header icons

The Catholic Worker, Model for Church and World for the Civilization of Love

Mark and Louise Zwick speak at Mt. Union College about their book, The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins

Mark and Louise Zwick recently gave talks at the Univ. of Notre Dame at the conference on Formation and Renewal sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Culture and at a discussion group on economics sponsored by Fr. Nesti at the Institute for Faith and Culture at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. A combined version of the talks follows:

We began Casa Juan Diego in 1980 to receive refugees coming from the wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. In a very few years we discovered that economic refugees, the immigrants pouring into Houston, were also very much in need of hospitality and our work expanded to include them.

When Peter Maurin found Dorothy Day and asked her to help him to implement his program and publish and edit the newspaper which became The Catholic Worker, she asked him, “Where will we get the money?” He answered, “Just use the methods of the saints. Pray and tell people what you are doing and they will help.”

We, as Peter Maurin recommended, try to use the methods of the saints. We pray and tell people about our work, and they help. We all live and work in the houses and give our work as a gift. Through our newspaper people know about our work.

Prayer is more important than money. The way to start a Catholic Worker house is on your knees. We tried this when we opened Casa Juan Diego.

For a few hundred dollars we rented a storefront to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and practice hospitality. It was the ugliest building in Houston with one sink and one toilet, but it was our Catholic Worker house. We prayed and told people what we were doing and they helped. The priest who blessed the house said that we would need $40,000 to start. We didn’t have a penny. At the time we started the Houston Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day died–so we had her intercession from the beginning. The Houston Catholic Worker was called Casa Juan Diego because Juan Diego is the one to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared.

The Lord gave a rather unusual message in our early years. We burned down every three years. With the fires, the media came out of the woodwork and were present by the hour reporting on the fires.

Gradually, the bilingual newspaper we started, The Houston Catholic Worker, increased in circulation and the ugliest building in Houston was parlayed into 15 buildings at last count.

As Casa Juan Diego has grown and immigrants and all the agencies and hospitals in Houston have become aware of our services, we have had more luck than sense, or better said, more grace than sense in trying to respond to the immense needs.

At Casa Juan Diego we have major centers for men and women and children. With the help of the community we are able to house about 150 guests each night, and have another dozen buildings all related to serving immigrants. Housing people is our hardest work because people and problems are with us day and night. They have babies, get drunk, have seizures and sometimes fight.

Over 500 families receive food to take home each week. Those who make the minimum wage must spend their income on rent and utilities. There is no money left for food. We provide clothing, literally tons, to the poor of the community each week. Clothes are so expensive and in great demand. We have also, however, established a program in which we ask people to give up buying clothes for a year and give the money to the poor. We have had some success with this idea.

Casa Juan Diego has a new medical and dental building, a hiring hall, a cooperative for workers. In addition, we have 10 apartments for transitional living for mothers and children. At our new medical and dental building as well as our clinic at Casa Maria in Southwest Houston dozens of patients are seen each week. Doctors and dentists volunteer to provide free medicine.

Our biggest expense is caring for the sick and injured undocumented, including paraplegics paralyzed from the neck down, or the mentally ill, or those who have lost a leg or an arm. Upon discharge from the hospital if they have no family, they are homeless. Some are seriously handicapped and we are unable to care for them, so we arrange to pay for their care each month at a personal care home. There is no government money for them, unless they are victims of a crime. For some reason, crime does not include work accidents or not paying one’s workers.

The trip of the immigrants is a real via cruces, a way of the Cross. Most are robbed at gunpoint and women violated.

Immigrants arrive without rights. No ID, no Social Security number, no identity, no language that the majority understand, no family. They cannot return to visit family because it is so difficult to cross over. There is little chance of ever becoming legal

Immigrants do not fly into Hobby Airport and get on welfare the next day. They come alone, not as a family. They cannot participate in any government program: welfare, food stamps, training programs, etc. All doors are closed. They can send their children to school and if there is a true emergency, can be seen at the Emergency Room and if they can produce the required paper work (ID, proof of residency and proof of income), can be seen at the Harris County Hospital District Clinics. We are fortunate that the County has a program for the homeless which helps guests of Casa Juan Diego.

We have heard over and over that the trip is horribly dangerous. We hear of those trying to cross several countries to get to the U.S. We have received women who were destroyed psychologically because of gang rapes on the journey. We have several times received young men and women who tried to get here riding freight trains and had fallen under the wheels and lost a leg or crushed a foot. Our guests tell us of others who have died on the trains. Some who came have lost companions on the journey because of dehydration or drinking contaminated water.

We purchase prostheses for those who have lost their limbs as they jumped from freight trains on their journey north-at $5,000 each.

There is Another Way

Our experience at Casa Juan Diego has affirmed our belief that it is possible to live in a creative, different way from that of our consumer culture.

We have to get over the idea that if you operate out of faith or serve the poor that you don’t use your brains, your intelligence. We have to rely not only on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, but be practical as well as prudent.

The possibilities of doing good are overwhelming.

