The Wellington Catholic Peacemakers Group held three sessions last month to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the release of the major document of Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes.
The three evening sessions, at the Compassion Centre Soup Kitchen were led by speakers Fr Gerard Burns, who gave an overview; Kay Smith, who spoke on peace; and John Maynard who talked about work.
Opening the series, Fr Burns told a group of around 25 people, that the opening paragraph of Gaudium et Spes indicated a substantial change in the way the church saw its relationship with the world.
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.
Fr Burns said before the Second Vatican Council, the idea had grown up that the church was a perfect society, separate from ‘the world’. However, from its opening, Gaudium et Spes recognises the goodness also in the world, and that there is much to be learned from dialogue with different people and academic disciplines.
Gaudium et Spes aimed to challenge the dominant individualism of modern philosophy, morality and social practice. It sought a more communitarian way of seeing and experiencing the world.
He said the document represents the priority given by St Thomas Aquinas to a positive view of human effort, seeing it as often leading to good, over the view of thinkers who saw human effort as often leading to evil.
In the second week, Wellington JPD adviser Kay Smith spoke about the message of Gaudium et Spes to foster peace. She said there was a clear and definite shift away from church discussions about circumstances under which war was legitimate towards a position that war was not an acceptable means of resolving disputes.
Gaudium et Spes also said that peace is more than the absence of war, and that the causes of war – such as injustice and discord – must be rooted out.
Catholic teaching on peace has continued to develop since Gaudium et Spes and Kay recommended that the simplest way to access this teaching is through the annual Message for the World Day of Peace delivered by the Pope each New Year’s Day.
In the third week, Wellington postie and JPD Commission member, John Maynard, reflected on aspects of Gaudium et Spes that relate to the dignity of work, for example:
Among the fundamental rights of the individual must be numbered the right of workers to form themselves into associations which truly represent them and are able to cooperate in organising economic life properly, and the right to play their part in the activities of such organisations without risk of reprisal. (n 67)
John Maynard spoke of learning the principles of See, Judge, Act while a member of a Young Christian Workers group in Wellington. His working life and union work included 15 years at the Tip Top Ice-cream factory in Johnsonville and he currently works as a postie.
Through sharing the experience of physical danger and injuries on the job, and witnessing racist abuse by supervisors and bullying by managers, John helped to build a union that truly represents all the workers on the job.
For John, work is necessary and it should be healthy and respectful of the people doing the work giving them a source of joy and a sense of contribution.
He feels that the way work is organised too often crushes workers’ sense of joy and of contributing to the common good through their work.