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“Embarrassed by the Article in the Houston Chronicle?” and Other Questions

It happened this way.

Sue David, Catholic Worker, left us a note saying Lori Rodriguez of the Houston Chronicle was coming in the morning to talk about Barbara Jordan’s new recommendations on getting control of our borders.

We knew Barbara’s recommendations and while we were uncomfortable with them, we were still reeling from the devastating articles of Proposition 187 in California.

We, Louise and Mark, talked about how to respond to Lori’s questions.

It was an article in the Atlanta Catholic Worker paper by Muphy Davis, a Presbyterian minister, which inspired us.

An old-time, pipe-smoking Presbyterian minister, according to Ms. Davis, was asked about what will happen to people who don’t heed the “recommendations” found in Chapter 25, verses 3l and the following in St. Matthew’s Gospel.

In Matthew 25, Jesus says to those on his right, “Come ye blessed of my Father, into the Kingdom. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me….”

Afraid to Publish

We are afraid to publish what Jesus said to those on his left after telling them that “I was hungry, thirsty, homeless and you did not help me.”

It is not the Good News.

The old-time, pipe-smoking Presbyterian minister slowly took a few puffs on his pipe, padded down the tobacco and said, “I guess they go to hell.”

We felt that if liberal Presbyterians could say this, surely we could.

And so we said, on page one, after an introduction by Lori Rodriguez, that said we were always burning down:

“We are opposed to immigration because it is very destructive to families. But we are not opposed to the immigrant. We have to take care of them. We have to love them.

That is Catholic teaching. People who reject immigrants are committing sins, and are going to go to hell.”

There were some interesting responses to the Chronicle article and an outpouring of sympathy for the immigrant.

Other Questions

Q. Where do you find fruits and vegetables to distribute each week for the many hungry Houstonians?

A. The Houston Food Bank gives them free. We purchase beans and rice from the Food Bank.

Q. Do you give hospitality to those who aren’t Catholic?

A. Many of our guests are not Catholic. In fact, some really despise Catholics and the Church.

Q. Why do you house people who despise Catholics?

A. We respond according to need, not creed.

Q. Do you give hospitality to people from Mexico, or only Central America?

A. The majority of the people in our houses are from Mexico or of Mexican descent.

Q. How many people have you housed for a few hours or even a few years, do you think?

A. Well over 25,000.

Q. Rocky Vaccaro says that people turn up their noses at his Casa Juan Diego donation jar, saying, “Mark and Louise bring illegals into this country.” How many people, legal or illegal, have you brought to Houston?

A. None.

Q. To the U.S.A.?

A. None.

Q. What word do you use for “wetback” or “illegal?”

A. Undocumented or just “people.”

Q. Don’t you worry about diseases, odors and contagion?

A. No. The people of Casa Juan Diego are much cleaner than the average citizen and worry much more about diseases and their health. That’s why our doctors are such a boon to us.

Q. Why are there so many immigrants? Do they all come to the U.S.?

A. No, there is an enormous migration between countries within, for example, Latin America, and Africa. The “new global economy” has made life so hard for people that they desperately travel to other countries looking for work so their families can live.

Some estimate that the current world migrations are the largest since the fourth century A.D. Percentage-wise, very few come to the United States.

Q. The social justice people talk a lot about changing social structures that hurt people and not just doing band aid work, like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and housing the homeless.

A. We feel that it is better to go to the poor, work with the poor, if we are going to know about unjust systems that cause poverty. The best-informed people on welfare systems, medical and educational systems, will be those who work with the poor. The works of mercy lead us to insights and solutions sooner than meetings, organizations, networking, speakers, meetings, talks, mailings, information and referral, meetings. FAXes, e-mail and other types of communications often result only in words and more words. However, they have been effective in the Third World where regular mail is unreliable–and where people working with the poor can send instant communications to supportive people in the U.S. or other wealthier countries who may communicate with government officials and other policy makers. We feel the need for a wedding between the works of mercy and changing unjust social systems that cause poverty. Our Latin neighbors to the South have given us a first-class education in unjust structures.

Q. Do people say thanks when they leave Casa Juan Diego?

A. No, we say thanks to them for allowing us to live the Gospel for a moment.

Q. What do former guests say when they see you at the grocery store or the post office?

A. They give a big smile or may say, “Do you remember me? You gave me a sewing machine 10 years ago to help me get started.” We don’t remember exactly, but like the idea–like giving them a fishing pole instead of fish.

