Bread and Roses


This month is, in many parts of the world, “Women’s History Month”, and, as Sister Margaret Scott, RNDM, has reminded us, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th.

As a man, as a Catholic, and as a priest, I have been touched by the ministry of many remarkable women throughout my life—too many to enumerate here—but I recall all of them, starting with my beautiful mother and including many extraordinary women religious, with deep gratitude.

There is a poem and song, popular in the United States, called “Bread and Roses”.  James Oppenheim wrote the poem and it was first published in December 1911. James Oppenheim was inspire to write the poem when he saw the slogan of the Chicago Women Trade Unionists, “Bread for all, and Roses, too”.  The poem was set to music and became popular among trade unions and in protest movements.  It has been recorded by American folk singers Judy Collins and Joan Baez.  The lyrics are as follows:

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we come marching, marching, we battle too, for men,
For they are in the struggle and together we shall win.
Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes,
Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses.

As we come marching, marching, un-numbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too.

As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall.
The rising of the women means the rising of us all.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses.

“Hearts starve, as well as bodies”.  In the song, bread is a symbol for justice, that all should have sufficient sustenance to be able to live.  Roses are a symbol of beauty, that the human heart needs bread, yes, but that we also need beauty.  And that both justice and beauty are goods which all humans deserve to enjoy.

Solidarity with South Sudan—sponsored and sustained as we are by many wonderful congregations of women religious—is deeply committed to “the rising of the women” in South Sudan, because we know that their rising is “the rising of us all”.  Thus, in all of our projects, we seek to provide women as well as men with all of the opportunities that can enable them to contribute fully to the building up of a civilization of justice and beauty in their beloved homeland.

This month brought the very welcome news that our Holy Father Pope Francis will visit South Sudan from July 5 to 7, 2022.  The visit of the Holy Father will be an enormous comfort and source of encouragement to the people of South Sudan and will hopefully lead to renewed international attention on this young country’s efforts to develop a sustainable economy that can provide food, housing, education, and jobs to the people of the country.

This March we also embark on the beautiful season of Lent, sometimes misunderstood in our Catholic tradition because of an excessive emphasis on human sin and brokenness.  But, in fact, the proper emphasis of Lent is not on our human sinfulness, but on the love and mercy of God in sending his son to become one of us and to share fully in the human condition.

The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word meaning “to lengthen” and it refers, in fact, not to human sinfulness, but to the fact that, in the Global North, the days are becoming longer and warmer as we approach Spring, and the signs of new life and hope that are increasingly all around us.  We conclude Lent with Holy Week and the annual commemoration of Jesus’ choice to empty himself of “godlikeness” in order to enter fully into the brokenness of the human condition, thus subjecting himself to unjust persecution and death.  As we know, of course, that is not, thankfully, the end of the story, since we are able to say, on Easter Sunday, “Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen Indeed!”  Let us pray also for the resurrection of the people, the people of the South Sudan among them.

The month of March brings a number of wonderful feastdays, too: the commemorations of the early Christian martyrs Perpetua and Felicity (March 7), the feast of Frances of Rome (March 9), who was remarkable for both her charity and her mysticism, the feast of Saint Joseph, patron of the universal Church (March 19), and the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) ( these last two days, by the way, are ones on which the Gloria is sung, even though it is Lent, and they are days on which the usual Lenten fasting and abstinence are dispensed with).

Date Published:

18 Mar 2022


Fr. David, Mission promoter


Article Tags:

Latest News, South Sudan, Solidarity

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