Viva House and the Mandate for Mercy in Baltimore | WYPR

Viva House and the Mandate for Mercy in Baltimore

Dec 5, 2016

Credit Apprentice House Press

Tom’s guests today are two social justice activists who have lived and worked among some of Baltimore‘s poorest and most disadvantaged people for nearly 50 years. 

Brendan Walsh was a seminarian from The Bronx, and Willa Bickham was a nun from Chicago before they changed course, married each other, and started feeding and housing the poor -- in Baltimore. Bickham and Walsh were married in 1967 and in October of the following year, they opened Viva House in Southwest Baltimore (or Sowebo, to city residents). Since then, they estimate that more than a million people have come to them asking for help: shelter, food, financial assistance, or maybe just a little TLC.

Viva House is part of a network of places around the country that are part of the Catholic Worker Movement. Viva House serves two meals per week to about 200 people from the neighborhood and elsewhere; they give away hundreds of bags of donated groceries every month; and they agitate for non-violence. In their new book, Brendan Walsh writes: “Long ago, our society lost a fundamental understanding of the common good and the necessity for human solidarity.” Brendan Walsh and Willa Bickham have stood in solidarity with their neighbors in Sowebo, their fellow anti-war activists around the world, and the notion that the common good is worth standing for, worth fighting for, and worth bearing witness to. Their book is called The Long Loneliness in Baltimore; Stories Along the Way. Walsh and Bickham will be reading from their book at the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Jan. 24. For details about their reading, click here.  If you would like to volunteer or donate food for Viva House, or to buy the book, "The Long Loneliness in Baltimore," please call  Viva House at 410-233-0488. 

Baltimore is once again on track to reach a horrid and unacceptable milestone:  300 murders in one year.  As of today, 295 people have been the victims of a homicide in our city.  Plus, 620 people have been victims of non-fatal shootings.  Every Sunday, at Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill, they read the names and pray for the people who have died from violence in Baltimore during the previous week.  It may also be the case that other churches and houses of worship do this too, but Memorial is the only one we know of directly. 

Beginning today, we are going to read those names as well, every Monday, on Midday.  We will stand in witness to their untimely deaths, and we will remember their families and friends in their hour of grief.  A researcher named Ellen Worthing has been compiling a list of Baltimore homicide victims for the past 15 years.  We are indebted to her for the data she posts on her blog, chamspage.  See her blog here. We also consult the Baltimore Sun’s list of homicides, which they have been compiling since 2007. 

From the Saturday after Thanksgiving, through last Friday, the following people lost their lives to violence in Baltimore City:  Jacob Hayes, age 22, Charles McGee, age 23. Dwayne Dorsey, age 27, Davon Dozier, age 29, Troy Smothers, age 23, Jamal Stewart, age 18, plus an unidentified man who was 73 years old.