Monday, January 22, 2018


The current attack on truth by the Trump administration seems unprecedented, but upon review it was and is a tactic used by dictators and ‘dictators-in-the-making.’  The gospel story in John, Ch.18:38 relates that the Roman governor Pilate asked, “What is truth?” then attempted to erase it with a calculated execution with plausible deniability.
 Children are most adept at distinguishing the true from the false.  Truth is distilled from fact in the form of make believe or fairy tales.  Kids understand.
It is more difficult for adults to define truth when they are fixed on questions pertaining to truth: 

What are the causes? – these are the realists;
What is the really real? – these are the idealists;               
Why me and not nothing? – the existentialists;
What works? - the pragmatists.

Answers must be certain to protect individual and group identity.  There is no compromise with groups with different questions and different versions of truth.


George Orwell went beyond such questions with his ‘make believe’ tale for adults with imagination– Animal Farm.  In Orwell’s story the animals take over the farm of the oppressive capitalist, Mr. Jones.  In time, after an impressive beginning the animals are more exploited than ever by the animal dictator Napoleon – a pig. 


Napoleon secures his power through a public relations campaign based on lies through his spokesperson – Squealer.  Animal Farm defines truth by pointing out what it is not – Fake News.



The Christmas story defines truth in presenting an image of what it isFriends and ‘compañeros,’ Pastor Joe Ellwanger and his wife Joyce, write in their Christmas letter:
The Truth of Christmas is worth celebrating year-round with lives full of radical love and courageous work for justice.  After all, the Son of God became a human being in the poverty of a cow stall.  It is clear all human life matters.

Truth is here; we just need to recognize it and distinguish it from Squealer’s lies.

Artwork by Monique, 3rd grader.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Working Catholic: Genuine Change by Bill Droel

Will the buds of social improvement flower? There are promising signs. People are speaking out for respectful behavior in workplaces. Others are adamant about equal treatment under the law. Some desire better attention to mental health and addiction; still others are sensitive to food and product safety. To turn these and other initial bursts of interest into meaningful social change means avoiding pseudo-change; those activities that feel like social change but only approximate genuine politics.

Discussion groups, for example, are not change agents. Consciousness-raising is not politics. Oh yes, our society benefits from book clubs. Roundtable discussion groups that meet over drinks and a topic are important. These and other modes of intellectual sharing assist those who advance the common good.

It sometimes happens, however, that participants in a discussion group assume that they are thereby tackling a social problem. A parish group, for example, forms around shared concern over opioid addictions.  They read and discuss Dreamland, a terrific book by Sam Quinones (Bloomsbury, 2016). They subsequently invite the entire congregation to a couple of presentations, including a well-attended one with the local sheriff. The parish group accumulates a referral list for families dealing with addiction. All of this is good, noble and necessary. It is not yet social change. An opening must be found into the pain treatment industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the nursing home industry, the criminal justice system, the social service bureaucracy and the like.

The parish group itself does not have to be a change agent; in fact, it probably should not be. But the group can perhaps find ways that its members can get inside the problem from within their workplace, their college, their professional association or their union. Plus, the small parish group can perhaps coalesce with other church groups in their denomination or across denominational and religious lines and then join even bigger circles of influence.

A key to social change behavior is the understanding that outsiders must get to the inside. This journey requires sophistication and some tradeoffs, including serious attention to core principles.

Here is one example of outsiders getting to the inside. Globalization has many unfortunate side-effects. But globalization by definition is huge and seemingly amorphous. Sweatshops in Bangladesh are a bi-product of globalization. But there’s nothing one can do about them. But wait. Some students have found a clever way to break into the seemingly impenetrable harshness of the global economy. First students at one school and then students at the next school went to their college bookstore. They asked the store manager to name the factory that produces the school’s sweaters, shirts, jackets and the like. They simultaneously pushed the college administrators to require that bookstore vendors have humane labor codes. The students, who communicate with those at other schools through United Students Against Sweatshops (, got their school to sign-on with an apparel monitoring organization, Worker Rights Consortium ( Guess what? Some major apparel retailers and clothing brands met with student representatives. The companies now expect their overseas sub-contractors to observe humane working conditions.

Is the problem of sweatshops solved? Not yet. Some apparel lines want to do their own monitoring of the overseas suppliers; the student groups want independent monitoring. So, the students have to get further inside some apparel companies. In doing so, the students have to consider their principles: Is half a loaf acceptable or do we push for three-quarters of a loaf? Is the credibility of the students enough or would a celebrity endorser help? Maybe a bigger presence on social media is the answer? What else is involved in social change? To be continued…

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629).

