Last month my wife Susan and I drove to Phoenix to visit family. We had never spent much time there, and my relatives wanted us to see some sites they thought would interest us. They took us to two places where an ancient people had lived for about a thousand years, reaching their height of power and size between about 950 and 1350 C.E.
This society built water canal systems that, anthropologists estimate, ran for a thousand miles. From what is now downtown Phoenix they took water from the Salt River and distributed it for farming across the local valley. Further south another group did the same on the Gila River. The main channels can be up to 30 feet across and 10 feet deep, all dug by hand, and so well engineered that water planners use some of the same routes today.
The rural Southwest feels vast and empty. Driving from Los Angeles to New Mexico, my wife Susan and I saw sweeping landscapes of alluvial fans and sheer cliffs, and mesas that stretched as far as we could see. Just the idea that people carved out a way of life on these lands left us in awe of our ancestors and, before them — centuries before them, millennia even — the first people who lived here.
People still live on this arid earthscape. They populate the small towns along the railroad tracks. They dwell in pueblos at the tops of mesas. They survive tucked into corners of cliff sides and in the bottomlands of rivers. Driving through such rugged beauty made us aware of the power of nature and the relative powerlessness of human beings in that kind of environment.
In his speech to Congress, Pope Francis praised Dorothy Day — along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thomas Merton — as one of four “representatives of the American people” whom he admired.
Pope Francis was probably the first pope to mention Day’s name in public. It is unlikely that anyone else who addressed Congress in the past had uttered her name.
No doubt most members of Congress — and most Americans watching the speech on television or listening on the radio — had never heard of her. Many of them would have had to Google her on their iPhones and tablets. Some of them — like House Speaker John Boehner, the arch-conservative who invited Pope Francis to speak to Congress — might not have been pleased with what they discovered.
Day (1897-1980) founded the Catholic Worker movement on the principles of militant pacifism, radical economic redistribution,
Two court orders and the most expensive wrongful death settlement in California history should be enough. But not for Corizon, a corrections health care company owned by a private equity firm.
For seven months earlier this year, Mario Martinez, a prisoner in Corizon’s care at the Dublin, California Santa Rita Jail, suffered from asthma that kept getting worse. A judge issued two court orders requiring the company to provide Mario urgently needed surgery, but they didn’t operate. While Mario suffered, Corizon even settled a lawsuit for $8.3 million with the family of a prisoner who, five years earlier at the same jail, had died in the company’s care.
In July, Mario suffered an asthma attack, collapsed in his cell and died.
Mario’s mother, Tanti Martinez, had hoped to bring her son’s story to Pope Francis, who on Sunday visited a Philadelphia jail that also contracts with Corizon.
He’s been a pope of many firsts already. The first to invite Catholics to forgive women who have had abortions, and the first to refrain from judging gay people to cite just two that have made headlines. But he’s also arguably the first pope to press hard against not just the reality of poverty, but the culpability of the economic system that is in large part driving it. He’s vocal about immigration. It’s as if Pope Francis is the first pope who is actually listening, and that makes him relevant in a way his predecessors simply were not.
He’s also about to be the first pope to ever speak before Congress. We can only hope they’ll listen. Since nearly a third of them are Catholics, I think many of them will. In fact, there are more Catholics in Washington these days than ever. Six of the 9 Supreme Court Justices are Catholics,