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An interview with one of our own in the National Catholic Reporter:

As co-founder and co-director of Common Law Inc., Karen Gargamelli works to prevent evictions and foreclosures and shares with the late Dorothy Day a vision of hospitality that would reduce the number of people who live on the streets.

Day used to say there would be no homeless people if families would invite someone on the streets to live with them. Our tendency is to put up a column of red flags, citing special needs of some homeless individuals and safety concerns for family members. But surely there are some circumstances that would work, bringing blessings on both givers and receivers of such hospitality. Gargamelli, 31, is promoting a project that would unite laypeople, members of religious communities and individuals needing homes.

Sr. Camille: Is this a new idea for you?

Gargamelli: No. God planted this idea in my heart years ago. I have nourished this idea for years with prayer, study and conversation.

Did any experience give a specific form to your proposal?

In 2003, I joined Dominican Volunteers USA, a program that pairs college graduates with Dominican sisters across the United States. I lived with (and to this day am very close with) three Amityville Dominican sisters. I was 22 years old at the time, and soaked up the Dominican traditions, charisms and community life. While living in the convent, I was struck by the number of empty rooms within our home. I knew others could benefit from closeness to the sisters, and I believed these rooms should provide shelter for those in need. I wondered if laypeople could be of assistance to the sisters and imagined a small, mutually enriching community.

Did you ever considering entering that or any other religious community?

I have long felt most happy when I am available to and intimate with many people rather than one person. I am happiest when I engage in regular prayer and meditation. I am most fulfilled when I am seeking justice and living simply. As for the call, that voice that is not your own but more familiar: Yes, I have heard it before, but still look for its manifestation.

What happened after that year of volunteering?

I entered the City University of New York School of Law and began volunteering at the Catholic Worker. Since 2005, I have volunteered one day a week at Maryhouse in Manhattan. From the workers, I learned about personalism and the importance of resisting institutionalization and corporatization.

And Jesuit Fr. George Anderson, a mutual friend and close friend of the Catholic Worker, told me about you.

George Anderson is an important person to many. He is important not because he elevates himself or exerts authority over others. He is important because he affects us; he changes our lives. He is a thoughtful friend, a moral priest and a gentle person. So many at the Worker, myself among them, are grateful for his participation in community life.

Did you finish law school?

Yes. Upon graduating in 2007, two friends and I launched an organization called Common Law to offer free legal education and legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers. The goal of our legal work is to increase and support community organizing and activism. In the last five years, we’ve assisted hundreds of New Yorkers, among them undocumented workers, homeowners facing foreclosure, and tenants facing eviction.

Can you explain your strong desire to provide safe harbors for endangered people?

Since the very beginning of my faith journey in New York, my country has waged war in the Middle East. The war has been a backdrop to my entire adult life. I believe God is calling me to acknowledge our daily destruction, to make peace and to bring healing.

How does a war waged so far away influence your life choices?

In the last few years, I’ve met Iraqi refugees passing through Maryhouse Catholic Worker. Some have shared stories of destroyed homes and homeland, family members murdered or kidnapped. Many of the Iraqis living here in America are further traumatized by isolation as they struggle to grasp our culture and language. I am well aware that my daily routines — consuming oil, paying taxes — contribute to this violence.

The problem seems overwhelming. Doesn’t it make you feel powerless?

Hospitality makes sense to me. Recently, a young Iraqi woman with whom I’d been corresponding came to New York to apply for asylum. I’ve welcomed her into my home and my life, trusting that God can carve a “Christ room” out of a studio apartment in Queens. She now lives and helps out at the Catholic Worker. We have continued to deepen and enjoy our friendship.

That seems to place a heavy burden on a small space! What would you do if you had a bigger place?

There are many other refugees living in isolation — older single women, mothers and their children — who could form community with her and with lay Catholics and vowed religious. We have so much to learn from each other!

Do you have more of a plan?

I’m specifically seeking to rent a few rooms (for myself, my friend, and perhaps one or two more people) in a convent with a community of vowed religious. In time, I should like to build an intentionally small community with no more than two or three lay Catholics and no more than five others in need of home and community. I am seeking a religious community willing to join me in this ministry.

Karen, what was your own home life like?

Although my nuclear family is just four people, my understanding of family included grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Our Italian-American heritage and identity was important to the entire family, and our Catholic faith ordered our way of life. The liturgical seasons were meaningful; Lent and Advent shifted our daily lives. My brother and I were altar servers (I was among the first girl servers at our parish) and both of us served on the parish council. My father was a construction worker and my mother, a Catholic school teacher. We never went without, but I knew it was only because my parents were extremely careful with their (hard-earned) money and focused on providing for their children.

What schools did you attend?

I attended St. Mary School in Branford, Conn., and Hopkins High School, a secular but private institution, in New Haven. I purposely sought a university that could provide me with rigorous theology and philosophy courses and attended the Jesuit Loyola University, Chicago. I credit the Jesuits for linking the works of mercy with activism. As described above, I also attended CUNY School of Law — my first and only choice because of CUNY’s radical roots and continued focus on public interest.

Did you have any heroes, heroines or role models while you were growing up?

