Archbishop Wilson praises “immense” contribution of migrant workers

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Yesterday, Monday 6 May, Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark celebrated the annual Mass for Migrants, in honour of St Joseph the Worker, and said “the contribution of migrant workers to the United Kingdom is immense”.

During the Mass celebrated at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, Archbishop Wilson thanked migrant workers in the UK and added “our life together is better because of the skills, the service, and the contribution you give”.

His full homily is below.

Mass for Migrant Workers – St Joseph the Worker, 2024

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Today, we honour St Joseph with the title of ‘the worker.’ We know he was a carpenter, that he was the husband of our blessed Lady, and the foster father of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus. It’s good to remember, as the Catechism teaches, that, for the greater part of his life, the Lord Jesus shared the condition of most people: ‘a daily life, spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labour.’ (CCC 531) Like his foster father, St Joseph, the Lord too was a worker. It’s right, then, that our celebration today focuses on the dignity and importance of human work.

The story is told, perhaps familiar to you, of how during a parish retreat, a group of priests from different religious orders are gathered in the parish church to pray. While praying, all the lights went out. The Benedictines continued praying from memory; The Jesuits discussed whether the blown fuse means they are dispensed from the obligation to pray; The Franciscans composed a song of praise for God’s gift of darkness; The Dominicans revisited their ongoing debate about light as a symbol of the transmission of faith; The Carmelites fell into silence;

Eventually, the parish priest went to the hallway and replaced the fuse; and the lights came back on.

Prayer is important; but so is work; and Catholic social teaching affirms work both as a duty and as a right.

  • It’s through work that we collaborate with God our Creator, exercising authentic stewardship over the earth’s resources, providing for ourselves and our families. 
  • It’s through work that we recognise and harness the gifts and talents given by God to each person.
  • It’s through work that we grow in virtue and holiness, uniting our work with Christ’s own work of salvation.

St John Paul II said that work helps us to be more fully human. (Laborem Exercens, 9) And just as we need work, so, also, we need rest. We need to re-create, humanly and spiritually, honouring God’s own rest at the end of creation. (LE, 25)

So many people have come to our country to seek and provide essential work for our nation. Recent information shows that foreign-born people make up nearly one fifth of the working population in the United Kingdom. Many highly educated migrant workers are overqualified for their UK jobs. Significant numbers of workers from overseas support the UK in the hospitality sector, in transport and storage, and in communications and information technology. Almost one fifth of NHS staff in England report a nationality other than British. The contribution of migrant workers to the United Kingdom is immense.

This said, the decision to leave behind one’s homeland, and sometimes one’s family, in search of work, is far from easy. It demands courage and sacrifice. How important it is today, to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who has migrated to work here in the United Kingdom. Our life together is better because of you. Our life together is better because of the skills, the service, and the contribution you give. Our life together is better because of the diversity of cultures you bring to our communities.

The Catholic Church in the United Kingdom has always been a migrant Church, with members from across the world. Our parishes, schools, and chaplaincies are a beautiful mosaic of people from all nations who find with us a home from home. We are proud of this. It’s something we celebrate with joy. The blessing of our unity in Christ gives witness in the Church to the harmony of humanity. This is a precious sign we give to our country.

Catholic social teaching upholds the dignity and rights of workers. It condemns all forms of injustice towards working people, whatever their country of origin or status in life. The human person is always more important than the product they produce or the service they provide. Work is ‘for the person,’ not the person for work. Employment should never ‘use’ a person, placing on them intolerable burdens and unacceptable conditions. Rather, work is a noble calling to share the life of our Creator. Work enables the human person, family, and society, to flourish. While work contributes to our fulfilment, we must remember that every person is more than their job. First, and foremost, every person is a son or daughter of God, someone respected for who they are, not for what they do or achieve.  

Today, the Church invites us to look to St Joseph for encouragement. As the model for all workers, he provided for the Holy Family with dedication and faithfulness. Asking his intercession, we pray for the protection of workers and their rights; we pray for respect for the dignity of human labour; and we pray for an increased appreciation of the valued role of workers from overseas in our communities.

Dear friends, the history of humanity is a history of migration. So is the history of our faith. From Abraham to the Israelites, from the Holy Family to the countless asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants of our own time, the experience of being ‘a stranger in a strange land’ is woven into the fabric of human existence. In welcoming others we encounter the face of Christ. In listening to their story, we begin to understand their unique identity. In offering refuge, asylum, or the opportunity to work, we build a better future together.  

The foster child of St Joseph the Worker, the carpenter’s son, is the word made flesh. The Lord Jesus himself learned to work as a carpenter. It prepared him for the work of salvation on the wood of the cross. He gives us a commandment that has no exceptions – to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. May the example and prayers of St Joseph the Worker inspire us to be a people of welcome, solidarity and justice, so that the gifts of others might be enabled to serve the good of others.