The Catholic bishops haven’t had much to say while their co-religionist Paul Ryan pushes through his budgetary assault on the 99%. But if they won’t speak on behalf of the Catholic social justice tradition—much less the ancient prophets’ blistering cries against injustice—others will have to do so instead.
That’s why, on Good Friday last week, I was among the group of Occupy Catholics who stood in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City singing, “Were you there when they crucified the poor?” and carrying an enormous banner to that effect. Many of us wore, safety-pinned to our clothes, Occupy Catholics patches designed by Mary Valle: a haloed bird nesting—occupying, that is—for the sake of new life.
What’s brought Occupy Catholics together as a group around the country, both online and in person, is the shared sense that the Occupy movement’s message speaks to the heart of our faith. Though the group includes clergy, it’s decidedly lay-driven and committed to non-hierarchical organizing. A number of Occupy Catholics are among the so-called “lapsed”: people who haven’t felt comfortable being part of a Catholic anything for years until this came along. The idea is to find ways for Catholics to support the Occupy movement, as well as to think together about challenges the movement poses to our church.
“We are the church, and we love our church, and right now the church needs to speak,” we declared through the people’s mic at St. Patrick’s. “Love of neighbor is incompatible with watching her sink into poverty.”
Occupy Catholics joined forces for the day with Catholics United, which made the banner we carried together and took the occasion to deliver a petition calling on Cardinal Timothy Dolan to use his influence to oppose Paul Ryan’s budget. While Occupy Catholics supports that urge, we’re more interested in finding new ways to speak for ourselves, to occupy the church more fully.
After an our or so of making our presence felt, and following a short debriefing at a nearby cafe, a couple of us went back to the cathedral for Cardinal Dolan’s standing-room-only Good Friday service. The first step of occupying Catholicly is showing up, and praying with our church, and being in its midst.