As a child, I loved the saints: Lucy, Catherine of Siena and Elizabeth of Hungary. Because Yankee baseball was not far behind religion in our house, I also admired Don Mattingly and, later, Bernie Williams. Two movies (surprisingly, Disney creations) were childhood favorites and influential: “Robin Hood” and “Newsies,” a tribute to paperboys who went on strike in 1899. The message of those films — that people united can overcome even the meanest and wealthiest of despots — excited me. The films’ emphasis on organizing and mobilizing fit so well with the concepts repeated throughout my childhood: resurrection and teamwork.

And now?

I nuzzle my way into the communities with the people I most want to emulate — the Catholic Worker, my Amityville Dominican sisters, networks of housing activists here in the city. My mother and my law partner can always set me straight, neither of them complainers nor willing to suffer fools.

What is your image of God?

I can conjure the form of Jesus readily. Mary (who secures my faith) looks like a statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in West Haven, Conn. The Holy Spirit has been felt — a flush of warmth in my chest or a rush of clarity of mind. God the father is a tricky one — most often, in my mind’s eye, too vast for form. There have been moments, however, when I saw him as an old Italian man with a cap, feeding pigeons or taking a stroll.

Has it changed over time?

When I was younger, I pictured myself before the throne of God, asking for blessing and a commission. These days, I’m interacting with God on the journey — in a boat or on a donkey, walking in the desert. I get a kick out of these spiritual images and visions: I can barely swim, never rode an animal and have more or less stayed in the tri-state area, in our marshy and wooded terrain. Yet God so clearly presents to me as navigator. (Dare I say co-pilot?) There is not a specific form with me on these mental excursions, simply a presence.

Do you have a favorite scripture passage or parable?

I am always startled by Ecclesiastes 1: 2-11. Vanity of Vanities! Nothing is new under the sun! I am reminded that the struggle for justice (food equality, race reparations, housing as a human right) and personal and interpersonal struggles (loneliness, jealousy, insecurity) are ancient struggles. None of this is unique to our age or to us as individuals.

Does your appreciation of it affect your life?

I am reminded that I cannot be goal-oriented, or I risk the endless run on the hamster wheel. I must ask God for a bigger vision, a longer understanding.

Where do you worship?

When I am with family, I worship at St. Mary Church in Branford, Conn., where I am from. When I am in New York, I worship at St. Francis Xavier.

How do you pray?

I try to follow this simple formula daily before collapsing into bed and nodding off: praising God; acknowledging my failures and any harm I have caused; thanking God for the many blessings I have received; and asking for mercy for myself and others. As a treat, I attend Taizé prayer services. Song is such a physical way of praying; it can distribute prayer to our whole bodies.

What do you look for in your friends?

Most of my close friends are powerful women of faith, working to bring about justice and peace. I seek the ones who like to laugh at themselves and their mistakes.

What changes do you think would improve the church?

The big three: women’s ordination, recognition that gay love is love, and a restoration of equilibrium — the same attention to “protecting life” and “fighting for the poor.”

What would you like your life to be like five years from now?

I’d like it to include a home where an intentional community thrives: prayer-driven, offering hospitality, working for social change and, occasionally, watching the Yankees.

[Mercy Sr. Camille D’Arienzo, broadcaster and author, narrates Stories of Forgiveness, a book about people whose experiences have caused them to consider the possibilities of extending or accepting forgiveness. The audio book is available through the book’s website, storiesofforgiveness.com.]

http://ncronline.org/node/39971

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In America magazine:

This guest blog comes courtesy of Susan Wilcox, C.S.J., the director of campus ministry at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a member of Occupy Catholics.

For much of its existence, the Catholic Church has taught a profound suspicion of usury—that is, predatory lending which turns the borrower into a victim. As recently as 1745, Pope Benedict XIV warned in an encyclical that usury “assumes various forms and appearances in order that the faithful, restored to liberty and grace by the blood of Christ, may again be driven headlong into ruin.” Even the present Pope Benedict has called for “a renewed commitment on everyone’s part effectively to combat the devastating phenomenon of usury and extortion, which constitutes a humiliating form of slavery.” At a time of ongoing financial crisis, Catholics must remember that lending money is a matter of moral concern; we are forbidden from engaging in debt arrangements that foster an unjust debtor-lender relationship.

Catholic teaching about debt is relationally oriented. Loans that are unfairly weighted and prevent access to life-sustaining food, shelter and health care are immoral and illegitimate. This is why Catholics have worked for debt relief for the world’s poorest countries. Yet here in the United States, we have been conditioned by consumer culture with a veil of shame, to the point of thinking that debt is solely personal, rather than communal or relational. We often blame the poorest among us for problems created by the powerful. Thus, in the context of today’s worldwide economic collapse, there is something backward about the idea that it is the debtors who should be asking for forgiveness. In a moral universe, should not the 1 percent beg God for mercy while the 99 percent ask for forgiving hearts?

And what might it take for the 99 percent to be able to extend such forgiveness? In the early days of Occupy Wall Street, volunteers at the information table told me that Wall Street workers sometimes treated the table as a confessional to ease their guilt. But confession and forgiveness, by themselves, are not enough to change an immoral social order. Only when we the 99 percent strip away our shame, reclaim our essential dignity and resist nonviolently together will we bring about the justice that true reconciliation requires.

