Monday, June 9, 2008

Walking the Walk

A couple weeks ago, some of the Friends from the Worcester Meeting came over to visit, and amongst many topics covered, we discussed the relationship between Catholics and Quakers. I did not know that the two groups actually got along quite well, particularly because (as one of the women put it), "we live what they're talking about."

Just the other day, a work friend sent me further proof of the relationship, in the form of a blurb written by the Historian of the 36th Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Wayne Porter, and entitled "Quaker Friends of Irish Catholics." This particular note is geared towards Quaker actions during the Irish Famine, but I think it's interesting regardless.
The Society of Friends commonly called the Quakers has always practiced what we as Catholics call the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Catholics and Quakers have something in common; both persecuted and struggled to exist in a hostile country. They were persecuted in England (as usual) and left for religious freedom in America but they did not find what they hoped for. In Boston they were not accepted many were whipped and banished. With that history they understood what it was like to be persecuted for your faith. In America they have always been in the forefront of compassionate social change going back centuries, some of the issues which they have been fighting for are still with us, death penalty, prison reform, homelessness, child abuse, peace and hunger. It was all about treating people with basic human rights that are not given by the state but by Almighty God with the belief in a humane society. When the famine hit Ireland although there were only about 3,000 Quakers with a population of 8 million, they were heroic in their attempt to feed the hungry. Many protestant churches did not act in a Christian way, they would offer food only if they converted to Protestantism. Those who converted were called soupers. How much they attended church services determined how much food they would get. One cannot judge these people as they were starving and God knows what we would do in their place. The Quakers refused to proselytize as a result how many lives they saved we will never know. They saved lives in their belief that human beings were hurting and they needed help. In the folk memory of Ireland the Quakers are known as people who helped during the famine, they are to be admired for their true Christian beliefs and works that some of today's Christians could emulate. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. The many that died not abandoning their faith should be recognized as martyrs and hopefully honored by the church.

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