by Monte Sahlin

By Adventist Today News Team, July 24, 2014

Pope Francis recently spoke out in defense of Sunday as the traditional day of rest and relaxation for Catholics. He hinted at current discussions in the European Union (EU) about laws restricting required work and commercial activity on Sundays.

"While … poor people need jobs to have dignity," the Associated Press (AP) summarized his comments, "opening stores and other businesses on Sundays as a way to create jobs wasn't beneficial for society. … The abandonment of the traditionally Christian practice of not working on Sundays … has a negative impact on families and friendships."

The Catholic leader has emphasized the social benefits of not working on Sunday and not referenced religious reasons, according to the coverage of the news media. "Maybe it's time to ask ourselves if working on Sundays is true freedom," AP quoted him. The story also reported that he said that not working on Sundays was an "ethical choice" for both believers and non-believers.

A number of independent ministries have reported this incident as related to "the Sunday law," referencing the traditional Adventist interpretation of verses in Revelation 13 that a coalition of Christian leaders, including both Catholics and Protestants, will promote a law requiring Sunday observance similar to what was proposed in the United States Congress in the 1890s. Some have mentioned the 1998 Apostolic Letter, "Dies Domini," issued by a previous pope, which asserts that "the Lord's Day" in Revelation 1:10 is a reference to Sunday.

Francis was in Molise, an agricultural region in southern Italy, when he made these statements on Saturday, July 5. It is a region with many conservative, traditional Catholics.

There has been tension between EU legislators and Catholic leaders over the traditional role of Christianity in Europe and an increasingly secular culture. It remains to be seen if there will be a focused conflict over the removal of laws requiring that businesses be closed on Sundays. Steps have been taken and proposed in that direction.

Some Adventist voices are quick to assign prophetic significance to such developments, while others insist on a more careful understanding of the Bible on this topic. A wide range of interpretations vie for the attention of Adventists while no definitive developments have yet emerged. Comments such as those reported by the media, in this case attributed to Pope Francis, cause considerable discussion in Adventist circles; a sense of anticipation for some and frustration for others.