Q. How can you run a place without paying anyone? Won’t people say, “I’m volunteering, I don’t need to do this…”

A. Our volunteers are not volunteers in the popular sense. They are totally dedicated people who work day and night every day and would not work for any amount of money. Once they have the vision, it’s easy. They have a day off a week.

Q. If you don’t pay people, how can you be sure you will have professional work done?

A. Our volunteer Catholic Workers, whether they be physicians, ditch diggers, lawyers, plumbers, with degrees or no degrees or no schooling at all, do professional work, i.e., treat the poor with the greatest respect. We avoid the bric-a-brac of professionalism: fancy offices, secretaries, receptionists, separation from the people and the 9 to 5 syndrome.

Q. Do you try to take care of all the people in need in Houston?

A. No, we do not exist to duplicate other services. If any agency can meet a need, we recommend the use of its services. For example, we have a large center for battered women and many transitional services for them, but we in no way want to compete with the Women’s Center or replace them. Our work is with those who can’t be served elsewhere–that is, with people who are so desperate no one will help them.

Q. Where did all those sacred pictures come from that hang in your place?

A. Local artists interested in the poor–or they come with the used clothing and furniture.

Q. Aren’t you worried that some of your people may be illegal?

A. When someone comes to your door all black and blue or with their toes coming through their shoes and feet like melons, it’s a little late to worry. Besides, we know what happens to those who say, No! (See opening paragraphs)

Q. With the demise of communism, is it better for people?

A. It is better for those Catholic who work with the poor and attempt to apply Catholic social teaching. They are not seen as communists!

Q. Do you care about women’s issues, the rights of women?

A. Yes, especially for poor women and Third World women, where they are exploited in the maquiladoras–the factories of U.S. or transnational companies seeking cheap labor.

Q. Do you feel a little un-American working for nothing?

A. “People in our position really have to die to ourselves and our wealth to gain the spirituality of the poor and oppressed… I am trying now more and more to deal with the social sin of the first world.” Jean Donovan, killed in El Salvador

Q. Since the wars in Central America are over, is there a decrease in violence and subsequently in immigration?

A. In August the Archbishop’s Human Rights Office in Guatemala reported a 68% increase in violations over the first six months of the year as compared to 1993. The office listed 166 extrajudicial executions, 348 assassinations, 129 attempted assassinations, and 30 forced disappearances from January through July. In 1993, during that same period, the office reported 70 extrajudicial executions and 229 assassinations.
– from Central America Report October 1994

Q. Why do you complain so much about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund?

A. The works of mercy have brought us close to the problems of poor Latin Americans and their bishops and this gives us insight into the policies of these institutions and the effect of these policies on the poor.

We are not necessarily completely opposed to market economies, but oppose the fact that most markets are increasingly dominated by large, highly unaccountable global firms that, left to the devices of unregulated markets, play workers, communities and even nations off against one another to obtain the cheapest conditions–and we mean deadly cheap–in which to produce their wares. Living wages are not paid.

Free market economies invariably concentrate economic power in the hands of a few wealthy exporters, landlords and natural resource exploiters. As a result, this privatized development path ends up being profoundly undemocratic. The World Bank and the IMF support these undemocratic practices. The unbridled capitalism as we know it in Latin America today has been condemned by all the Popes since Leo XIII (1893).

Q. Don’t you think that the poor third world should stop having babies and using all the world’s resources?

A. The vast majority of the world’s resources are used by the people of the United States. Cutting down forests and using other resources is always more for the benefit of the first world than the third. Married couples have fewer children when their lives improve economically.

Q. Wasn’t it awful what the Pope did at Cairo?

A. We don’t take our evaluation of the Pope from Planned Parenthood.

Q. Are you liberal or conservative?

A. No.

Q. What are you?

A. We are Catholic Workers.

Q. To do all that work at Casa Juan Diego you must pray a lot.

A. No! The great work is prayer! (One of our CW volunteers tells us this.)

Q. What kind of people do you admire?

A. People in love with Jesus, who aren’t ambitious for fame for themselves or for their own group and put their energy and money where their mouth is–or something like that.

Pray for us.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XIV, No. 9, December 1994.