Strike Debt is a campaign, grown out of Occupy Wall Street, that seeks to build a movement of debtors by highlighting predatory lending practices while promoting debt resistance and mutual aid. The task these activists have set for themselves is a profoundly theological one; they are attempting to transform how people think about what they really owe in life and to whom.

Strike Debt began with extensive research on debt resistance, resulting in The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, which is now available for free in print and online. The manual is meant to be a participatory collection of research, strategies and tactics that will grow in future editions. Strike Debt members have made a special point of reaching out to religious communities like the interfaith network Occupy Faith and Occupy Catholics, of which I am a part, to help understand and frame their work from a theological perspective.

Drawing on the concept of the debt-forgiving jubilee from the Hebrew scriptures, Strike Debt calls its latest project the “Rolling Jubilee.” Defaulted loans will be purchased for pennies on the dollar, just as collection agencies do. But then the debt will be abolished. Activists plan to begin with abolishing medical debts, which are often forced on people with no other choice because of catastrophic illness. The idea has caught fire, winning the unlikely praise of Forbesand TIME Business & Money, and it has already raised enough money to abolish more than $2 million in debt. The Rolling Jubilee is designed to result in a bailout for the people, enabling us to free our communities from debt just as the government does for Wall Street and the country’s most powerful corporations.

Meanwhile, Occupy Faith is undertaking “A People’s Investigation: The Human Cost and Moral Implications of the Financial Crisis.” In the spirit of the truth commissions that followed South African apartheid and the civil rights movement, API is gathering stories from people who have fallen victim to many forms of predatory lending—from medical debt to credit cards, from municipal debt to student loans. These stories reveal how usury thrives in an individualistic society where employers reap rewards for paying less than a living wage. So far, API participants report the healing they have experienced from being listened to and from the knowledge that their story is contributing to something purposeful. The purpose of API, after all, is not only to collect stories of debt trauma but to publicize them as a resource in the struggle for a more just public policy.

Those of us in Occupy Catholics, inspired by the Occupy movement’s prophetic stand for economic justice, have been expressing our faith through creative direct action since last December. We have washed dirty feet, as Jesus did, and we have been arrested for sitting in the way of Wall Street. We help bring fellow Catholics to Occupy and Occupy to fellow Catholics with the conviction that our religious tradition is coded for justice. Most recently, inspired by the work of Strike Debt, we are speaking from the depth of our tradition to oppose usury as it is being practiced today—and we invite you to join us.

During this Jubilee Year of the Second Vatican Council, can we reclaim the spirit of the original jubilee of the Bible? Can we reclaim the debts that really matter and discard those that erode our relationships? In the words of a recent global call to debt resistance, “To the banks, we owe you nothing. To our friends, our families, our communities, to humanity and to the natural world that makes our lives possible, we owe you everything.”

– Susan Wilcox, C.S.J.

Glenn Beck’s online news publication, The Blaze, warned the world about us:

September 17 marks the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, a movement that was once vibrant, but — just 12 months after it first launched — is seemingly non-existent. But, that isn’t stopping Occupiers from showering praise upon the so-called movement of the 99 percent.

Next weekend, to commemorate this anniversary and to seemingly jolt the movement back into existence, organizers are holding S17, a three-day convergence of sorts to celebrate the movement’s “stand against idolatrous greed.” A faith arm of the movement — Occupy Catholics — is planning to celebrate the anniversary as well, appealing to Catholic tenets to rail against the so-called 1 percent.

So, to help bolster S17′s efforts, the religious group is encouraging believers from across the nation to come to New York City to celebrate S17 and to support a “righteous society.” In fact, Occupy Catholics is so devoted to the cause that it has setup a “hospitality housing” program. See the S17 trailer, below:

If people want to come and re-Occupy the city, but they don’t have a place to stay, Occupy Catholics is prepared to help out. Citing Hebrews 13:2 — “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” — the faith allegiance is helping people find a temporary home during the meet-up this weekend.

So, what can Catholic-motivated Occupiers expect as a result of their participation? To begin, Occupy Catholics is preparing to hold a “Council of Elders” meeting pre-ceding the events on September 12. These so-called “elders,” part of a group called National Council of Elders (NCOE), are described by the group as “veterans of past movements” and they will be issuing a pre-S17 “declaration.”

Confused? An official description from the Occupy Catholics web site explains:

On Wednesday, September 12, the newly formed National Council of Elders (NCOE) will release the Greensboro Declaration, the first statement of the organization since its founding a month ago.  The NCOE founding conference was held in Greensboro, NC, site of the historic Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins, which represented a major advance in the civil rights struggle.

The Declaration will be presented at significant historic sites of struggle and freedom  in Washington, DC, Detroit, MI; and New York. Press conferences will be held at 11:00 a.m. in the areas’ respective time zones. The  NCOE  sees its mission as passing down both its wisdom and missteps to coming  generations , especially to  young people.

