Radical activist Mitch Snyder attended mass at Georgetown's Holy Trinity Catholic Church yesterday and listened politely as the pastor and his parishioners paid tribute to each other for refusing to yield to Snyder's 12-day hunger strike.
The Rev. James English thanked his parish council for working "selflessly and tirelessly under the most difficult circumstances." Snyder had ended his announced "fast to the death" early Thursday, just after the 20-member parish council rejected his demands that the church spend more money on the poor.
As English was finishing his list of thank-you's, a man sitting on the center aisle suddenly rose to his feet and interrupted the priest inj mid-sentence.
"I realize it's irregular for a member of the parish to speak here," the man said, "but there's [another] thank you in order -- for your wisdom and your grace and your leadership during these trying times."
Almost the entire congregation then stood and gave English a vigorous round of applause. Snyder conspicuous in his long scraggly hair and green army fatigues, and his small coterie of "streeet people" and fellow members of the Community for Creative Nonviolence, remained seated.
In interviews conducted before and after the 11:30 a.m. mass, parishioners expressed relief that snyder had backed down and survived, support for the way the church had responded to his fast, and hope that the whole episode would now go away as swiftly as possible.
One parishoner who is also a volunteer at a CCNV-run soup kitchen said she thought Holy Trinity had acquired a "really unfair" image from the congrontation as "a bunch of wealthy, hard-nosed people."
"I think people have the right to spend their money the way they want to," she said. "Some people are generous and some people are not. I don't think you can give people a conscience."
"it's brought out a lot of anger and I don't think you can do any good with anger," said anothe woman who, like most of those interviewed, declined to give her name. "I think Mitch's efforts for the poor are commendable. It's just that he has no right to force other people to do the things he wants them to do."
Her husband, agreeing, described what he saw as an "irreconcilable conflict" between Cnyder's views and those of most Holy Trinity parikshioners. Snyder, he said, appeared ot be lieve "that people are not entitled to any wealth beyond what's necessary for subisitence" and therfore looks on Holy Trinity's charitable works as tokenism. "... And it's true it's limited," he added.
After the services, Snyder insisted he was asking Holy Trinity for nothing nore than what "Jesus Christ, through the gospe; has been asking us all for." The Sermon on the Mount was "a great admonition to share all that we have," said Snyder, and to avoid "self-congratulatory or theatrical gestures."
"Did you see any hungry people (at the mass)? he asked rhetorically. "Any poor people? Any homeless people? Why arne't they there?"
Snyder said he was feeling well three days after the end of his fast. But "I was told by my doctor I don't have too many fasts left in me," he said.
Inside the church, meanwhile, English was showing parishioners some of the renovation that has gotten uner way as part of a $400,000 building improvement fund -- the same fund the CCNV has sought to tap for the poor.
"I'm so tired of Mr. Snyder and dealing with his simple-minded approach to life," English said. "I hope we find out if he can live without publicity. I hope he has that chance and I hope we have that chance."
But when a parishioner stuck out his hand and offered "congratulations" to English for winning the showdown, he said he was uncomfortable with that view of last week's events. "I don't think of it as a victory but more as survival," he said.
"It was a victory," the parishioner repeatedly said quietly, with a smile.
"Well, thank you very much," English finally responded, also smiling. "It was awful, absolutely awful, but you do the best you can."