Peter and Dorothy Day presented a vision different from prevailing ideologies. They spoke of vocation, destiny, of the primacy of the spiritual, of personalism (personally acting in the world, not waiting for the government to take care of those in need, but responding personally as Christians). They insisted that we take Matthew 25 (Judgment Day) and the Sermon on the Mount seriously. They recommended that our lives as Catholics be spent doing the fourteen Works of Mercy instead of the works of war. The Catholic Worker program emphasizes Houses of Hospitality for those in need, voluntary poverty, nonviolence, and an economics based in the local community with worker participation and ownership.

One of the criticisms one hears of the Catholic Worker is that it is impractical. We have found the opposite to be true. There are no salaries, no payroll to meet. Very simple: You work and you pray. The secret of Casa Juan Diego is voluntary poverty.

The Monastic Way

Peter Maurin brought to the movement a model of the unity of manual labor and prayer and ideas. Some have said, “Why this sounds like monasticism.” There is some truth to this.

Dorothy and Peter specifically recommended the monastic way, insisting that it was not just for monks, but that the counsels of the Gospel are for everyone.

Both Peter and Dorothy read the Desert Fathers. Peter studied the influence of the ancient Irish monks, especially through Benedict Fitzpatrick’s Ireland and the Foundations of Europe. He and Dorothy frequently pointed out that in setting up Houses of Hospitality and centers of thought in agricultural centers during what was called the Dark Ages, the monks brought light and learning to the people. Through voluntary poverty and personal charity they laid the foundations of the social order. Peter and Dorothy insisted that the method of the monks was a revolutionary technique, not the band-aid operation the Catholic Worker was sometimes accused of being. The monks went into an often hostile section of the world, lived in a very different way, and through their example, changed society.

St. Benedict was a great model for Catholic Workers. Like Benedict, the CW emphasizes Matthew 25, that the guest who comes to stay is the Lord himself. The Benedictine influence on the movement encouraged praying together the Liturgy of the Hours, (not all of them-as busy lay people–but some Hours, for example, evening or morning prayer). From the beginning in the 1930s Dom Virgil Michel was a great friend of the movement. The Catholic Workers were very involved with the liturgical movement, emphasizing the theology of the Mystical Body of Christ and the social nature of worship, which should call us to care for one another.

Dorothy loved and often quoted Dostoevsky. She not only shared his story on the harshness and dreadfulness of “active love compared to love in dreams” so often that some think she invented the phrase herself, but she quoted him on the importance of the monastic way. As Peter paraphrased Fr. Zossima from The Brothers Karamazov, “Look at the worldly and all who set themselves up above the temple of God. Has not God’s image and His truth been distorted in them? Obedience, fasting and prayer, are laughed at, yet only through them lies the way to real, true freedom.”

The monastic influence on the movement included three women saints: Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena and Therese of Lisieux.

Carmelite nun Teresa of Avila was a model of contemplation in action for Dorothy. She read Teresa’s works, including her Foun-dations, where Teresa tells of founding many monasteries. Dorothy wrote in The Catholic Worker about how she used Teresa’s Foundations as a model for starting CW Houses of Hospitality around the U. S.

Teresa, known for going to heights of mystical prayer, also insisted that the way to show our love for God is by loving our neighbor. Dorothy quoted Teresa on responding to difficult times in which we live: “Let people not lay blame on the times, for all times are times in which God will give his graces to those who serve him in earnest.”

Peter Maurin presented Catherine of Siena to Dorothy as a model of a woman who “really influenced her times.” Catherine lived in the monastic/contemplative way in the world as a lay Dominican. While she was a mystic, she also was very involved in the affairs of the world, telling kings and Popes what God would have them do. Dorothy quoted her revelation from the Lord in prayer that not only is the way to demonstrate our love for God our practical love for neighbor, but that “selfish love which deprives your neighbors of your charity and affection is the principal and foundation of all evil.” Catherine’s quote that Dorothy shared with readers over and over through the years was, “All the way to Heaven is Heaven because Jesus said I am the Way.”

When St. Therese of Lisieux was first presented to Dorothy by a confessor shortly after her conversion to Catholicism, she found her too sweet, even mentioning “pious pap.” However, after many years of living with the poor and daily prayer, she not only understood Therese’s Little Way, but wrote and published a book about her.

Life in Catholic Worker Houses, centers of hospitality, is not easy. When young people (or older people) first come to join in the work, in the hustle and bustle and in the midst of so many needs and facing the suffering of the people, it can be like going down into a vortex. It is through faith and prayer and the liturgy that one can embrace the deeper meaning of the life and work and not lose hope.

Today philosophers and secular writers are also presenting the monastic way as the best way to respond to a decadent and materialistic culture. In his book The Twilight of American Culture, Morris Berman presents the idea of NMI’s, the New Monastic Individuals, who might do much to save civilization.

