By Justin McLellan, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Workers need spaces in which they can come together, form a sense of community and advocate for the marginalized, Pope Francis said.

“In the context of a fragmented society and an individualistic culture, we have a great need for spaces in which people can experience a creative and dynamic sense of belonging,” the pope told 6,000 representatives of Italian Christian workers’ associations June 1. Such spaces, he added, help people move “from ‘I’ to ‘we'” and to “develop projects for the common good together, and find ways and means to achieve them.”

Founded in 1944 to promote the formation of Italian workers in Catholic social teaching, the Christian Associations of Italian Workers (ACLI) has more than 880,000 members, according to its website. The organization is comprised of smaller associations which encourage active citizenship among workers and advocate politically for marginalized people in society.

Though each group making up ACLI belongs to different “cultural, social, political and even ecclesial” backgrounds, Pope Francis noted, he praised their “synodal style” of finding ways to work together.

The “multifaceted” nature of the groups “helps you to walk together among yourselves and also to mix with other forces in society, networking and promoting shared projects,” he said. “I ask you to increasingly do this and to have concern for those in society who are weak, so that no one is left behind.”

Pope Francis also lauded the democratic structure behind ACLI’s decision-making, noting that society today needs “fidelity to democracy.”

“A democratic society is that in which there is truly a place for all, in concrete reality and not just in declarations on paper,” he said, stressing the need to support those at risk of being marginalized from society: young people, women, migrants and the elderly.

The pope also encouraged the representatives to pursue peace in their organizations and in their lives. War, he said, “is never inevitable, while peace is always possible. This is true in relations between states, in family life, communities and workplaces.”

A peacemaker, he said, is one “who knows how to take a clear position, but who at the same time strives to build bridges, to listen and understand the different parties involved, promoting dialogue and reconciliation.”

“Interceding for peace is something that goes far beyond simple political compromise, because it requires putting oneself on the line and taking a risk,” he added.

The pope also encouraged them to deepen the Christian spirit of their association, which he said does not consist solely of allotting time for prayer at their meetings but “growing in familiarity with the Lord and the spirit of the Gospel, so that it may permeate all that we do and that our actions may have the style of Christ and make him more present in the world.”

Such an attitude is needed particularly, he said, “in the face of cultural points of view that threaten to undo the beauty of human dignity and tear society apart.”