Monday, January 8, 2018


 Fifty years ago the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the legendary “Ice Bowl” at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.  I remember watching the game on T.V. at the Dominican Priory in River Forest, IL.  I was delighted when Bart Star, on a quarterback sneak, followed lineman Jerry Kramer across the goal for the winning score.  A couple of the brothers from New Mexico were rooting for the Cowboys.  I had no idea what was going on in Milwaukee. 

Change the Game

In August Mayor Maier blocked our march

by issuing a proclamation.  Chief Brier

was quick to jail us.  Then our numbers surged.

The aldermen complained, you wreck our rep-

utation as a place that’s fair.  Their fair.   


In fall their strategy turned cold.  They dup-

licated a weak Wisconsin statute

exempting owner- occupied and small

 buildings, exactly what Milwaukee had.

We marched for something stronger, fair for all.

Year’s end.  Cameras turn toward Green Bay,

the Packers minus twenty cold, last play –

a sneak, they win-fans ecstatic!

We huddle, keep our line tight, our eyes on the goal.

A poem by Margaret Rozga which appears in her book of poems about the fair housing marches in Milwaukee fifty years ago.  The book is titled:  200 Nights and one day, Benu Press, P.O. Box 5330 Hopkins, Minnesota 55343

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Working Catholic: Advent, Part II by Bill Droel

Contemporaries Karl Marx (1818-1883), Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) and Charles Dickens (1812-1870) were concerned about the social question: Why in an industrial economy that promises upward mobility is there so much misery?
By the mid-1800s prosperity was arriving for “factory and mill and transportation interests,” writes Les Standiford in his intriguing biography of Dickens, The Man Who Invented Christmas (Crown, 2008). In addition to business owners, “a growing number of managerial workers were beginning to enjoy the relative ease of a middle class. But most of those who made the factories run were laborers, and they and their families lived in squalor.”  
In his early 20s Engels was in Manchester, working and researching. Appalled by child labor, pollution and slum housing there, he began writing about the evils of capitalism. Standiford says that Manchester in 1843 set the stage for Engels. Had he “come of age in some more pleasant surroundings such as London, The Communist Manifesto might not have been written the way it was.”
Dickens gave a talk in Manchester in fall 1843. He too was appalled. He returned to London and in a fury wrote his anti-capitalist manifesto, A Christmas Carol. Dickens “had no use for revolt or violence as suggested by supporters of Mark and Engels,” Standiford writes. His novels are about the working poor, but they dwell on character not on macro-economics. The stories hinge on the tension between bad people and bad institutions, on one hand, and the possibility of redemption on the other.
The good guys (the poor) in Dickens’ stories are complex. He does not romanticize them. Poverty in itself does not make a person noble or worthy of pity. A poor person might drink, carouse, cheat and make bad decisions at times. Dickens’ premise, however, is that being poor is not a sin; the system is at fault.
The holy season of Advent is designed to convey this lesson: Charity is not romantic; it is a duty. Poor individuals are often not charming. They do, however, deserve help with no heavy moral judgment attached. 
St. Luke wrote an inspired story about the social question (poverty). Like A Christmas Carol, it is popular at this time of year. The creator of the whole universe, the story goes, comes to visit his created planet. His holy family cannot get a room at Trump Tower and so they go to a barn. The creator is greeted there by poor shepherds. He eventually spends his life among the poor, all of whom St. Luke says have defects in their character but are open to redemption.   
These weeks are the best time to read St. Luke (his first two chapters) and also Dickens’ tale. Get a decorative copy of A Christmas Carol from Acta ( Acta’s chief executive Grinch sits all day near the building’s front window, looking forlornly down Clark St., waiting until April 9, 2018 when he can take his seat in Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs (92-70 in 2017). Meanwhile, the joyous elves in Acta’s cramped warehouse can for $14.95 get A Christmas Carol into your mailbox, as quickly as any mega-supplier.
Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Emperor St.Constantine and his mother, St.Helen.
"In This Sign You Will Conquer"

   Heraclitus said that you can’t step into the same river twice – change is constant.

  Why the concern about the changes in the identity of the Roman Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church is constantly and dramatically changing. This has happened throughout its history and the changes have been controversial.  The current controversy is how the church’s members identify and function as Catholics.

    Here are some examples of this constant and dramatic change.  Christianity began as a Jewish sect in resistance to Roman Imperialism - then became an anti-Jewish religion that supported imperialism.  Roman Christianity appeared with the takeover by the Emperor Constantine and changed from monotheism to monotheism that tries to explain why three gods are really one God.  (One of the gods was human as well as divine.) Violence under imperialism is and was considered a legitimate path to peace. The Reformation of the 16th century challenged the theology of belief. The interpretation of basic teaching of Christianity – the kerygma -  has always been in flux, in constant change.

