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Italian workers push for a shopping-free Sunday

ROME (Agencies): The Catholic Church in Italy has joined unions and small business associations in a bid to keep the country free of Sunday shopping.

Religion News Services reported on December 21 that the outgoing prime minister, Mario Monti, backed a new law that would allow shops to open on Sundays in a bid to spur economic growth.

But Sunday traditions are strong in the European nation, and the change provoked strong resistance from religious and secular groups.

In November, an Italian shop owners association and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy launched a campaign called Free up Sundays. They aim to gather the 50,000 signatures needed to try to repeal the liberalising shopping-hours law.

Confesercenti, the shop owners association, fears that mom-and-pop stores—the backbone of the Italian retail sector—will be squeezed out by large retailers and Hong Kong-style shopping malls.

The issue also extends beyond Italy. In the Belgium capital of Brussels, dozens of religious groups—including the Catholic Church—unions and business associations from 27 countries have formed the European Sunday Alliance to lobby the European Union to keep Sunday as a continent-wide day of rest, at least in principle.

Johanna Touzel, a spokesperson for the alliance, said that setting Sunday aside is not necessarily a religious issue and neither is it discriminatory towards Jews or Muslims.

“We need one day when everyone can rest—this is the origin of Shabbat. And, in fact, even Muslim organisations support us,” she stated in a press release.

For the Catholic Church, keeping Sundays free from shopping and work concerns is of larger consequence than the economy.

Father Marco Scattolon, from Camposampiero in Italy, became an instant celebrity when he labelled Sunday shopping a sin and called on his parishioners to do penance for it. “Sundays,” he told the Corriere del Veneto newspaper, “are important, not just in the religious sense.”

He added, “They are one of the few occasions left for families to be together.”

Bishop Antonio Mattiazzo, from Padua, sided with Father Scattolon, while other bishops publicly signed the Confesercenti campaign.

“The broad consensus in opposing Sunday opening shows that having a common weekly day for rest is something that benefits everyone, not just believers,” Luca Diotallevi, a Catholic sociologist who advises Italy’s bishops on social issues, says. “Sunday has not just a social value, but a theological one too. People need to have a holy day.”

Others go even further in arguing for work-free Sundays.

Mimmo Muolo, a journalist for Italy’s official Catholic newspaper, Avvenire, argues in his recent book, Le feste scippate (The Stolen Holidays), “The 24/7 retail cycle has reintroduced a system of slaves and masters.”

He maintains that employees who have no choice but to work on Sundays—and therefore have no time for family and other social activities. He labels them Sunday Slaves.

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