If Dorothy Day were here speaking today, she would do two things. First, she would pull out her daily missal (Today it is the Magnificat) and remind us that it was the Feast of St. Francis, the great Poverello, the poor man, what we are celebrating today in the midst of this multibillion dollars worth of buildings and real estate. Both Dorothy and Peter went to daily Mass and Communion, made a Holy Hour daily before the Blessed Sacrament and prayed the Rosary.

Dorothy would also remind you that Wednesday was the Feast of St. Therese, the Little Flower, and Thursday was the Feast of the Guardian Angels. We have prayed to the Guardian Angels of each of you to keep you awake during this presentation.

St. Francis of Assisi

The second thing she would say would be to remind us that Peter Maurin loved the encyclical on St. Francis, Rite Expiatis, more than he loved the papal encyclicals Quadragesimo Anno and Rerum Novarum-though he was famous for teaching people about these social encyclicals, even on Wall Street. Some say that Catholic social teaching is the best-kept secret. The encyclicals on St. Francis are much better kept secrets

Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek called Dorothy Day another St. Francis. He said she did for her time what Francis did for his, recall a complacent Christianity to its radical roots.

In his encyclical on St. Francis, Pope Pius XI, who was Pope during the early years of the Catholic Worker, described the corruption of the world and even the Church, at the time of Francis. It appears that individuals may recuperate from original sin in Christ, but society has not been able to muster the necessary troops to accomplish it for the world in spite of so many military actions.

Francis embraced the freedom given by the Church and not only changed people’s lives, but changed the whole face of the political world without firing a single shot. It was a war won by a pacifist. The Third Order of St. Francis, the lay group of Franciscans which had a huge number of members, carried on the pacifism of Francis. It was a requirement to be a member of the Third Order not to bear arms (until modern times, when they made an exception for the United States, the great warrior state). Francis is credited with overcoming feudalism because his followers refused to swear loyalty to their feudal lords and fight for them.

How was this possible? Francis was not bound by the patterns of everyday life in his society. He gave up being a soldier. He rejected his father’s wealth and embraced the freedom of poverty and loved the poor. Francis saw voluntary poverty as the queen of all the virtues, from which all the others flow. He saw the poor as the Ambassadors of God.

A former Bishop of Cleveland, Ohio, corrected one of the priests who was chasing a beggar from the cathedral steps saying, “Where there is no beggar, there is no cathedral.” We, with Peter Maurin, believe that the poor who come to us are the Ambassadors of God. We must admit, though, that not every one of these Ambassadors acts perfectly. There are some who are difficult to work with.

On the whole, however, the immigrants who come to Casa Juan Diego show an amazing resilience and continued hope in working hard to make a future for their children. They are an inspiration.

Transforming our Calvinist Culture

Recently, we presented the idea to a group of Catholics that instead of their buying a half a million dollar house, that they stay with their “quarter million dollar” house and use the money saved to buy houses for the poor in a working class neighbor-hood. Or the same with cars: Instead of buying a $50,000 car, purchase a $20,000 car and use what is left to buy a house or two for the poor.

The leader, who understood, declared: “Mark, you don’t understand! You don’t understand! Owning all these things is virtue! These people worked hard and prayed hard and God is rewarding them. They have earned these things. They are good people and those who don’t have these nice things-well, something is wrong with them. If they lived right, God would reward them, too.

We would do anything to break through the façade, the strange notion that the goal of Catholics is to climb to a higher level economically. It is strange that those who buy more things, big houses and big cars, and strive to be better off consider themselves better Catholics.

My friends, this is not Catholicism or the Gospels. It is Calvinism. John Calvin, who left the Catholic Church as part of what has been called the Reformation, taught this doctrine. Beggars were not allowed in his theocracy. They had to leave the country.

Cardinal George of Chicago has mentioned that Catholics in the United States are generally Calvinists, even though their families may have been Catholic for generations.

The question today in this beautiful setting of Notre Dame is-how many graduates of the great university are Calvinists and how many are Catholics?

The serious question is, how can the Gospel enter more into our lives and our culture?

What can we do when the patterns of our everyday lives often have little to do with the Gospel, when we are held captive by consumerism and materialism? What can we do when our country turns to war to implement what many consider our manifest destiny to impose our system on the world, or finds violence an acceptable way to defend possessions or a style of life?

What can we do when our democracy seems to leave less and less freedom for the person? Dorothy (along with many other respected thinkers) called this the ever-encroaching modern state.

It is almost like the time of Francis when, as Pius XI said, there was constant warfare, the strong wished to force the weak to submit to them, there were struggles between political parties, horrible massacres, conflagrations and pillage-and the charity of Christ had become so weakened in human society as to appear to be almost extinct.

It seems to us that the best thing we can do today in a society not too different from the time of Francis, is embrace the freedom given by God to us through the Church: the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

We have found that a way to do this is through the Catholic Worker movement, which has provided for us a framework for living out this freedom. The example of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day gives us permission to live in a different way, together with others who come to share in our work of hospitality to immigrants and refugees: Catherine and Rebecca graduated from Notre Dame, Emily from Viterbo University, Randy from Texas A&M, Ricky from Duke, Jeremy from Conception College Seminary, and Michael from Northwestern University. The team of immigrant men who answer the door and cook and take many responsibilities at our men’s house are Catholic Workers. Julia and Manuel are in charge of Casa Maria. And so many part-time volunteers help.