    N.C.R. writer Sean Winter looks at the 1967 Land o’Lakes convention of Catholic Universities as a cause of the current Roman Catholic identity crisis. (“Catholic Identity lost?” N.C.R. Nov. 17 -30, 2017)  The convention attempted to separate Roman Catholic Universities from Vatican control thus freeing theologians to discuss the topic of evolution, and with time, the morality of birth control, abortion, women’s rights including the right to ordination, and LGBTQ rights.    

   Sean Winter quotes the Vatican II document Guadium et Spes:

If by the authority of earthly affairs is meant the gradual discovery, exploitation and ordering of laws and values of matter and society; then the demand for autonomy is perfectly in order:  it is at once the claim of modern man and the desire of the creator.

   In other words it is reasonable not to condemn what you don’t understand.  The Vatican responded in 1990 with an apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, to regain control of the universities.  Because of pressure from Milwaukee’s Archbishop, Jerome Listecki, Marquette University was not allowed to hire a gay woman as Dean of the school of Liberal Arts.  

   But the core of the present identity controversy is Vatican II, 1962 – 65.

   The cold war threatened world annihilation.  Pope John XXIII responded by calling for an ecumenical council - a world council.  Peace through justice was the theme.  The opening message of the Council was released on October 20th 1962, two days before the Cuban missile crisis.  The statement was addressed to all humanity.  It emphasized the urgency of peace through social justice. John XXIII issued two relevant encyclicals - one on Social Justice, Mater et Magistra 1961, and one on Peace – Pacem in Terris 1963.

    Vatican II recognized the Laity as a crucial force in the church. Dialogue was prioritized among various Christian denominations, non – Christians, and atheists (read communists) to present a unified front to promote peace.  But almost immediately in 1968 the windows were shut, mold formed, and the unreasonable was once again declared as reasonable.  For example, birth control validated as moral by a papal commission of the Laity was pronounced as immoral by Paul VI with his encyclical Humanae Vitae. Here is where we find the core of the changes that is causing the identity crisis for Catholics.  The Laity is in disagreement with the official church yet the Laity is said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit in the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
   Within the Laity and the hierarchy there are disagreements each with a preferential dogma supported as they interpret scripture and tradition.  

   Because of the current U.S. administration, the threat of nuclear war is again on the horizon, and the anxiety of the 50’s has returned.  Pope Francis has demanded the elimination of nuclear weapons.  Teaching the early Christian Gospel of Peace through justice and non–violence, as opposed to the Roman Imperial Gospel of Peace through military victory, (NIKA) is crucial.  The Gospel of Peace is a worthwhile identity mark for the faith community and the Catholic Church. A strain of Catholic theology has emphasized realism and reason. Such theology as a Catholic identity could help refine and explain the ancient kerygma of resistance and non-violence as a path to peace.  

Prince of Peace, born in a stable

   The Christmas story and the angel’s revelation to the shepherds, “fear not … peace to those of good will,” is not historical, simply a cherished myth, but it is relevant today and points to truth.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Working Catholic: Christmas So Soon?

       The grocery store was more congested than usual this morning because Christmas has taken over two aisles—miniature lights, extension cords, wreaths, decorative boxes, greeting cards and wrapping paper. Plus there are several gift displays at the front and back of several aisles—trays of chestnuts/hazelnuts/pecans and holiday sausage plus winter ale, which I bought for Thanksgiving and which I’ll get more of later. My regular grocery cashier, who is also a floor manager, mentioned that she spent her first hour in a Christmas meeting: How to adequately staff for these next weeks, how many turkeys to order, etc. I had to also stop quickly at the drug store where the same items are prominent. (Yes, my drug store sells festive beer.) There is a radio station in Chicago that from November 3rd exclusively plays Christmas music until 11:59 P.M. on Christmas Eve.

Who started all this? Who invented Christmas?

One correct answer is Our Blessed Mother Mary. Another answer might be St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), who is credited with inventing, or at least popularizing, the Christmas Pageant. But Christmas in the sense of shopping, office parties, mounds of presents and the like is less than 175-years old.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was into a major writer’s block in 1843. His last three stories were duds and he was in debt. Walking the streets of Manchester that fall, Dickens thought about children and Christmas. Back home in London he wrote A Christmas Carol in a fury. The publisher didn’t like it. Dickens decided to pay for the publishing, thus increasing his debt. Of course, it took off and many editions and adaptations followed. The 1992 Muppet Christmas Carol is my favorite.

