“Two-thirds of the world live on less than two dollars a day. Two-thirds of the world! That makes you [in the U.S.] a minority. Who in the U.S. lives on less than two dollars a day? … From where we sit [in South Africa] … did you know that the scale of the world map was reconfigured to make the USA look bigger than it actually is? And to make Africa smaller than it actually is? That’s just telling lies. So we must tell the truth and shame the devil. Because when you participate in lies you participate with that same enemy. So I’m not going to be collaborating with lies — as far as I know. I realize that I participate in many lies that I am blind to …
On FB someone said something about ‘America’ and I said, ‘Don’t you mean the US?’ So this country that is the United States, calls itself America, which is two continents. And then you call where I come from, you call Africa a ‘country.’ A whole continent is treated like a country. And a country treats itself like two continents. That’s lies right there! So when you talk about making America great again, you are talking about making Mexico great again. You are talking about making Nicaragua great again! You are talking about making Canada great again.” –Rene August, South African Anglican priest @SojoSummit2017
Seven years ago on Feb. 13, 2005, Dorothy Stang, an American Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, was martyred in the Amazon as a result of her work with the landless poor there. When two hired gunmen met her on a muddy path they asked if she was carrying a weapon. In reply, she took out a Bible and began to recite the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are the peacemakers.” Then she was shot six times and killed.
James Martin, over at America magazine, posted this wonderful video by students James Newton and Sam Clements that is one part of a series of four on Dorothy’s work in the Amazon.
In the summer of 2003 Newton and Clements headed to Brazil with a video camera, a map, and the idea to make a documentary. While filming in Southern Brazil, they heard about the extraordinary work of U.S. missionary Sister Dorothy Stang, a nun with a price on her head. For more than 20 years she had been fighting to preserve the Amazon rainforest, while helping peasant farmers live sustainably. Inspired by a mere five-minute call to Sister Dorothy, they set off on a 2500-mile journey to find her. Little did they know of the dangers ahead, or that Sister Dorothy would later be killed by hired gunmen.
Dorothy Day was a lay Catholic woman with radical politics, a deeply rooted faith, and a phenomenal amount of courage. She co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin in the 1930s.
The manuscript titled Our Brothers, The Jews was written in autumn 1933. It is published for the first time in the November 2009 issue of America magazine.
Five years before Adolph Hitler became “The Fuhrer,” when he was still chancellor of a coalition government and head of the Nazi party with the Nazis holding a third of the seats in the Reichstag, Dorothy Day called to account Catholics who supported and fostered Hitler’s hate-based political agenda in the U.S.
Her point of view was very unpopular at the time. So unpopular in fact that she had a hard time getting her essay published anywhere. (America magazine rejected it when she submitted it to them in 1933.) But race-baiting and Jew-hating was on the rise in the U.S. and Catholic speakers in Brooklyn, near where the Catholic Worker was based, were drawing cheering crowds when they excoriated Jews.
“She keenly foresaw the dynamic that five years later would lead to the rise of Brooklyn’s powerful Christian Front movement and its quasi-terrorist anti-Semitic plot, which was scuppered only by a spectacular set of arrests in early 1940 by J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Day’s warning about how Catholics ought to deal with Hitler rested on two of the main pillars of her faith—scriptural reflection and concern for social justice. Her deep beliefs rested on an apostolic zeal that held out the possibility for all men and women to be fully integrated into the mystical body of Christ,” the editor’s note concludes.
Here’s an excerpt from Day’s essay:
For Catholics—or for anyone—to stand up in the public squares and center their hatred against Jews is to sidestep the issue before the public today. It is easier to fight the Jew than it is to fight for social justice—that is what it comes down to. One can be sure of applause. One can find a bright glow of superiority very warming on a cold night. If those same men were to fight for Catholic principles of social justice they would be shied away from by Catholics as radicals; they would be heckled by Communists as authors of confusion; they would be hurt by the uncomprehending indifference of the mass of people.
God made us all. We are all members or potential members of the mystical body of Christ. We don’t want to extirpate people; we want to go after ideas. As St. Paul said, “we are not fighting flesh and blood but principalities and powers.”
The discovery of this Day manuscript is astonishing–for its historical resonance and insight into social activism. Day’s examination of hate politics from the perspective of her deeply rooted Catholicism provides us with clues for today. It forces the question: How do we bring scriptural reflection and the concerns of social justice to bear on the Tea-Partyers, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and others who use hate as a political strategy to gain power?
I was particularly touched by the comments of one contemporary reader of Day’s article who wrote, “I am an 80 -year- old Jew who lived thru the 30s in New York, and my hard heart is melted at seeing for the first time that we had such a beloved advocate. Is that what makes a saint?”
Indeed, Dorothy Day is on the path to official canonization in the Catholic Church (read my article on that here), but papal process is not what makes her a saint. Her prophetic stance rooted in faith and the response of an 80-year-old Jewish woman are.