It is not easy to cut through prevailing ideas and structures. We may be confused by what is presented as Christianity. Emmanuel Mounier and Nicholas Berdyaev, philosophers who influenced the Catholic Worker movement, criticized a senti-mental Christianity, or one so closely tied up with a practical materialism as to be indistinguishable from it, , a mindset which inhibits the freedom of persons to respond to God. Mounier and Berdyaev spoke of those whose lives are limited in this way as those who have refused the mystery.

The CW movement does not accept a dualism between work for justice and charity, between public and private life, between theology and social theory or economics, between cross and resurrection, between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, between spirituality and religion, between the material and the spiritual, between body and soul–they are all inextricably interwoven in the best of Catholic tradition. We do not accept a dualism between what on Thursday evening here at Notre Dame Cardinal George called one between concept and image, when he spoke of the legacy of John Paul II and began with his poetry and plays.

The Incarnation is the Starting Point

The Cardinal indicated that concepts and ideas can quickly become ideologies or academic if they are not expressed through concrete examples, images and lived experience. The Incarnation is the starting point, the Word made flesh. Dorothy and Peter spoke of the correlation of the material and the spiritual and emphasized the arts and artisans. The sacraments themselves, outward signs of the actions of Jesus in our celebrations, involve the material as well as the spiritual. The use of imagery is core to Catholic expression. Catholic theology teaches that creation reflects in some way the image of God.

The freedom we have been given in Christ is a great gift. It is a freedom that allows and demands pure means-not “the end justifies the means,” not expediency, not utilitarianism.

The movement is different from any ideology, whether libertarian, Marxist, feminist, neoconservative, or fascist. It does not follow Adam Smith, Machiavelli, Max Weber, Engels, Freud, Nietzsche, Kinsey, or any utilitarian philoso-pher. It does not deconstruct, but, as Peter said, builds up, “creating anew in the shell of the old.” The movement is not liberal or conservative but radical. As Peter said (Dorothy’s quote in the May 1977 CW): “People are just beginning to realize how deep-seated the evil is. That is why we must be Catholic Radicals, we must get down to the roots. That is what radicalism is–the word means getting down to the roots.”

The dualism between faith and practice affecting Christians when the Catholic Worker began appeared then as now to deny the possibilities of the radical Christianity of the saints or of the implementation of the teaching of the encyclicals. Peter Maurin showed us the consequences of the separation of faith from daily life–the center of life, the spiritual, the Gospel, exiled to the periphery– and taught us to respond in a different way.

People have always wondered about Dorothy Day’s Catholicism. She was Catholic to the core. Any principles she be-ieved in and wrote about were expressed through her Catholic faith, whether it be social issues, pacifism, commitment to the poor.

She didn’t merely tack on nonviolence to her Catholicism. Pacifism was an expression of her belief in the bonds of unity among members of the Body of Christ, for whom she, with the theologians, believed that every person made in the image and likeness of God was a potential member–and should not have bombs dropped on them.

Some say they like Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays rather than Dorothy’s doctrine. However, she and Peter shared their understanding of the faith. It is not possible to understand Dorothy or Peter unless you understand their Catholicism.

Dorothy found more problems with the state and state control than with the Church. She recommended that it would be better to listen to Holy Mother the Church rather than Holy Mother the State.

The Catholic Worker has been able to combine its spiritual perspective with political witness in a way that testifies to the autonomy and priority of faith, yet remain engaged with the most difficult and controversial issues of public life.

This was the genius of Dorothy and Peter’s Catholicism, living out the faith through God’s grace. They knew that the Church is not a place for the dead, or just for burying the dead. The Church gives life and inspires Christians to follow their vocation, their destiny.

Called to be Saints

The Church makes rules in order to carry on traditions. But the Church is more than a law-giver, guarding the order.

The Church exists primarily to make saints, to give witness to a vitality that can afford living a totally committed life.

According to Dorothy Day and Leon Bloy, there is only one unhappiness, and that is not to be a saint!

Don Divo Barsotti, confessor to recent popes, said:

“Witnesses are needed to make sure that there is a living reality-the living reality created by the saint. Without the saints the Church becomes a despotic power (I say this with a shiver), as in the frightening image of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. Only holiness justi-fies the Church’s teaching; otherwise all the documents and statements of the Magisterium become empty words. There are men and women who are evident signs of a reality that is not of this world. That differentness is thrust upon one; it is like finding oneself in front of a miracle. This is not because they are not subject to nature (they are wretches, like all others); but nature cannot explain this.

“Salvation is not an assent to a generic moral code, or to the values of peace, of humanism, but to the person of Christ and to one’s own person. It is a passionate love for Christ that moves the people who meet the saints.”

