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Example 3 - Catholic Workers as a Microcosm of the American...

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Catholic Workers as a Microcosm of the American Public during the Vietnam War The United States is often depicted as a giant stew of people: a large mishmash of various heritages, backgrounds, and religions. How then could a tiny band of Roman Catholics affect an entire nation’s opinion of the Vietnam War? The Vietnam War was a period of major unrest and public action in the United States. A large anti-war movement began, growing in momentum and power so quickly that students were actually killed during anti-war demonstrations. The anti-war sentiment of the American public could be attributed to many conflicting emotions: anger, resentment, sorrow. However, studying the pacifism of the Catholic Worker Movement as a microcosm of the American public reveals that the anti-war sentiment during the Vietnam War was a result of guilty responsibility. The founder of the Catholic Worker Movement was Dorothy Day, a divorced mother who began her career as a journalist. In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Day describes her conversion to the Catholic faith and the eventual development of the Catholic Worker Movement with her lifetime friend, Peter Maurin. Two of Day’s, and subsequently Catholic Workers,’ highest ideals were those of pacifism and the importance of works of mercy. Day implemented her pacifist ideas through peaceful demonstrations. She also opened hospitality houses throughout the United States, which were run by families or individuals and open to anyone who needed a meal or a place to sleep for awhile. Throughout the entire movement, Day and Maurin published The Catholic Worker, a newspaper that included articles from both revolutionists and a variety of different people who shared the same ideals.
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It is revealed through the autobiography of Dorothy Day and the testimonies of various Catholic Workers, that one of the primary motivations for becoming a Catholic Worker was a feeling of guilty responsibility. Day sets the mood for the idea of guilt from the very first word of her autobiography; her introduction is entitled “Confession.” 1 Her first sentence describes the feeling of going to confession on a hot summer night, 2 revealing that she means “confession” not in the sense of a personal confession to the reader, but rather in the sense of the Catholic Sacrament of Confession, which involves a sinner feeling guilty for his sins and begging God for forgiveness. In this way, Day begins the description of her entire life with the idea of guilt and responsibility. After her sensory account of confession, Day launches into a description of her difficulty in writing her autobiography, gives a three sentence summary of her life and then begins to mention Peter Maurin’s influence on her. At this point she stops and says, “But I will begin with my own story. ‘All my life I have been haunted by God,’ as Kiriloff said in The Possessed . This must indeed be so, as former friends and comrades have said this of me.” 3
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