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Religion: For Christ the Worker

3 minute read

May Day is a high holy day for radicals throughout the world. For Roman Catholics it is the first day of a month devoted to honoring the Blessed Virgin. Almost five years ago a Catholic observed May Day both ways. On May 1, 1933 Dorothy Day appeared in Manhattan’s Union Square, handed out to radical demonstrators nearly 2,500 free copies of the first issue of a 1¢ monthly, the Catholic Worker. Since then the circulation of the Catholic Worker has mounted to 125,000. Last week the paper called for volunteers to distribute copies in Union Square May i, under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin, “to bring to those taking part in these demonstrations some measure of light to offset their materialist idealism.” The editors confessed they had only 92¢ in the bank, issued one of their periodic appeals for funds. Subscribing themselves “Lovingly and confidently yours in Christ the Worker,” they wrote: “We have reached rock bottom, we have piled up bills these many weeks. So we beg your help. Please send us what you can and may the Holy Family love you as you love us.”

Dorothy Day, 40, once an Episcopalian, was converted to Catholicism 13 years ago after having dabbled in Socialism as a writer on the New York Call, in Communism as an employe of the old Masses and the Liberator. For almost five years her colleague on the Catholic Worker has been Peter Maurin, 60, a genial, peasant-born Frenchman who, for the sake of his principles, gave up giving French lessons, became a laborer at a boys’ camp. In 1932, reading two of Miss Day’s articles in Catholic magazines, he discovered they spoke the same language, and hastened to outline to her his ideas for a workers’ paper. Of Editor Maurin Editor Day says: “Peter is only doing what the great St. Peter called for — working for a new heaven and a new earth, wherein justice dwelleth.” Patron of the Catholic Worker is St. Joseph, the working-class husband of Christ’s Mother. A statue of him stands in the window of the Catholic Worker headquarters on Manhattan’s dirty lower east side. Miss Day, Mr. Maurin and a dozen others live in this “House of Hospitality,” along with some 40 indigent “guests.” Every morning they feed coffee, rye bread and apple butter to 1,000 men who begin lining up at 4:30. There are about 13 such workers’ groups in the U. S. — most of them in the Midwest, among which the Catholic Worker finds most of its readers.

Two months ago the Catholic Worker founded a Catholic Union of Unemployed, whose head is another onetime Communist, 30-year-old Tim O’Brien. Most C. U. U. members are old, and ineligible for relief because they are transients. The C. U. U.’s program, like that of the Catholic Worker, is intended to comply with papal teachings, “to bring all men back to Christ.” Specifically, it advocates: a back-to-the-land movement; worker-ownership and “equitable distribution of the fruits of man’s labor”; public ownership of public utilities; parish cooperatives, co-operative hostels and workshops for the unemployed.

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