Responding to the Economics of our Culture from the Perspective of the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching

Dorothy and Peter based their lives and their views on economics on prayer and their study of papal encyclicals, the Fathers of the Church, the lives of the saints and of the economics realities of their time. We try to do the same. We have been criticized for doing so. When we bring up the principles of Catholic social teaching and apply them to today’s realities, some call us socialists. We are not socialists. We are Roman Catholics.

We came to be interested in economics through our work with immigrants. We are involved in all kinds of economic issues–impacted by what is happening in Latin America and the U. S. regarding the minimum wage, medical problems, and compensation for hurt workers

We have asked ourselves, what can we do when the masses of workers around the world are paid so little by our multinational companies that they cannot survive and have to work under terrible conditions, and we are purchasing the clothing or toys or computers made under these conditions? We are told that we can do nothing, that we must leave everything to the invisible hand of the market, never interfere. “Interfering with the market” would be a serious sin, or worse, “socialism.”

Immigrants feel forced to migrate because they cannot survive in their own countries. The immigrants we know have risked their lives to come here-which may indicate the depth of their need. Only last week a young man came seeking help in sending his brother’s body back to El Salvador. He had just drowned in the river, the Rio Grande.

The cheap labor force immigrants provide has been a boon to the Houston economy. Those who construct our houses, wash the dishes, take care of the children of Houston, and cut the lawns are often undocumented.

It’s hard to mention this cheap labor force without thinking about what it does to families. It destroys them as immigration separates husband and wife, parent and child, not to mention extended families.

It is hard to believe that Houston’s economy has its foundation on broken families.

Not only is immigrant labor cheap in Houston, some workers are not paid at all. Every day someone comes to Casa Juan Diego for help because they have not been paid for work they did. The scenario is always the same. If the employer likes a worker, they pay him well for several weeks, and then do not pay him at all for weeks of work before they disappear.

We have responded to labor issues for the immigrant guests of our houses by developing a cooperative, allowed through the 1986 Immigration Law. Immi-grants can be hired legally if they belong to a cooperative; all men and women who live at Casa Juan Diego are members of our co-op.

How can Saints Accept Maquiladoras?

Not only is the U.S. economy enhanced by the undocumented labor force here, but also by the maquiladora system, in which multinational companies set up plants in Third World countries.

We saw on “Sixty Minutes” years ago the roots of the maquiladora system. The officials of U. S. AID were filmed saying to business people, “You must come down and take advantage of these cheap wages. We will make sure you do not have to pay any local taxes and we will make sure that labor leaders are blackballed. There will be fenced compounds which are only accessible to the business. The benefits to stockholders will be incredible.” It surely did not sound as though the basis for this system was the dignity of the human person, the worker.

We remember the first time we heard complaints about the maquiladoras from men from Central America who had worked in them.

The men were paid $14.00 a week. The men said they could eat on $14.00 a week or they could pay rent. They couldn’t do both. They were forced to migrate to the United States, where they would be accused of being greedy. At that time, the pay for the average manufacturing job in the U.S. was $14.00 per hour, which the immigrant could not touch.

Young women are in great demand in maquiladoras, since they are seen as more capable of the manual dexterity required in assembling small parts of manufactured goods on assembly lines. They are also slower to attempt to organize unions in a climate of intimidation. The companies (and those they sub-contract with) are very anxious not to have their work interrupted by pregnancies, however. Young women suffer awful indignities to prove they are not pregnant or are pressured to be sterilized so their work will not be interrupted. One third of the female work force of Brazil has been sterilized.

The stark reality of how things work in maquiladoras was brought to us several years ago with the story of Maria.

Maria, a teenager, makes Gap shirts and blouses which sell for anywhere from $20.00 to $30.00 in the U.S. How much was Maria paid for making a shirt or blouse? Sixteen cents. She worked very hard, often ten hours a day. She was allowed to go to the bathroom once in the morning, once in the afternoon.

Not so long ago a woman named Maura arrived from Honduras, nine months preg-nant, after walking over a four-month period across several countries. She had worked for several years in a maquiladora in San Pedro Sula. On that salary she could not feed and clothe her children, house them and send them to school. When the workers banded together and asked for a raise, the plant closed its doors and moved to another country. Maura felt she had no choice but to migrate.

As we listened to the stories of those who come to Casa Juan Diego and observed the reality from which they come, we realized that there was something wrong with a system,that takes advantage of the work force of a country to create wealth for CEO’s and stock-holders in the United States and other wealthy countries.

Multinationals (e.g., Walmart) are constantly pressuring suppliers for cost-cutting measures, so workers most often find conditions getting worse instead of better. We understand that Walmart is responsible for 10 percent of imports to the United States-mostly from China where working conditions, salaries and hours are terrible. Where do so many shop in Houston? Walmart and their other store, Sam’s. People frequently tell us we must shop at Sam’s for Casa Juan Diego, but we cannot.

After NAFTA was implemented, we began to receive those whose small business had been destroyed by its policies. They could not compete.

As we have listened to those who had just crossed several countries on foot, on freight trains, or in trailer trucks tell about this economics, we have realized that it was in direct opposition to the teaching of our Church.

