Yesterday, we visited the Catholic Worker in East Village, Manhattan. This is actually the birthplace of the Catholic Worker where Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin originally started the first one. Click on their names to get some more background info on them. They were extraordinary people whose vision has resulted in the tenacious, surviving-against-all-odds organization (or lack thereof) called the Catholic Worker today. Many have said that it truly is a miracle that such an organization has lasted so long and had such a big impact on the poor throughout the U.S., considering its anarchist tactics and completely decentralized network. We visited this place last year and had a great conversation with a woman who worked alongside Dorothy Day at the Catholic Worker for years. This year, we met with Ted Walker, probably in his late twenties, who had come to the NYC Catholic Worker a few years ago after working at the Des Moines, IA Catholic Worker before that.
Both times I've visited this place I've been challenged down to my roots. Its ideology, its radical stance towards the gospel, made manifest in its service to the poor or "bias towards the bottom", as Dorothy Day called it, is both confronting and inspiring. They put out a newspaper 6 or 7 times a year, called the Catholic Worker, which has been going now since the Great Depression! The newspaper has beautiful artwork mixed in with short yet very ideologically-sound articles informing local residents of different initiatives, both local and global, that the Catholic Worker is taking in order to make justice and peace more tangible qualities in society. On a local level, the NYC Catholic Worker offers meals to the poor, permanent housing for forsaken elderly, jobs, clothes, etc. On a global level, they are often involved in protests against war or torture, economic injustice, environmental injustice, which often include civil disobedience, resulting in frequent arrest. Dorothy Day herself was arrested some eighty times, rumor has it.
Now, you might be tempted to write these people off as extremists, or just reactionary; that they all just have some sort of anger they need to deal with. However, a closer look at their theology and methods reveals that their approach is well-thought-out, very strongly rooted in the teachings of the gospels and the subsequent teachings of the Catholic Church. This partly explains why Catholic Workers have so succesfully multiplied throughout the U.S., despite their lack of centralization or organization. Their "bias towards the bottom" unifies them in their extremely varied manifestations of and demonstrations for peace and justice.