A list of participants on the Occupy Catholics’ web site shows diversity. From Muslims to Catholics, the rundown of leaders who will be involved is intriguing. Among the names that stick out, though, is Shirley M. Sherrod, the former U.S. Department of Agriculture employee who was unfairly fired from her position back in 2010.

So, aside from a relatively secretive declaration — the details of which will come later this week — another element that Occupy Catholics will be bringing to the movement is dramatic, theatrical readings of Catholic sermons and writings. An e-mail from the group reads:

For S17, in honor of the Strike Debt campaign at OWS, we are rolling out a new tactic: theatrical readings of sermons and writings against debt from 2,000 years of Catholic tradition. We are working with folks from Strike Debt to bring this tactic into the repertoire of the movement as a whole.

And no faith-related Occupy event would be complete without foot-washing. Occupy Catholics is preparing to wash S17 participants’ feet — a method of engagement the coalition calls “tried-and-true.” Catholic adherents will also be offering socks to Occupiers. And the methods of outreach won’t end there.

For those who find themselves being “brutalized” by police or imprisoned as a result of their activities associated with the movement, Occupy Catholics is preparing to launch a “jail-support ministry.” While information hasn’t yet been given regarding what this program would look like, the group encourages its followers to “pray for those in jail and publicize incidents of police brutality” through their networks.

Occupy Catholics will make definitive determinations for S17 on Tuesday, September 11, at the group’s next planning meeting.

Pat Farrell, OSF, said these words as part of an address to the LCWR (the full speech is well worth a read):

The vocation of religious life is prophetic and charismatic by nature, offering an alternate lifestyle to that of the dominant culture. The call of Vatican II, which we so conscientiously heeded, urged us to respond to the signs of our times. For fifty years women religious in the United States have been trying to do so, to be a prophetic voice. There is no guarantee, however, that simply by virtue of our vocation we can be prophetic. Prophecy is both God’s gift as well as the product of rigorous asceticism. Our rootedness in God needs to be deep enough and our read on reality clear enough for us to be a voice of conscience.

It is usually easy to recognize the prophetic voice when it is authentic. It has the freshness and freedom of the Gospel: open, and favoring the disenfranchised. The prophetic voice dares the truth. We can often hear in it a questioning of established power, and an uncovering of human pain and unmet need. It challenges structures that exclude some and benefit others. The prophetic voice urges action and a choice for change.

Considering again the large and small shifts of our time, what would a prophetic response to the doctrinal assessment look like? I think it would be humble, but not submissive; rooted in a solid sense of ourselves, but not self-righteous; truthful, but gentle and absolutely fearless. It would ask probing questions. Are we being invited to some appropriate pruning, and would we open to it? Is this doctrinal assessment process an expression of concern or an attempt to control? Concern is based in love and invites unity. Control through fear and intimidation would be an abuse of power. Does the institutional legitimacy of canonical recognition empower us to live prophetically? Does it allow us the freedom to question with informed consciences? Does it really welcome feedback in a Church that claims to honor the sensus fidelium, the sense of the faithful?

Jamie Manson in the National Catholic Reporter:

“We are the 99%, made in God’s image, seeking God’s justice.”

So declares the Facebook page for Occupy Catholics, one of the latest additions to the pantheon of Catholic church justice movements. But rather than emerging out of Vatican II or in direct response to a particular crisis within the institutional church, Occupy Catholics might be the first progressive Catholic group to grow directly out of a popular movement.

Occupy Catholics even has its own symbol, created by Mary Valle. The haloed bird sitting on a nest symbolizes the act of occupying a space for the sake of new life. Occupy Catholics wear patches with the image when attending any protests.