We studied and discovered that people in poor countries are being obligated to work day and night to pay off loans given to dictators who did not use the money for the good of their country. We were shocked to learn that the interest rate on these loans had simply been raised over and over again, so that even though the countries had paid enough to pay off their loans, perhaps several times, all was applied to interest.

We discovered how the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund impose detailed economic regulations on poor countries, calling them “re-forms” or “structural adjustment.” The promise has been that given time, these programs would stimulate growth, provide development and work miracles on the economies of poor countries so that even the poorest would be better off.

In structural adjustment programs the focus is on debt reduction. Priority is given to exporting the products that bring in the most cash, even if it includes paying slave wages, using environmentally destructive methods of production, or exporting the best and most nutritious food. At the same time as these programs create situations of economic crisis for the mass of people in their countries, the IMF insists on privatization of services that the government used to provide, such as health care, charging money for public education, and even the public water supply. The basic resources of the countries have been sold to companies like Enron, that famous Houston company, which purchased much of Argentina’s water supply. It is hard to imagine that those executives of Enron who were so busy making money had the good of the people of Argentina at heart.

The IMF and World Bank demand that agricultural products be grown for export rather than for one’s own people. The IMF has dictated even what crops can be grown, what industries can exist. When they insisted that more coun-tries, such as Vietnam, empha-size coffee, they have created a world-wide crisis in the price of coffee because of over-supply. Farmers and their families in Guatemala in an area we know personally (the Diocese of San Marcos) are actually on the verge of starving.

We saw that the World Trade Organization was weighted very much against poor countries. The imbalances recently became obvious when the talks broke down in Cancun over agricultural subsidies.

Even the IMF reports that economies collapse after following their policies.

On March 17 of this year even the International Monetary Fund published a report carried by the Reuters wire service that their policies had not worked, that the people had become poorer around the world as their policies were forced on developing countries, as they were forced to “open their markets” in order to receive financial aid. In that report the IMF admitted there is little evidence globalization is helping poor countries, but instead may actually increase their risk of financial crisis. The researchers who put together the report, including the Fund’s chief economist, Kenneth Rogoff, admitted that their “theoretical models” show that financial integration can increase economic growth in developing countries, but in practice it is difficult to prove this link. In other words, computer models predict positive economics, but the poor see worse results than ever.

In this report, the IMF noted that “in the last 10 years, countries from Thailand and Russia to Argentina, have seen their economies collapse, even though many of them were trying to follow IMF-prescribed open market policies.”

The outcome of the past thirty years of these policies has been that local economies and local businesses have been destroyed and multinational corporations have moved in.

People say to us, “Isn’t it important to have maquiladoras? At least they provide some jobs for the people.” What a concept, after the local, more decentralized economy has been destroyed.

The Citizens’ Environmental Coalition tells us that more than 90 percent of the food eaten in the Gulf Coast region comes from elsewhere, and a large portion comes from outside the state or nation. Almost every product it is possible to buy in Houston is made in the maquiladoras or prepared and shipped in from other places.

We have been told by various people who have received their master’s degrees in business that they are taught that the key to a successful business is to move all the pollution offshore, as well as labor problems.

The refugees from this economic system arrive at our door each day. It creates migrants-and most of the poorest cannot even think of starting the horrible journey to the U.S.

You may ask, “But don’t those immigrants want what we have? Isn’t it the success of our system that draws them? Of course they do. They also want to be able to stay at home with their families. So many are unable to scratch out any kind of decent existence at present in their home countries. And they constantly have presented before them what appears to them to be the opulent lifestyle of the United States.

Dorothy Day spoke about the need for a revolution–a revolution of the heart–to break away from the grip of materialism that tries to replace our values and take possession of our souls. For her, to tempt people constantly and to barrage them with advertisement is immoral and unethical. She wrote in the April 1953 CW that to entice people into materialism is contrary to the law of God: “There have been many sins against the poor which cry out to high heaven for vengeance. The one listed as one of the seven deadly sins, is depriving the laborer of his share. There is another one, that is, instilling in him the paltry desires to satisfy that for which he must sell his liberty and his honor. Newspapers, radio, TV and battalions of advertising people (woe to that generation!) deliberately stimulate his desires, the satis-faction of which mean the degradation of the family.”

People say to us, the only problems in the global market come from local corruption. Latin Americans, Africans and Asians are corrupt and interfere with the market. We can only ask, “Is Enron a Mexican company?”

The multinational corporations which have been taking over business operations all over the world and purchasing the public services which are privatized are often closely aligned with police and military operations in order to keep out labor organizing and com-petition from local groups.

Dorothy was so convinced that economics is closely tied to war that she entitled one of the chapters in her autobiography, “War is the Health of the State.”

Some have asked here at these meetings, what constitutes progress? That is a very important question. Are constant technological progress and ostentatious lifestyles at the expense of so many poor toiling around the world for a pitiful wage worth it? Are the unemployment statistics (spoken of as statistics rather than persons) justified by utilitarian philosophy acceptable under the teaching of the common good and the universal destination of goods?