Dickens didn’t exactly invent Christmas. But Dickens “played a major role in transforming a celebration dating back to pre-Christian times, revitalizing forgotten customs and introducing new ones that now define the holiday,” writes Les Standiford in The Man Who Invented Christmas (Crown, 2011). Dickens “complimented the glorification of the nativity of Christ with a specific set of practices derived from Christ’s example: charity and compassion in the form of educational opportunity, humane working conditions and a decent life for all.” Dickens’ influence links “the birth of a holy savior into a human family to the glorification and defense of the family unit itself.”

Obviously, the themes of Christmas associated with the original Bethlehem setting, with St. Francis’ pageant and with A Christmas Carol can be lost in the frenzy of shopping. It is silly, however, for Christians to wage a culture war on behalf of our holy season. For example, no one needs the permission of President Donald Trump to greet anyone in friendship by saying “Merry Christmas.” Instead of grousing about commercialism, why not use the weeks of Advent to implement Christmas themes in the neighborhood, in the workplace and in one’s family? In particular, why not—as many people already do—use these days to fight poverty, even with small gestures? Pope Francis declares November 19, 2017 as World Day for the Poor. Each of us can make an anti-poverty resolution on that day, and evaluate our effort on January 6, 2018, the Epiphany.

For a booster shot of the Christmas theme, read again A Christmas Carol. There is a decorative edition with an introduction from pastoral theologian John Shea available at Acta (4848 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640; $14.95)

Droel edits a newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)
by Bill Droel for Catholic Labor Network (

Droel edits a newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Saturday, November 18, 2017


An important event on our School of Americas schedule this year was a memorial service for Fr. Jerry Zawada, O.F.M.  Jerry was the strongest advocate for peace I ever met.  He said that he lost count of the number of times he was arrested for peace protests after the 150th time.  I was thinking of Jerry as we protested at the border wall in Nogales, AZ - Mexico and participated in workshops that raised our political and faith consciousness.


   Nogales is now the site of the demonstration to close the S.O.A.  The reason for the change from Fort Benning is:

 …”to join alongside allied groups to denounce militarized U.S. foreign policy as a principal root cause of migration, as well as the devastating impact U.S. security and immigration policy has on refugees, asylum seekers and immigrant families, across all borders.” (S.O.A. program, P.1)

   Just before we left for Nogales I received an alumni fundraiser P.R. magazine from the Dominican high school I attended in Oak Park, Illinois.  I was shocked.  The glossy red, white and blue cover featured photos of Fenwick H.S graduates who had served in the military over the years in the many wars since the school’s founding in 1929.  A headline on the cover proudly stated – “Fighting Friars Defend Our Fenwick Shield and The American Flag.”   What!   War is not a high school football game; war is hell itself.  A lamentation for the dead, wounded – those with P.T.S.D. would be appropriate not a glorification of mechanized slaughter.  Veterans marched for peace in Nogales.

    Our pilgrimage to the wall in Nogales included a stop in Tucson to visit a “streamline court” where immigrants are deported in bunches ignoring “due process” and appeal for asylum.  We also protested at a privatized detention center for immigrants located in the desert near Tucson.

  From the hill overlooking the U.S. Nogales and the Mexican Nogales you could see the valley, the river and a steel polled wall separating the communities of similar people and a common landscape.  Psalm 82 came to mind.  “Rise God, dispense justice throughout the world, since no nation is excluded from your ownership.”

  Besides praying and protesting at the wall we attended workshops.  One of them was about working with Trump’s restructuring of NAFTA.  In my opinion, moving from neo-liberalism to neo-mercantilism still maintains workers in slave-like conditions.  Workers on both sides of the wall must be guaranteed the right to organize unions and to be protected by enforceable laws.    

   The protest to close the SOA has a long history.  The School of the Americas (S.O.A.) is in Fort Benning, GA.  It is where Latin American soldiers are trained to enforce, sometimes by torture, U.S. control in the Americas.  Friar Jim Barnett, O.P. was one of the early supporters of Maryknoll Roy Bourgeois, the founder and leader of the protests for 27 years.    

   From Nogales we headed again to Tucson for a memorial service for Franciscan Jerry Zawada who died in Milwaukee last summer.  Fr. Jerry served three six-month prison sentences for protesting at S.O.A. demonstrations in Fr. Benning, Georgia.  He spent two months in prison for protesting torture training at Fort Huachuca near Nogales.

   When Jerry was a pastor at St. Michael’s in Milwaukee he accompanied me to the picket line at the 1987 Patrick Cudahy strike.  We delivered donations of food to the strikers and marched in the picket line.  The program for Jerry’s memorial service had a union bug.

   Jerry Zawada preached the Gospel by his everyday life.  Peace through justice and non-violence was the basic Gospel teaching  of the early Christians as opposed to the Gospel of Rome - Pax Romana – peace through military might.  Thanks Jerry for reminding us.