“We are the 99%, made in God’s image, seeking God’s justice.”
So declares the Facebook page for Occupy Catholics, one of the latest additions to the pantheon of Catholic church justice movements. But rather than emerging out of Vatican II or in direct response to a particular crisis within the institutional church, Occupy Catholics might be the first progressive Catholic group to grow directly out of a popular movement.
Occupy Catholics even has its own symbol, created by Mary Valle. The haloed bird sitting on a nest symbolizes the act of occupying a space for the sake of new life. Occupy Catholics wear patches with the image when attending any protests.
“The idea was to find ways for Catholics to support the Occupy movement and to think together about challenges the movement poses to our church,” said Nathan Schneider, one of the group’s founders.
It’s also one of the first church justice groups to be created in part by members of the Millennial generation. And it shows: Occupy Catholics has no offices, positions or leadership structure. It’s an organization that reflects the value the Millennial generation places on autonomy and collaboration, as well as their mistrust of authority.
“We’re just people who work together, and pray together, to do stuff,” Schneider, 27, said.
Interestingly, it was a protest against an Episcopal church, not a Catholic church, that first brought the founding members of Occupy Catholics together.
After Occupy Wall Street was aggressively evicted from Zuccotti Park in New York City, Occupiers hoped to set up camp in Duarte Square, an empty lot they found in lower Manhattan. The space seemed promising because it is owned by Trinity Wall Street, an Episcopal congregation that often runs large conferences on topics related to social change. (Their upcoming conference will be headlined by Sr. Joan Chittister and Fr. Richard Rohr.)
Up until this point, Trinity, one of the largest landowners in the city, had been giving Occupiers small meeting spaces. They drew the line on allowing a large encampment in Duarte Square, however, because the church believed that would be breaking the law.
Occupy Wall Street organized a protest against Trinity at Duarte Square. Among those gearing up to occupy the new space were Sr. Susan Wilcox, a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, N.Y., and Fr. Paul Mayer, a former Benedictine priest.
Schneider, a writer and editor for the web publications Waging Nonviolence and Killing the Buddha, was on site to cover the protest as a journalist.
The three Catholics struck up a conversation.
“We were all people who have been interested in the Occupy movement, but also experienced the movement as something that resonated with our Catholic faith,” Wilcox said.
When police arrived, Wilcox and Mayer were among the first to go over the fence. They and many other protestors, including an Episcopal bishop, were arrested.
A week later, Schneider, Wilcox and Mayer met to explore the ideas that emerged among them at the protest.
“We were three months into the movementand wondering, ‘Where are the Catholics?’ ” said Wilcox, 53.
“We struggled to get support from the local Catholic clergy,” she said. They realized that any Occupy Catholics movement would have to be lay-driven.
After establishing themselves on Facebook, Occupy Catholics began to attract attention from a spectrum of Catholics, including young adults and Catholics who were not tied to established church justice groups.
For their first action, they joined Catholics United on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in a Good Friday demonstration against Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget. Together, the groups carried banners and sang, “Were you there when they crucified the poor?”
“We are the church, and we love our church, and right now the church needs to speak,” one protestor declared from an open mic.
“We’re not protesting, we’re advertising love,” read a sign held by a member of Occupy Catholic. After the event, a number of Occupy Catholics attended the standing-room-only Good Friday service at the cathedral.
There was one clear distinction between Occupy Catholics and Catholic United, however: Occupy Catholics did not have a petition to deliver to Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
“Giving a petition asking a leader to say something, it’s just not a very Occupy-ish thing to do,” Schneider said. “It is something we respect and will support, but I think our purpose is more focused on just helping encouraging others to speak up.”
In contrast with many Catholic reform groups, Occupy Catholic does not hold a certain set of goals in common. They do not have a membership or a mission statement.
“Our agenda is kind of limited,” Schneider said. “We’re more of an agitator trying to stir up energy.”
But the group does hold one conviction in common with other progressive Catholic groups.
“We share the belief that ordinary Catholics have a voice that isn’t being heard in the church and that we are the church and that we need to find ways to be heard,” Schneider said.
Schneider admits that not taking a definitive stance on the burning issues for Catholics in the U.S., such as women’s ordination, the full inclusion of LGBT Catholics and the use of contraception, can be a challenge. A visit to the group’s Facebook page shows the variety of opinions being debated on these and other topics.
“We try to respect one another’s views,” he said, “and hope we won’t lose anyone in the process.”
Occupy Catholics attempts to take a creative approach to engaging the pronouncements of the bishops, a tactic on full display recently in their response to the call for a Fortnight for Freedom. For Occupy Catholics, it sounded like a great idea — in theory, at least — to stand up and talk about freedom.
“Freedom is a wonderful word within the Occupy movement,” Wilcox said. “So when the bishops proposed that we talk about freedom, it was irresistible.”
The group sent a letter in advance to Cardinal Dolan, advising him that on June 21, which was the eve of his Fortnight Mass, they meet outside of St. Patrick’s for a general assembly to talk about freedom. When they arrived, they found their right to assemble nearly compromised.
“We were greeted not by the open arms of the church, but rather the steel cages of police barricades,” Schneider said. “We learned immediately that any attempt to do something grass-roots that wasn’t totally in keeping with their particular political message was not welcome.”
Assembling on a little slice of the sidewalk, 25 Occupy Catholics talked for two hours about identifying a list of threats to freedom that most concerned them as Catholics. Their discussions included freedom from discrimination, freedom from complicity in the war and the economy of the 1 percent, and freedom to self-govern in both church and society.
“The longer it went, the deeper the conversations got,” Wilcox said. “It was a brutally hot evening, and yet rather than being depleted, the people became more energized as time went by.”
When the assembly concluded, several Occupy Catholics created a “night fort” and slept outside the cathedral. They rose in the morning and attended Dolan’s Fortnight Mass.
With the fortnight behind them, Occupy Catholics hopes to move toward the kind of concerns that are deeply embedded in the Catholic social justice tradition but outside the internal turmoil of the institution.
Their plan is to help raise awareness of the issues of war and nuclear weapons to the larger Occupy movement, which has been largely silent about these global crises. Their hope is to bring the experience and wisdom of the Catholic activism to a movement that is still young and developing.
“We think our faith and our tradition has a lot to offer the Occupy movement, which has a lot of frustration but not as many answers or experience to draw on,” Schneider said.
They try to incorporate not only the social justice theories of Catholicism, but also its liturgical traditions. After a group reflection on their Good Friday action, “one of our members thought, wouldn’t have been great if the day before, we had done a foot washing?” Wilcox said. “And we said, There is never a wrong time for a foot washing.”
So on the evening before Occupy Wall Street’s large May Day action, the group set out to wash the feet of Occupiers. Both the protestors and passersby were touched by their action.
“People walking on the streets of New York were stopping and telling us how moved they were” by the sight of the foot washing, Wilcox said.
Other works of mercy that they have brought to the larger Occupy movement include a ministry of hospitality for protestors. Members work with local Catholic schools to find lodging to traveling Occupiers. They are also creating a jail support network of people who will receive arrested protestors when they are released.
“For us, it has to go both ways,” Schneider said. “It’s not just about trying to agitate in the church. It’s also about being a forum through which the Catholic tradition can be made relevant to a popular movement that stretches beyond Catholics.”

