The worker chaplain

The worker chaplain

It's no coincidence that Pope Francis begins his Genoa visit this Saturday at the ailing ILVA steel mill. It is a symbol of Italy's industry – and its crisis. And: pastoral care for workers has a tradition in Genoa.

The crown corks of German beers may have originated in Genoa. The industrial district of Cornigliano has been home to the steel manufacturer ILVA since 1953; this plant is currently the only one in Italy to produce tinplate. This becomes, for example, cans of food – or crown corks. ILVA has three sites in Italy: in Taranto in southern Italy, in Novi Ligure in Piemonte, in Genoa. Pope Francis is coming to this plant on Saturday. Actually an occasion to pop the corks. But the situation here is difficult.

Currently, the future of 1.500 employees at the tradition-steeped Genoa site uncertain: the group, which has been ailing for some time, is currently managed by the state and is on the verge of being taken over by another supplier. Two offers are on the table; the decision should actually have been made in April. But even in mid-May, no one knows what the future holds for the heavily indebted steelmaker, which has made headlines for environmental scandals at its Taranto plant.

Pope in the heart of industry

In the past, industry was an important economic factor in northern Italy, Genoa was known as the "capital of metal mechanics". But the economic crisis has long since reached the site. In this situation the pope comes, meets in one of the factory halls with the "world of the work", as it is called in the program. 3 are expected.000 participants from various fields of work; 500 to 600 places are to be reserved for ILVA employees.

That Francis is beginning his day's journey to Genoa at the Cornigliano plant has great significance for many here: "There comes a very important person. 'That's where the symbol of the Catholic Church meets the working class, so to speak, and it's in the heart of industry, which is very battered,' says one worker. Many are not believers.

One or two would still ask Francis to pray "that we can keep working for a long time". Others shrug their shoulders: "Pope's visit? I don't care. I do not believe that he can contribute to the improvement of the situation. I would ask him for money."

Jobs in danger

In recent years, the ILVA in Genoa has seen 1.200 jobs eliminated: While there were no layoffs, as many were sent into retirement. But there have also been no new hires, instead short-time work. At present, 370 employees of the plant are said to be on special short-time work.

"The papal visit to Genoa begins with the meeting of the workers, because that is currently the most important problem of the city," says the director of the local Catholic workers' chaplaincy, Monsignor Luigi Molinari. Genoa's ten labor chaplains visit their factories on fixed days; at Easter they celebrate Mass with workers in the plants. In times of crisis, the factory chaplains are in even greater demand: "This year, for the first time, we were asked to offer a Christmas Mass as well," Molinari reports.

Clergymen as mediators

The church in Genoa has long been at the side of the workers, because this kind of pastoral care is a historically grown peculiarity in the port city: like prison chaplains visit prisons, the Genoese workers' chaplains have been visiting factories and workers since 1943. The Church is also active in this area in other places in Italy, but only in Genoa has a foundation been created specifically for this purpose, the "Assistenza Religiosa Morale Operai" (Moral Religious Assistance for Workers).

The clergy repeatedly ame a mediating position. They are in contact with trade unionists, workers and the bosses. "When it comes to securing jobs, we talk to everyone," says Molinari. The factory visits are also an important part of missionary work for him and his team. "Since fewer and fewer people go to church, we go to them," says the clergyman.

The fact that the Pope is beginning his Genoa visit in the manner of a workers' chaplain is thus perhaps not only a sign of support for the factory in crisis, but also a tribute to the special tradition of Genoa's factory chaplains.

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