Has it been to the advantage of the common good to turn all human services into businesses? For example, medical care has been turned from a profession into a business. The first consideration for the medical profession when faced with a sick person is, do they have money? We are so aware of this because in the shadow of this great medical center, many undocumented persons who do not have money have to come to us desperately in need of health care.

Essentials of Catholic Social Teaching

We turned to the Church for advice. Taken together, the social encyclicals beginning with Pope Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum) and continuing on with Pius XI (Quadragesimo Anno), John XXIII (Mater et Magistra) and the trilogy of John Paul II (Laborem Excercens,Solicitudo Rei Socialis and Centesimus Annus) are a gold mine of ethical and practical approaches to economics and address these very questions. The principles outlined in these documents are quite different from those which dominate in the business world today as well as the business schools in universities across the United States. These documents reject Marx, but also reject what the Popes have called the “idolatry of the market.” (SRS 37)

In Laborem Exercens, John Paul II declared that the key to the judgment of any economic system is the way workers are treated: “In every case a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, of checking that it is functioning justly.” How would the maquiladoras rate on this scale?

The Pope has said on many occasions that profit should not be the sole or even principal motive for business or commercial activity. In Solicitudo Rei Socialis John Paul II condemns actions and attitudes in economics “which are opposed to the will of God”–especially the “all-consuming desire for profit and the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others.” He points out that “not only individuals fall victim to this double attitude of sin; nations and blocs can do so too. Hidden behind certain decisions, apparently inspired only by economics or politics are real forms of idolatry: of money, ideology, class, technology.”

In Ecclesia in America John Paul II condemned neoliberalism, an economics which in the interest of profit, does not consider the interest of the little person who labors.

In the Apostolic Exhortation from the Synod of Bishops just published on the occasion of his 25th anniversary, John Paul II outlined what he called the three essential and concomitant points of reference in Catholic social teaching: 1. the dignity of the human person, 2. solidarity and 3. subsidiarity.

The dignity of the human person requires a wage that will allow a family to live in somewhat decent conditions.

In Solicitudo John Paul II explained that solidarity “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the mis-fortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering deter-mination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all. “The same criterion is applied by analogy in international relationships. Interdependence must be transformed into solidarity, based upon the principle that the goods of creation are meant for all. That which human industry produces through the processing of raw materials, with the contribution of work, must serve equally for the good of all” (38).

“Solidarity helps us to see the “other”–whether a person, people or nation-not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our “neighbor,” a “helper” to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God. “Thus the exploitation, oppression and annihilation of others are excluded.”

The Synod document emphasizes solidarity and the preferential option for the poor: “It follows that the globalized economy must be analyzed in the light of the principles of social justice, respecting the preferential option for the poor who must be allowed to take their place in such an economy, and the requirements of the international common good. When globalization is joined to the dynamism of solidarity, it is no longer a source of margin-alization.” (69)

Solidarity means that Catholics should reflect on decisions in their own lives such as buying habits which support small businesses and especially those where the workers are treated well. Solidarity and human dignity mean that we should look at offshore labor practices when we buy.

These principles mean that we should work toward what John Paul II calls authentic human development.

Subsidiarity has been a key concept in the social encyclicals from the beginning. Distributism provides practical examples of subsidiarity in economics. It means small businesses, local economics, whenever possible. It means ownership of the means of production by the workers. Subsidiarity gives more possibility of meaningful work to more people rather than massive assembly lines. It means giving support in international agree-ments to policies which will support small farmers or small business around the world.

Continuing from the new Synod document: “The Synod Fathers also addressed the ethical dimension of the ecological question. In the deepest sense, a call for the globalization of solidarity also involves the urgent question of the protection of creation and the earth’s resources.

“Here in fact we encounter the ecological question in its most insidious and perverse form. In effect, “the most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many of the patterns of environmental pollution. Often, the interests of production prevail over the dignity of workers, while economic interests take priority over the good of individuals and even entire peoples. In these cases, pollution or environ-mental destruction is the result of an unnatural and reductive vision which at times leads to a genuine contempt for man.”

“Clearly, what is called for is not simply a physical ecology, concerned with protecting the habitat of the various living beings, but a human ecology, capable of protecting the radical good of life in all its manifestations and of leaving behind for future generations an environment which conforms as closely as possible to the Creator’s plan.” Seen in the light of the doctrine of God the Father, the maker of heaven and earth, this relationship is one of “stewardship: human beings are set at the center of creation as stewards of the Creator.”

In that Synod document, the Pope speaks of the “failure of human hopes based on materialist, immanentist and market ideologies which claim to measure everything in terms of efficiency, relationships of power and market forces.”

We have to shake ourselves free the determinism and what the Holy Father calls the idolatry of the market, in order to begin to think creatively about solutions.

It is not Catholic to say that wealth creation is a good in itself if the fruits of this wealth never reach the poor.

