ROME — The pandemic should not be used as an excuse for doing nothing about improving job safety and repairing injustice, Pope Francis said.

The pandemic has worsened the situation of many workers and families, he said, “but the pandemic cannot and must not become an alibi to justify omissions in justice or safety.”

“On the contrary, the crisis can be faced as an opportunity to grow together in solidarity and in the quality of work,” he said Jan. 29 in an audience with members of the Italian Leather Chemists Association. Members work in the tanning sector, chemical and dye manufacturing and related fields for the leather industry.

The pope, who earned a specialized high school diploma as a chemical technician and worked briefly in a food science lab, recognized their role in applying modern technical and scientific knowledge to “an artisan activity that has an ancient tradition.”

He encouraged them to address a critical issue in their industry, which is the environmental impact of the manufacture and use of chemicals to tan, dye and treat leather that then “becomes bags, shoes and so on — so many things we use every day, and we don’t think about the work there is behind it!”

They, too, are called to help in the care of creation, including in the way they work, he said.

Coming together as an association is valuable because they can share needed knowledge, experience, as well as the latest in legal requirements and technical advancements, he said.

“Thus, we help each other to grow together in a style of social and ecological responsibility. And this is very important! Today we are more aware of our ecological responsibility,” which is a good thing, he said.

Pope Francis told the leatherworkers he hoped St. Joseph would serve as an example to “help you not to give in to discouragement, to creatively enhance your talents and your great experience to move forward and forge new ways.”