Occupy Catholics even has its own symbol, created by Mary Valle. The haloed bird sitting on a nest symbolizes the act of occupying a space for the sake of new life. Occupy Catholics wear patches with the image when attending any protests.”The idea was to find ways for Catholics to support the Occupy movement and to think together about challenges the movement poses to our church,” said Nathan Schneider, one of the group’s founders.

It’s also one of the first church justice groups to be created in part by members of the Millennial generation. And it shows: Occupy Catholics has no offices, positions or leadership structure. It’s an organization that reflects the value the Millennial generation places on autonomy and collaboration, as well as their mistrust of authority.

“We’re just people who work together, and pray together, to do stuff,” Schneider, 27, said.

Interestingly, it was a protest against an Episcopal church, not a Catholic church, that first brought the founding members of Occupy Catholics together.

After Occupy Wall Street was aggressively evicted from Zuccotti Park in New York City, Occupiers hoped to set up camp in Duarte Square, an empty lot they found in lower Manhattan. The space seemed promising because it is owned by Trinity Wall Street, an Episcopal congregation that often runs large conferences on topics related to social change. (Their upcoming conference will be headlined by Sr. Joan Chittister and Fr. Richard Rohr.)

 Up until this point, Trinity, one of the largest landowners in the city, had been giving Occupiers small meeting spaces. They drew the line on allowing a large encampment in Duarte Square, however, because the church believed that would be breaking the law.

Occupy Wall Street organized a protest against Trinity at Duarte Square. Among those gearing up to occupy the new space were Sr. Susan Wilcox, a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, N.Y., and Fr. Paul Mayer, a former Benedictine priest.

Schneider, a writer and editor for the web publications Waging Nonviolence and Killing the Buddha, was on site to cover the protest as a journalist.

The three Catholics struck up a conversation.

“We were all people who have been interested in the Occupy movement, but also experienced the movement as something that resonated with our Catholic faith,” Wilcox said.

When police arrived, Wilcox and Mayer were among the first to go over the fence. They and many other protestors, including an Episcopal bishop, were arrested.

A week later, Schneider, Wilcox and Mayer met to explore the ideas that emerged among them at the protest.

“We were three months into the movementand wondering, ‘Where are the Catholics?’ ” said Wilcox, 53.

“We struggled to get support from the local Catholic clergy,” she said. They realized that any Occupy Catholics movement would have to be lay-driven.

After establishing themselves on Facebook, Occupy Catholics began to attract attention from a spectrum of Catholics, including young adults and Catholics who were not tied to established church justice groups.

For their first action, they joined Catholics United on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in a Good Friday demonstration against Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget. Together, the groups carried banners and sang, “Were you there when they crucified the poor?”

“We are the church, and we love our church, and right now the church needs to speak,” one protestor declared from an open mic.

“We’re not protesting, we’re advertising love,” read a sign held by a member of Occupy Catholic. After the event, a number of Occupy Catholics attended the standing-room-only Good Friday service at the cathedral.

There was one clear distinction between Occupy Catholics and Catholic United, however: Occupy Catholics did not have a petition to deliver to Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

“Giving a petition asking a leader to say something, it’s just not a very Occupy-ish thing to do,” Schneider said. “It is something we respect and will support, but I think our purpose is more focused on just helping encouraging others to speak up.”

In contrast with many Catholic reform groups, Occupy Catholic does not hold a certain set of goals in common. They do not have a membership or a mission statement.

“Our agenda is kind of limited,” Schneider said. “We’re more of an agitator trying to stir up energy.”

But the group does hold one conviction in common with other progressive Catholic groups.

“We share the belief that ordinary Catholics have a voice that isn’t being heard in the church and that we are the church and that we need to find ways to be heard,” Schneider said.

Schneider admits that not taking a definitive stance on the burning issues for Catholics in the U.S., such as women’s ordination, the full inclusion of LGBT Catholics and the use of contraception, can be a challenge. A visit to the group’s Facebook page shows the variety of opinions being debated on these and other topics.

“We try to respect one another’s views,” he said, “and hope we won’t lose anyone in the process.”

Occupy Catholics attempts to take a creative approach to engaging the pronouncements of the bishops, a tactic on full display recently in their response to the call for a Fortnight for Freedom. For Occupy Catholics, it sounded like a great idea — in theory, at least — to stand up and talk about freedom.

“Freedom is a wonderful word within the Occupy movement,” Wilcox said. “So when the bishops proposed that we talk about freedom, it was irresistible.”