It is not Catholic thinking to say that freedom and self-interest without government or Church interference in economics is an absolute (laissez-faire). The irony is that those who present this philosophy and decry big government receive government support for their large corporations such as those of agribusiness. It is not Catholic teaching that philanthropy justifies oppression of workers or violence against them when they try to seek a little better salary.

Fair Trade

We are starting to hear more and more the words Fair Trade, in contrast to Free Trade, which has turned out not to include the world’s poor in its freedom. The Holy See, along with many other groups, is recommending “Fair Trade” instead of what is called “Free Trade.”

When Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, spoke at a UN meeting in July of this year, he mentioned specifically the need to limit “overseas economic practices which grant temporary relief but do not invigorate the economies of rural areas so that their inhabitants become active economic and social actors.” Archbishop Migliore emphasized the importance of “new practices which support sustainable development and expansion of family farms’ productivity and debt relief to remove burdens that impede the recov-ery and growth of the economies of developing States.”

As the Cancun conference got under way, the Holy See published Guidelines for International Trade. Those guidelines include the statement, “Free trade can only be called such when it conforms to the demands of social justice and it is fair inasmuch as it allows developed and developing countries to benefit in the same way from the participation in the global trading system and enables them to foster the human development of each and all of its citizens.”

“Political and economic relations between nations and peoples need to be built on a new basis. Self-interest and efforts to reinforce positions of dominance must be left aside.”

An international movement for Fair Trade includes a welcome example of subsidiarity at work. Consumers are being informed of the possibility of buying from companies which commit to paying workers fair and living wages, ensuring healthy and cooperative working conditions, and working within the com-munities they source from to protect and restore the natural environment.

Peter Maurin studied alternatives to what during his lifetime was ruthless Industrialism with the majority of workers laboring very long hours each day under difficult conditions. He not only understood the concepts at the heart of Catholic social teaching, but was a teacher of many about it, including those on Wall Street. He asked that we base our lives on the Gospel, being “go-givers” rather than “go-getters.” Peter taught that we must try to create a world where it is easier for people to be good. This expression is very close to the definition of the common good in Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council.

The freedom of the Gospel and the CW movement encourages us to adopt a different economics–distributism, a local economics, based in subsidiarity and ownership of the means of production. It does not have to be rural. We are hoping that the permaculture gardens that our own CWs are starting will be an example of this economics as well as the agricultural aspect of the Catholic Worker.

Emphasizing giving rather than getting or trying to be better off may seem unrealistic, but there is another movement in addition to the Catholic Worker which is successfully implementing these ideas.

Like the Catholic Worker, the Focolare Movement emphasizes Matthew 25.

The Focolare movement has millions of members throughout the world. When Chiara Lubich, its founder and leader, visited the Focolare communities in Brazil, she was scandalized to find a whole ring of shanty towns in a circle surrounding the city, the favelas where people lived in abject poverty, “a crown of thorns” around the city. Those involved with the Focolare in Brazil include not only professionals and the middle class but many of these poor. After that visit, she asked the Focolare communities to develop what she called the Economy of Communion.

At present there are 778 business enterprises following its guidelines, which include sharing part of their profit to help those in need and to foster the growth of structures and programs of formation for the advancement of a culture of giving.

Chiara said, “When we announced the Economy of Com-munion in 1991, the whole Movement was thrilled and everyone was convinced by the idea. It was evident to us that there could not be those who are hungry and those who are full in the same house (Movement).”

“People made their land and houses available; they deprived themselves of their dearest possessions–family jewelry, for example. They thought of many different systems for orienting their businesses towards the goals of the Economy of Communion.

“The economy of giving could seem difficult, arduous, heroic. But it is not so because the human being made in the image of God, who is Love, finds fulfillment precisely in loving, in giving. This need is in the deepest core of one’s being, believer or non-believer as he or she may be. It is precisely this awareness, supported by our experiences, which gives us the hope of a universal spreading of the Economy of Communion.”

Chiara Lubich, like Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day and John Paul II, does not believe that our basic motivation is or must be self-interest.

Chiara quoted St. Thomas Aquinas: “When the rich, for their personal ends, consume the surplus necessary for the sustenance of the poor, they are stealing from them.”

Speaking to business men and women of the movement, Chiara said that she would recall another passage: “A bit of charity, a few works of mercy, a small amount of surplus from individual persons is not enough to reach our goal: we need entire businesses and firms which freely put in common their profits.”

“New men and new women” are indispensable for managing it. But who are these “new men and new women?”

“These new men and women are people of strong faith because they have a profound interior life. Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion. A spirituality of communion means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters as ‘those who are a part of me.’ This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs.”

Like the Catholic Worker Movement, the Focolare movement emphasizes Matthew 25. Chaira said, “The brothers and sisters who are in need are often the ones who help others in one way or another. They are a special kind of Jesus who deserves our love and who one day will say to us: ‘I was hungry, I was naked, I was homeless, or in a house in need of repair… and you…’ We know what he will say to us.”

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIII, No. 6, November-December 2003.