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An Ecumenical Ministry in St. Patrick's Catholic Parish

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Learn from the Catholic activists of history

What today's leaders can learn from the Catholic activists of history
The struggle for justice may be taking new forms in the past couple of years, but it is nothing new within the Catholic Church.

If 2017 was a year of protest--from the Women's March to the People's Climate March--what is in store for 2018?

Among those continuing to protest and form movements in 2018 are Catholics. Sister Helen Prejean of New Orleans continues to fight to abolish the death penalty. Nuns on the Bus fight for a number of issues, including income inequality.

Across the country, countless Catholics are getting involved in their local parishes or forming their opinions in colleges. And if we all stand on the shoulders of giants, whose shoulders are today's Catholic resistance leaders standing on?

The resistance may be taking new forms in the past couple of years, but it is nothing new within the Catholic Church. Just like today, Catholic activists of the past led important movements. Theologians, writers and researchers from across the country weighed in about what each of us can learn from some of the most prominent American Catholic activists of history.

Dorothy Day: Stay rooted in the Word

Dorothy Day helped found the Catholic Worker Movement, a series of communities across the country dedicated to living out the message of the gospels. Day began working in New York City as a journalist but became more active in social movements in the early 1930s after watching a series of strikes across the country.

She dedicated her life to helping workers and the poor, which led her to found the Catholic Worker, a newspaper focused on issues of social justice. With Peter Maurin, she created the Catholic Worker movement as well, including houses and farms where people could live in community. Her journey from a Catholic convert to one of the religion's most prominent social figures is often held up as an example of the power of faith.

While Day's work expanded to reach more and more people, she stayed committed to the message of the gospel, says Sister Brigid O'Shea Merriman, instructor of theological studies at Lourdes University and author of Searching for Christ: The Spirituality of Dorothy Day (Notre Dame Press).

"Practice of the Works of Mercy, in particular, remained the abiding norms for [Day's] life and action," Merriman says. "She worked tirelessly for justice for all persons, with particular attention to the poor in mind, body and spirit."

Today's Catholic activist leaders often discuss the importance of creating community for social justice movements. These communities share conversations and support one another in the movement, but Day takes the idea of community a step further. Her work is a reminder that community is about more than sharing information. It is a call to care deeply for one another, as fellow humans, as described in the gospels.

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