Eight people could sit around the tables in a hall not unlike the CYO Hall underneath Sacred Heart Cathedral here in Whitehorse where the Weekend Soup Kitchen volunteers have been faithfully serving meals to our community’s hungry for the last 18 years.
The Catholic Worker farm on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River near Tivoli, New York, provided a home for an unlikely community of exiles, searchers, the wounded and the prophetic. Visitors like myself and long-time residents found rooms to stay in a scattering of buildings including a shabby former resort hotel and the decaying 19th-century mansion of General de Peyster.
All gathered for meals together in constantly changing combinations around those tables. During an early spring visit back in the 1970s I recall sitting for a meal at a table with Helene Iswolsky, a daughter of the last Czarist ambassador to France, James a survivor of the Easter Week Rebellion in Dublin, Ireland and a recovering alcoholic from the Bowery in New York City among others. All from whatever background were welcomed.
Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, came up from the city for a stay during the time Eva and I, on a break from our university studies, were there. Her commitment to the poor, her active witness to the need to confront unjust structures and her well practised dedication to non-violence continue to inspire now almost thirty years after her death.
Most of her adult life had been spent among the marginalized. The houses of hospitality she inspired demonstrated the practical commitment to serve them but more fundamentally to be in solidarity with the poor. Dorothy Day once said, “I believe firmly that our salvation depends on the poor.” Meeting her you disturbingly realized that the path she had chosen for living out her beliefs was not beyond any of those of us sharing a meal with her.
Dorothy Day was certainly not alone in her challenging the powers both ecclesiastical and secular, that accepted endemic poverty and violence as a unavoidable consequence of our wealth generating socio-economic system. Oscar Romero, Bishop of San Salvador, also died 30 years ago raising his voice in defence of those denied basic rights. His assassination on March 24, 1980 was commemorated across the Americas last week.
Bishop Romero stated in a talk that he gave at Louvain University in Belgium just a month before his murder in 1980, “We believe that from the transcendence of the Gospel, we can assess what the life of the poor consists of and we also believe that placing ourselves on the side of the poor and attempting to give them life we will know what the eternal truth of the Gospel consists of.”
The crimes, scandals and controversies swirling around churches today are painful to watch. Despair can overcome us all in the face of the enormous challenges we are facing today without voices imbued with integrity and hope calling us forward. Visions of another possible world, however, are there for us.
From that long ago spring I can still recall the rich smell in woods around the Catholic Worker farm at Tivoli from the previous autumn’s decaying leave fall released as the last snows melted. From the dying of the old, new life was emerging. Soon it will spring forth again here in the Yukon. Voices like those of Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero and many others among us today, herald the always Easter message of renewal and redemption.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.