The group sent a letter in advance to Cardinal Dolan, advising him that on June 21, which was the eve of his Fortnight Mass, they meet outside of St. Patrick’s for a general assembly to talk about freedom. When they arrived, they found their right to assemble nearly compromised.

“We were greeted not by the open arms of the church, but rather the steel cages of police barricades,” Schneider said. “We learned immediately that any attempt to do something grass-roots that wasn’t totally in keeping with their particular political message was not welcome.”

Assembling on a little slice of the sidewalk, 25 Occupy Catholics talked for two hours about identifying alist of threats to freedom that most concerned them as Catholics. Their discussions included freedom from discrimination, freedom from complicity in the war and the economy of the 1 percent, and freedom to self-govern in both church and society.

“The longer it went, the deeper the conversations got,” Wilcox said. “It was a brutally hot evening, and yet rather than being depleted, the people became more energized as time went by.”

When the assembly concluded, several Occupy Catholics created a “night fort” and slept outside the cathedral. They rose in the morning and attended Dolan’s Fortnight Mass.

With the fortnight behind them, Occupy Catholics hopes to move toward the kind of concerns that are deeply embedded in the Catholic social justice tradition but outside the internal turmoil of the institution.

Their plan is to help raise awareness of the issues of war and nuclear weapons to the larger Occupy movement, which has been largely silent about these global crises. Their hope is to bring the experience and wisdom of the Catholic activism to a movement that is still young and developing.

“We think our faith and our tradition has a lot to offer the Occupy movement, which has a lot of frustration but not as many answers or experience to draw on,” Schneider said.

They try to incorporate not only the social justice theories of Catholicism, but also its liturgical traditions. After a group reflection on their Good Friday action, “one of our members thought, wouldn’t have been great if the day before, we had done a foot washing?” Wilcox said. “And we said, There is never a wrong time for a foot washing.”

So on the evening before Occupy Wall Street’s large May Day action, the group set out to wash the feet of Occupiers. Both the protestors and passersby were touched by their action.

“People walking on the streets of New York were stopping and telling us how moved they were” by the sight of the foot washing, Wilcox said.

Other works of mercy that they have brought to the larger Occupy movement include a ministry of hospitality for protestors. Members work with local Catholic schools to find lodging to traveling Occupiers. They are also creating a jail support network of people who will receive arrested protestors when they are released.

“For us, it has to go both ways,” Schneider said. “It’s not just about trying to agitate in the church. It’s also about being a forum through which the Catholic tradition can be made relevant to a popular movement that stretches beyond Catholics.”

Jamie Manson in the National Catholic Reporter:

Joining the ranks of established church reform organizations were members of the newly formed Occupy Catholics, a group that is an exciting sign of new life for the church justice movement.

Inspired by Occupy Wall Street’s phrase, “We the people have found our voice,” Occupy Catholics is dedicated to challenging the institutional church to uphold its social justice teaching. More than half of the group is made up of young-adult lay Catholics.

Nathan Schneider and other organizers from Occupy Catholics came to the cathedral to support the vigil.

“The people in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are speaking as Catholics,” said Schneider, a writer and activist in his late 20s. “It looks like a protest, but there is actually something deeper going on here. This is a part of the church acting as a part of the church.”

Although the groups were united in a common hope that the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith would stop its investigation, some have differing hopes about the outcome of the LCWR’s struggle with the Vatican.

By Dave, at Subversive Thomism:

By now, everyone has heard about the Vatican’s decision to rehabilitate the LCWR, the main organization representing nuns and women religious in the United States. If you haven’t heard, just Google it and you’ll find analysis and opinions from everyone and his brother. Some are saying that this represents the divide that grew between female religious and the bishops fifty years about how to interpret Vatican II; some say that female religious are leading the way in the truest display of Christian charity and ought to be respected and learned from; and then some are saying its about time we deal with these radical nuns who think they can get away with wearing pants and studying academic theology with the big boys.

I haven’t been able to think of anything original to add to the analysis already out there, so I thought I would offer random questions and thoughts about the matter. Some of these points I hope to return to in the future. But these are the points which jump out at me in the whole discussion.

1. What exactly is the charge? The LCWR is accused of some sort of doctrinal heterodoxy, but specific examples are lacking. The Bishops do cite a speech given several years ago by Sr. Laurie Brink, O.P. in which she mentions that some religious today see themselves as moving “beyond Jesus.” Yet if one examines her comments in context, she is only pointing out what everyone has known all along: That the Gospel isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning, and that our deep meditation on it should lead us to encounter something more profound than words. If the best example the bishops could find of something doctrinally questionable is a single comment taken out of context, what, then, are we to make of this charge in general?

2. The Double Standard. Are we to really believe that controversial theological opinions are only expressed in women’s religious community? Who does not know a priest who does not hold or has not voiced a controversial opinion. And in many seminaries some level of creative questioning is not only tolerated but sometimes encouraged. So why the crackdown on women? Is it that we are stuck clinging to a mindset in which theological discussion and creative innovation, “the dirty work” of academia, is still restricted to men while it’s the job of women to simply prop up the institutions?

