“We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it,” preached the visionary militant Dorothy Day, who forged the Catholic Worker Movement against war, economic inequality, racial discrimination, the neglect of refugees and the mistreatment of immigrants.
When Pope Francis talked about Day before the Congress of the United States, in one of the most anticipated speeches by a religious leader in modern times, he signaled an understanding that it is necessary to move the debate about economic justice away from kind words and toward genuine deeds.
“In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints,” the pope told the assembled members of the US House and Senate, the cabinet, and the Supreme Court.
“How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem,” he continued. “It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.”
That the pope has read Day’s writings on issues of wealth and poverty and moral duty was obvious from the tenor and tone of his remarks. He did not embrace the whole of Day’s vision in his speech, but his linking of her name and her mission to a discussion of the distribution of wealth was striking.
It was Day, who in her lifetime made common cause with American pacifists, socialists, trade unionists, and civil rights activists, who said that the mission of the Catholic Worker Movement (which she founded with Peter Maurin) was rooted in a faith that “something else is necessary, some other vision of society must be held up to be worked for” than an economic system that allowed for poverty amidst plenty.