humanity and to preserve the dignity of the working man and woman. Msgr. Sullivan spoke about the life of 17th century saint, St. Peter Claver, the Spanish Jesuit priest and missionary who dedicated his life to serving the slave and indentured working population of Colombia. He is considered a heroic example of Christian love and of the exercise of human rights. The Congress of the Republic of Colombia declared Sept. 9 as the human rights national day in his honor.
“Moving forward, those who represent the working class must have a strong and powerful voice,” Msgr. Sullivan said. “Every day, it’s up to each and every one of us to stand for dignity and to value all humanity.” Justice and rights, he said, remain important.
“There are not the same numbers of organized laborers who are union members much like there are not the same number of church-goers; we know this and we cannot turn a blind eye, but we still need to celebrate those who do the right thing and still participate in organized labor,” Msgr. Sullivan said.
Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, told CNY, “Beyond securing the wages, benefits and respect that allow them to live with dignity in New York City, there is also a moral dimension involved in protecting the rights and well-being of workers. Our faith speaks of paying workers a just wage, and it also speaks about treating workers fairly. These are tenets that the labor movement believes in wholeheartedly, and we are committed to keeping up the fight to protect all workers.”
The AFL-CIO represents 300 unions and has more than 1 million members.
Bill Sampson and Angel Martinez are members of the Teamsters Union, Local 812 Soft Drink and Beverage Workers of New York. Sampson, a former union president who is now retired, told CNY, “The legacy that they (Teamsters) left us, it’s our responsibility to leave for the next generation of workers.”
Martinez, a 26-year Teamster and a delegate for seven years, said that for him and many of the members, work and faith go hand in hand. “I ask God to work through me now more than ever; with all these attacks on workers, we need prayers more than ever.”
The Mass preceded the New York City Labor Day Parade along Fifth Avenue.