Monday, June 09, 2008

Houston's Catholic Worker

John Allen's weekly column profiles Mark and Louise Zwick of the Casa Juan Diego and the Houston Catholic Worker.

The Gospel in action.
The Casa Juan Diego complex includes 10 buildings that offer a staggering variety of services: there's a shelter for men, for example, and another for women and children; there's a food and clothing bank, which distributes between 10 and 15 tons of food a week; there's a full-service health clinic, including dental care; and there are residences for sick and disabled people who need long-term care. Casa Juan Diego also pays between $500 and $1000 a month to support 70 other sick and disabled people who live in their own homes.

Casa Juan Diego is also a resource center in a staggering variety of ways. Louise said they field requests that run the gamut from, "Where can I find a Mass in Spanish?" to navigating complex interactions with the legal system. For example, Louise said, not long ago a woman arrived with the following problem: "My son, who's 19, is the only means of support for the family, and he likes to drive fast. There's now a warrant out for his arrest, and I can't work because I hurt my shoulder. Can you help us?"

Louise said that, in her view, a particularly pernicious aspect of current American immigration policy is the way it often drives families apart. She offered the example of a Guatemalan woman who had arrived in Texas with her children, and was deported when she went to an immigration office to apply for an ID card. Somehow she showed up at the door of the Casa Juan Diego after returning to Houston, Louise said, almost entirely on foot, in search of her children, from whom she's been separated for more than a year.

Casa Juan Diego doesn't charge anything for these services, and it doesn't even invite guests to send money later on, once they've settled somewhere. That doesn't mean, however, that they ask nothing in return.

"We don't accept money from the guests, but we tell them they do have to pay," Mark said. "One day in the future when someone in need crosses your path, like a flash from Heaven you'll know that it's time to pay for Casa Juan Diego."
The website of the Casa Juan Diego.

I should add that I will probably among those who disagree with the economic policies advocated by these good folk. Or rather, I might disagree with their critique of free-market capitalism. Allen writes:
Not every Catholic, of course, will share the political and economic views espoused by the Zwicks. Some would argue that the spread of free-market capitalism around the world, what the Zwicks call "neo-liberalism," has created middle classes in places such as China and India, lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty.
Yup. They are hugely critical of the Acton Institute for instance (Economic Personalism is a Fraud). Which just make me want to continue my reading in economics: I am keenly aware of how little I know!


Kraft said...

I've spent a good amount of time at CJD -- my soon-to-be-wife spent a little over a year living/working at the women and children's house.

It wasn't easy for me to hear all of what they have to say--can't say it is still easy-- but they do have solid reasons for promoting their side of things. From my limited knowledge and experience, I can't argue with their 28 years of having to deal with what happens on the micro-level after nations decide macro policy.

Challenging NAFTA, to me, at first seemed very weird. Hearing stories first hand about corn farmers from Mexico who lost their farms after American companies ran them out of business does make one think. It makes sense that a Mexican farmer can't compete in the U.S. market when US agrobusinesses are subsidized as they are...

The amount of suffering is incredible and God bless them for their witness. Maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong, but they're getting their hands dirty trying to make someone's life better...

Gashwin said...

Oh I am totally not dissing anything that they do -- they are quite clearly a living and radical witness to the Gospel.

My own economic thinking is evolving ... and there ought to be a way of doing a both/and that promotes the goods that free-trade, free-market capitalism do bring about, while at the same time ensuring that those who do not benefit are not left behind.

Don't ask me what that concretely would look like.

One point on your NAFTA comment: you've hit the nail on the head with the subsidy of agro-business in the US. The US Farm Bill and the EU Common Agricultural Policy are arguably one of the greatest things that continue to prevent more people in the developing world escape poverty. This, however, is an argument for freer trade. Both the Farm Bill and the CAP are tariff systems really.