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Many Questions: How Can You Continue the Work of Hospitality?

Question: You have just talked to 40 to 50 guests at the men’s house. There are 75 to 100 women and children housed in the other centers. You have provided food, clothing, medicine and medical care, dental and eye care to hundreds of others of Casa Juan Diego neighborhoods. Aren’t you and the other workers tired?

Answer: Yes.

Q: How can you face all the suffering, pain, sickness, diseases, oppression, abuse the immigrants face day after day?

A: We don’t face it! We couldn’t survive if we did. We try to do something about it. We are feet washers rather than hand holders.

Q: But don’t the former guests call, write and visit to say “How great thou art?”

A: No.

Q: Don’t you get warm fuzzies at the end of a long day walking between houses and looking up at the stars and haze and thinking about all the people you helped?

A: No—we generally get a headache.

Q: Some of you miss daily Mass sometimes because of the needs of the poor. What do you say about that?

A: We need to be better organized.

Q: You are an enormous organization. Aren’t you ashamed of being so large for a Catholic Worker organization when small is beautiful (Schumacher).

A: Yes, we are trying to do better, but St. Cecilia’s keeps spoiling us.

Q: Aren’t you taking a risk by having sick people and sick children, high-risk pregnancies, etc. in your houses?

A: If you are housing Jesus in the poor, it is easier.

Q: How can you do so much?

A: We pray a lot.

Q: Tell the truth.

A: The truth: We don’t pay anyone. The money that comes goes to the service of the poor.

Q: You mean that there are no wages.

A: We have totally abandoned the wage system.

Q: Isn’t that un-American not to pay people?

A: It may be against the Calvinist and puritan ethic, but it is not un-Catholic or un-Catholic Worker or un-Gospel.

Q: Just because you all are workaholics does that mean everyone has to be?

A: No, young people seem more balanced and more adept at avoiding workaholism. So we don’t worry too much. Occasionally a young person may look like a workaholic for the poor and we give thanks.

Q: How are Workers compensated?

A: By being given the opportunity to live out the Gospels, Catholic social teaching and the ideals of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day, founders of the Catholic Worker movement.

Q: Sounds like you hope to get to heaven by serving the poor.

A: Yes.

Q: Aren’t you ashamed of getting to heaven on the backs of the poor?

A: Is there another way? We are afraid of a “half a loaf” which accepts Jesus in the loaf (Eucharist), but not Jesus in the poor, the other half of the loaf.

Q: Are all the Workers Catholic?

A: No. At times half the Workers present were not even raised Catholic.

Q: What is the religion of the immigrants whom you serve?

A: We don’t know.

Q: You mean you serve Protestants?

A: We serve Protestants, Jewish people and others (Catholics, ex-Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Politically Correct).

Q: Are you in favor of immigration?

A: No. We feel immigrants should stay in their countries and that we (USA) should make that possible by insisting that our companies in Latin American countries pay a living wage instead of slave wages that forces people to immigrate (and then attack them for migrating,)

Q: Aren’t slave wages better than no wages?

A: No! Absolutely not, any more than being a prostitute is better than no job.

Q: Don’t immigrants come to the U.S. to get on welfare?

A: It is absolutely impossible for immigrants to receive welfare of any kind. That’s the great radio talk show lie! Even legal immigrants who have papers cannot get welfare (food stamps now pending).

Q: Aren’t you worried that some of the people you serve may be illegal?

A: No. Matthew 25 says “What you do to the least of the brethren you do to Me.” The least are often undocumented.

Q: Do you accept money from the poor you serve?

A: Never. They must keep their money, so they can get on their feet.

Q: They must pay in some way?

A: Yes! When a poor person crosses their path in the future, we insist that they help that poor person as a way of paying us. We insist on this! (Matthew 25:31 ff. is for everyone). They will have more opportunity to meet other poor people in need than the average person who lives in the suburbs.

Q: What do your guests say about Casa Juan Diego?

A: An oasis of peace, where they can rest for a time after experiencing violence, exhaustion or deprivation.

Q: Aren’t you worried that agencies will not respect your work as “professional” because you’re just a bunch of volunteers without salaries?

A: They call us daily and hourly, seven days a week. Agencies can distinguish between being professional and pro- fessionalism, the curse of agencies.

Q: What agencies commonly call you?

A: The Women’s Center, HPD Family Violence, schools, all the women’s groups and centers (including in other counties and states), and churches.

Q: Do other agencies do good work?

A: Yes, of course. Sometimes better than we do. We can be Catholic Shirkers as well as Catholic Workers.

Q: What are the important things in the Catholic Worker movement?

A: There are many facets… One of the most important things is hospitality, and that’s the hardest thing we do each night for 120 to 150 people. When people live with us, we share their problems. Matthew 25:31 ff. and the Sermon on the Mount are key. Most imporant also are voluntary poverty, pacifism and personalism.

Q: Why don’t you have public relations and fund raising?

A: Our work is our public relations. That seems to be sufficient.

Q: Would you do this work for money?

A: Society could not afford it.

Q: Do you do this work to be famous in the Andy Warhol style?

A: It hasn’t happened!

Q: Do you want to be like Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and the saints?

A: Yes.

Q: Why haven’t you succeeded?

A: Good question!

Q: How can we help?

A: Pray for us now!

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, July-Aug. 1998.