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Leo Xii

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Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII was born Vincenzo Pecci in Italy in 1810. When he was studying at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, he gave a presentation to many bishops about papal judgments, which received much praise and caught the attention of some Vatican officials. This was one of his first steps towards eventually become the Pope. Within ten years of this presentation, Pecci was ordained a priest and named a papal assistant (Bengini). He continued to work his way up in the Church and eventually in 1878, he was elected to be the Pope. He chose the name Leo in honor of Pope Leo XII, whom he admired very much. During his time at the Vatican he became the oldest to ever serve as Pope, holding the title until he passed away at the age of 93 (D’Ambrosio). During his time as the Pope, he made no radical changes to cannon law however he helped to modernize some of the church’s thoughts and beliefs. He saw the issues that people of his time had to deal with and he helped to bring justice to the situations (Bengini).
At the time of his papacy, the world was experiencing an industrial revolution. Technology was rapidly changing, which in turn changed the way that people lived. The economy of many nations began to change their focus from agriculture to industry. Factories began production everywhere and employed many men, women, and children. This new trend brought many benefits to society as well as many problems (Stearns). In these factories, people would usually work between fourteen and sixteen hours a day, six days a week. After all this work, they would only make about eight dollars a week. Women and children would make even less than that. Not only were these labors severely overworked and underpaid, but the factories themselves were often very unsafe. Workers inhaled fumes and smoke from the machines which eventually proved to be dangerous to their health. Certain machines were designated for use by children only, because their small hands could fit in them. Many children lost fingers or even limbs because of them. When on the job injuries happened or illness related to the working conditions, the employee was just fired without compensation and replaced by someone else. Because these workers were lower to middle class, the politicians and upper class did not care about their well being. They did not have any rights or any voice in society (Stearns). Pope Leo XIII addressed all of these issues in his most famous encyclical, Rerum Novarum. This letter advocated for the rights or workers and called for safer working conditions. Leo spoke about the dignity of the human person. He declared that all workers have the right to safe conditions, a living wage, and reasonable hours. He stated, “If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.” (Leo XIII) Leo also advocated for the workers to be able to have adequate rest periods and time to dedicate to their faith and their families. He believed that a person’s job should not be the center of their life. He wrote in the encyclical, “It is neither just nor humane so to grind men down with excessive labor as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies” (Leo XIII). Although labor conditions were a large area of focus in Leo’s Rerum Novarum, he made many other points as well. He commented on property rights and stated that everyone has the right to own property and land. However this right comes after the preferential option for the poor, which means putting your own wants behind the needs of those less fortunate than you. He condemned the upper class for not using their excess wealth to ensure that the lower class is able to survive. A human’s basic needs should always be put before another person’s desires (Leo XIII). Leo also discussed the right of association. This right directly affected the working class. Everyone has the right to be a part of society as a whole, but they also have the right to be part of smaller societies within that. For example, Leo supported the right of workers to join a labor union. These labor unions were formed when workers began to speak out and stand up for themselves. They fought for fair pay and more reasonable hours. These unions force the employers to reevaluate their policies and provide their workers with these rights that they demanded, although they did not always work out that well for the workers. Sometimes factories were able to find poorer workers who were willing to work in these terrible conditions in order to make whatever money they could. Nevertheless, Leo supported the workers’ right to band together in order to attain better conditions (Leo XIII). This text is often considered one of the most influential papal encyclicals. It affected a great change in society and bettered the lives of countless people in the working class. Even many non-Catholics consider it to be one of the most definite and reasonable documents written on the subject (Bengini). This encyclical shows Leo’s commitment to justice through the church. He gave a voice to those who had none and brought relief to those who suffered from the conditions and unfair treatment by the factories. Pope Leo XIII also wrote many other encyclicals, including eleven about the rosary. These gave the public a look into his strong faith in Mary. Leo had a very close relationship with the Virgin Mary. In fact, he was the first pope to fully accept the concept as Mary as a mediatrix. This means he believed that Mary was also a mediator between God and man, along with Jesus (Most). Many people did not agree that Mary should have this title and that Jesus was the only one who could be considered this kind of special mediator. But Leo had such a connection with and faith in Mary that he acknowledged her as such (Most). I think that Pope Leo XIII was an extremely important person in his time. His commentary on human dignity and basic rights has influenced so many people and changed an entire society. By publishing Rerum Novarum, he spread a very important message that is still relevant today. I think the message he sends about human dignity is one of the most important beliefs in the Catholic Social Teachings. Without recognizing the dignity in another person, we cannot respect or love them. Without this, society can become a very cold and selfish place where people are only concerned about what benefits them. You could argue that there is too much of that type of thought in society today. I believe people need to embrace Leo’s message more than we do right now. This concept of human dignity can be applied to much more than just workers’ rights. It pertains to all issues regarding the way we treat others. When we recognize the dignity in another person we consider their feelings and thoughts as a fellow human being and we can relate to them. Having this mindset can help build relationships between people, communities, and nations. This is why Pope Leo’s message of dignity is the one I find the most important. When people relate to one another and respect each other, a lot of the problems we encounter today could be solved. If Pope Leo XIII was around today, he would still be spreading the same message of human dignity. While in America workers rights is no longer a big issue, there are so many other countries that have not changed. Many third world countries still have factories that pay their workers a few dollars a day or less. The working conditions are terrible and it is unsafe for people to participate in. One of the problems that contributes to this is big companies outsourcing jobs to these countries in order to save money. Pope Leo XIII would probably encourage these big corporations to consider human dignity before considering their profits. He would remind them to put the needs of others before their own wants. So even though in this country, factory work and poor working conditions are far less common, there are still many things we do that contribute to these problems all over the world. He would also comment of the gap between the rich and the poor in America. There are so many people who are homeless or unable to buy their families food, but at the same time the rich are getting richer. People too often neglect the basic needs of others, and that is exactly what Pope Leo XIII preached against. His messages are still very relevant today and society could be greatly improved if everyone listened to his message.

Works Cited

Benigni, Umberto. "Pope Leo XIII." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 24 Nov. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09169a.htm>

D'Ambrosio, Marcellino. "Pope Leo XIII." Crossroads Initiative Library. Crossroads Productions, n.d. Web.

Leo XIII. Rerum Novarum. N.p.: CreateSpace, 2014. Print.

Most, William G. "The Church on Mary's Mediation." The Church on Mary's Mediation. EWTN, 1996. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Stearns, Peter N. The Industrial Revolution in World History. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1993. Print.…...

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