In the wake of Mitch Snyder's dramatic 12-day fast in an unsuccessful effort to force a prominent Roman Catholic parish to give more money to the poor, a fundamental question remained yesterday: how were the poor themselves affected?
Were they simply lost in the fury of the confrontation, as some parishioners of Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown feel?
No, says Snyder. "Peopel are talking about them now," he said from his bed in Sibley Memorial Hospital yesterday. "They've been in the papers and on TV. When's the last time that happened? They've been invisible... People are more sensitive now."
Snyder, who is scheduled to be released from the hospital today, acknowledged that he failed in his effort to force Holy Trinity to earmark an additional "commitment" to the poor But the wide news coverage given his fast was a "concommitant" to the fast "that increased the visibility of the poor," he said.
As for Holy Trinity, church officials yesterday reiterated their position that the church has given amply to the poor in the past and will attempt to give even more in the future but not on terms dictated by a man threatening to fast to the death.
"We're dealing with two issues here -- life and freedom," said Paul McElligott, an attorney and chairman of the Holy Trinity parish council's committee on social concerns. "Snyder was saying to us, "I'm going to exercise my freedom over my life to deprive you of your freedom over your lives."
The parish council response in refusing to knuckle under to Snyder's threat was, in effect, "We will maintain our freedom over our lives and actions, and we aske you to maintain your freedom over your life and actions," McElligott said.
The basic question, he said was "how are you going to take an action that preserves both life and freedom? I think we did (take such action)."
Other parishioners did not phrase the issue so delicately. Some called Snyder's fast "blackmail" and "extortion," and Holy Trinity pastor, the Rev. James English, said the parish council was "willing to permit (Snyder's) death because we could not accept his attempts at tyranny over us."
Throughout the controversy, Snyder, the fiery 35-year old member of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, said his fast was "an act of conscience" and an example of the starvation caused by Holy Trinity's unresponsiveness to the poor.
Snyder's threat to fast to the death was criticized even by some people sympathetic to his cause. The Rev. Richard McSorley, a CCNV member and Jesuit theology professor at Georgetown University, called it "suicidal."
John Swinglish, codirector of Emmaus Community, a service organization for shut-ins and elderly in Northeast Washington, said the fast, abandoned by Snyder early Thursday after 12 days, "wwas the culmination of years of a certain self-centeredness, or at least self-right-righteousness" by CCNV and its members.
But Swinglish added, "Now that the gun is no longer at Holy Trinity's head, they (church members) have got to make a greater response to the poor... not just Holy Trinity parish but all parishes and churches and synagogues."
McElligott said Holy Trinity, as a matter of policy, has always sought greater resources for the poor. He noted that Snyder and other CCNV members have demanded at various times that Holy Trinity give an amount to the poor equal to its current $400,000 building improvement fund.
"I think we do that, and more," McElligott said. The $400,000 pledged by parishioners to repair the 120-year old church will be spent in the next year or two, he said, "and then we'll have no repairs for the next 15 or 20 years.'
In that interval, Holy Trinity members will give at least $400,000 to the poor, he said, "not just money, but food, clothing, toys, personal time and volunteer work by doctors, dentists and others... There's no way to estimate the true value."
He noted, for example, that several physicians who are parish members do voluntary work at a CCNV medical clinic for the poor near 14th and N Streets NW.