3. The condemnation of silence. One of the most unusual assertions made by the Bishops is that, while religious sisters have done a fine job campaigning for the poor, they have not spoken out often enough about abortion. Is there some specific minimum number of hours we need to spend talking about gonad politics in order to confirm our Catholic identity? Or, in the midst of the election year debacle the USCCB is getting itself involved in, does this look more like “We’re trying to set an agenda here and you really need to get on board?”

4. The Double Standard, Part II. For as much money as the Church has had to pay out in sex abuse cases, with two bishops currently involved in legal cases of abuse, with ten years of priestly abuse cases still yielding no clear solution, why is the Vatican more concerned with nuns expressing new ideas than with priests violating the church teaching that prohibits rape?

5. The man who will fix everything. I am not going to put down Archbishop Sartain. I’ve heard he is a very compassionate man who has a nuanced and genuine approach to his pastoral office, and I wish him well in his new task. But if one of the supposed charges against the LCWR is that they have openly questioned the all male hierarchy of the Church, does anyone really expect it will do any good to send a male representative of that all male hierarchy to correct the problem?

6. How often have women theologians been encouraged to participate in active dialogue with the bishops and Roman hierarchy? Last year the Bishops roundly condemned Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s book Quest For the Living God without any consultation or meeting with her. As female religious theologians have continued to put forth alternative Catholic theories in theology, have the Bishops taken them seriously or have they merely said the questions must stop?

7. What does it mean to be obedient to the Church? If the Church is the people of God, the body of Christ, the living manifestation of the divine among human beings, human society, and human history, then surely obedience must mean more than doing whatever the pope says. If we are going to accuse nuns of disobedience, then we must find out what we mean by obedience (this will be the topic of a future post, I am sure).

8. To what extent is this about spiritual growth and to what extent is this about political control? It is not at all clear how the Vatican’s action is going to lead to anyone’s spiritual growth or improve anyone’s relationship with God. But that has been a growing problem for a while: Most major actions by the hierarchy today are not pastoral but political. Instead of reforming from without the LCWR, perhaps the bishops should be asking “What can we do for you to help you in your mission and spirituality?”

Gina Bellafonte writes about Occupy Catholics organizers Karen Gargamelli and Loren Hart in The New York Times:

Loren Hart, a member of the Catholic Worker Movement, on Thursday. Marcus Yam for The New York Times.

On Tuesday afternoon, on the steps of Federal Hall, in Lower Manhattan, where Occupy Wall Street protesters have been contained in recent weeks, Loren Hart, a conservatively dressed man of 33, sat reading a newspaper as he held a sign that gave quiet expression to pervasive grievances: “The economy is failing us. Our climate is worsening every day. Perhaps we should make some serious changes.” Mr. Hart arrived in New York from North Carolina in October to join the Occupy movement with the expectation that he would stay a few days, but he has felt unmotivated to leave.

Issue-specific protests are now so ubiquitous on the menu of New York experience that Mr. Hart has had plenty to do since the police cleared Zuccotti Park of demonstrators in November. Last week had him rallying in Union Square to denounce the rise of student debt. Several days earlier he was arrested at the Brooklyn Supreme Court for participating in an action organized in part by Karen Gargamelli, a Queens housing lawyer who sought to disrupt foreclosure auctions by gathering demonstrators to sing during them. Two weeks ago, 63 arrests were made in a series of these disturbances around the city (which take place under the banner Organizing for Occupation), and many of those hauled off were, like Mr. Hart and Ms. Gargamelli, members of the Catholic Worker Movement.

May 1 marks the 79th anniversary of Dorothy Day’s great achievement: a movement whose vision of activist faith couldn’t be farther from the moralizing of the religious right that has seemed to define Christianity’s incursion on politics since the 1980s. The Catholic Worker, which Day founded with Peter Maurin, a French immigrant, was — and remains — a philosophy, a social initiative, a way of life. Its understanding of personal responsibility maintains not that we all must rely on ourselves, but rather that we are all beholden to better the lives of the less fortunate. On May 1, 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, Day took to Union Square handing out the first copies of her newspaper, also called The Catholic Worker, which delivered the message of compassion and justice at the cost of one penny; the price has never gone up.

The movement has always sought “a new society in the shell of the old” — peace, less disparity of wealth, an end to economic exploitation, violence, racism and so on. Its goals can seem broad but its methods are intimate and practical. Around the country and in various parts of the world, Catholic Worker communities exist as households where lay members, typically committed to voluntary poverty, often live among the homeless and needy they are aiding. It is a model for Occupy Wall Street — like that more recent movement, it is decentralized and decisions are largely made by consensus — which has said it will hold protests around the country on Tuesday, historically a significant day for the labor movement. There are no headquarters or board of directors and, since Day’s death in 1980, no leader. Things have hardly faded: in the past 17 years, the number of communities has grown from 134 to more than 210.

The oldest of these is in New York —in two buildings in the East Village, one primarily for men, the other for women — and a visit there offers lessons in the kind of radical empathy we rarely get to witness. Mr. Hart lives among 25 or so mostly homeless men at the St. Joseph House on East First Street. Every Friday he cooks for the 80 to 200 nonresidents who show up each weekday for a midmorning meal.