Occupy London – A Catholic Worker Sermon on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral

Hi there

My name is Ciaron O’Reilly. I’m from Giuseppe Conlon House in London, where we offer hospitality to destitute refugees without any recourse to benefits or legal status to work. Many of these folks have fled countries and economies that have been trashed by the institutions based in this Square Mile of London. There are no borders on capital as it swirls around the world but people are branded “illegal” fleeing the destruction it wreaks. At Giuseppe Conlon House we don’t accept any funding from the state and we don’t want any funding from the state. We are volunteers and our project is financed by donations.

Photograph: Steve Millar

We are part of the international Catholic Worker movement. Our folks have been down at Occupy Wall St. New York City, others feeding folks at Occupy L.A., other Catholic Workers are present at Occupy Des Moines and elsewhere. We are here because we are radical Christians and much of what you are doing here resonates with what we are doing at home and the practices of the early church.

The word “radical” is not a scary word, it’s not a word left over from the 1960’s. The word “radical” is a Latin word. It means “to return to the roots”. Why do we need to be radical? Because our dissident movements get co-opted! They get co-opted by the temptations Jesus confronted in the desert – power, wealth and status.

The Christian movement has been around for 2,000 years – so that’s a lot of time in which to get co-opted. We had a pretty good run for the first 300 years, before the Roman Emperor Constantine legalised us, patronised us and co-opted us. Radical christianity had, and has, an anarchist orientation towards power and a pacifist orientation towards violence. Jesus has no truck with violence and exploitation.

Pope Paul 6th said “If you want peace, work for justice!” And the flipside is true, if you want to maintain empires of exploitation you must prepare for war. There is a relationship between peace and justice. And there’s a relationship between violence and exploitation. There’s a relationship between these banks and institutions, principalities and powers in this Square Mile and the wars that grind on in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere.

The church does not have a monopoly on being co-opted. Punk, rap, feminism, trade unions, you name it, all get co-opted. But there are always radicals in these traditions that you can work with on the basis of nonviolence and direct democracy. So here we all are outside St. Paul’s Cathedral threatened with state violence and church eviction for speaking truth to powers of the Square Mile. What the Cathedral folks forget is that the image of God is to be found in human beings, that’s what makes us all sacred. The image of God is not found in big buildings. The church is only relevant in how it midwives the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of peace and justice. What is the church doing here in this place? Is it enhancing the Kingdom or the City?

Why those in power find this encampment, your presence, so abhorent is that you are exercising active citizenship, not playing your designated role as passive consumers in this Square Mile. A “Shock Doctrine” place that has historically been cleared of residents and citizenship. Those in power don’t want you to be active citizens, they want you to be passive consumers. They want you to think that the only freedom you have is at the point of consumption. The freedom to choose between Coke and Pepsi, Nike and Reebok… Don’t entertain the thought that you have any freedom at work or in your community or on your campus. They don’t even want your active support for their wars any more. All they want is your silence and sedation, your resignation. This camp is a movement of a holy spirit at the centre of empire against the spirits of resignation, cynicism that facilitate war and global exploitation.

The Catholic Worker movement began in New York City at a time like this – the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Our founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin didn’t go for big solutions, they didn’t lobby the rich and powerful, they did what you are doing today. They set goals, and as the Wobblies would say, “started building the new society in the shell of the old”. And here we are 80 years later, still practising the acts of mercy in response to poverty and nonviolent resistance in response to war. Such practices are eternal. These banks, these Mayors, CEO’s and Prime Ministers, this capitalist system are transitory.

Going to jail for nonviolent resistance is an occupational hazard in the Catholic Worker movement. I have been in many jails, in a number of jurisdictions, over the last 30 years. The first night I spent in a jail, I was sharing a cell with a career armed robber who told me “People will stop robbing banks, when banks stop robbing people!” That’s pretty insightful and where would you get such an insight but from the margins? It observes that there are two sorts of crime in our world – wholesale killing, thieving and dealing in dangerous substances, and retail. Those who deal in wholesale crime are the governments and corporations, those who deal in retail crime merely mimic the rich and powerful.

This nonviolent experiment in justice and peace outside St. Paul’s cathedral, like so many others including Jesus community, may end in the violence of the state sweeping down upon it. But that won’t be the end as it wasn’t for Jesus community. Already our brothers and sisters have been batoned, maced, tasered and arrested in the U.S. and Australia. Our brother Scott Olsen remains in a critical condition in an Oakland/California hospital.

What is needed now, and always, is nonviolent resistance and the solidarity that sustains it. I truly believe if 1% of the 2 million people who marched in this country in 2003 against the war on Iraq had gone into nonviolent resistance to the point of imprisonment – in the spirit of Ghandi and Martin Luther King – and the other 99% who marched had proactively supported them… we could have stopped that war. We still can!

So there are some folks here sleeping rough, some who will be arrested and some who will be injured. We need to surround them throughout these experiences designed to intimidate and defeat with proactive solidarity, so they come out of those resistance experiences stronger than they went into them.

We need to support our resisters, casualties and prisoners.
Free Bradley Manning, Free Julian Assange and Free Michael Lyons.

Thanx and solidarity.

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