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THE JEUNESSE ETUDIANTE CATHOLIQUE INTERNATIONALE

The umbrella organization of this amazing welter of Catholic student organizations rapidly evolving towards the left reflected the multiplicity of approaches and the rapid succession of answers given to the issues at the centre of European student concerns. The history of the Jeunesse Etudiante Catholique Internationale (JECI) remains to be written.[1] Like literally all other international federations of specialized Catholic Action branches, whose archives are readily accessible but which await their historian,[2] the trajectory of the JECI at the highpoint of student struggles in Europe and the world reflects the ups and downs of student movements and their ideological debates in almost perfect laboratory conditions.

During the first half of the 1960s, the JECI was in tune with progressive currents in the Catholic church, and the experts invited to their conferences and study sessions hailed from the milieu of theologians representing the currents which helped shape Vatican II. Thus, the summer camp of the university branch of the JECI in Anseremme along the River Meuse in the Walloon Ardennes saw the Belgian-born Dutch reform theologian Edward Schillebeeckx as the central referee.[3] What is worth highlighting, however, is that, already in the early-to-mid-1960s, Spanish theologians were unusually prominent amongst the invited experts, no doubt reflecting the ferment then erupting in the Spanish underground, which cast a bright light over JECI sections in other European states. In 1962, for instance, on the occasion of the 1962 summer camp of the university branches of the JECI in Switzerland, Luis Maldonado, theology professor at a branch campus of the University of Salamanca in Madrid and, in 1962, the chaplain of JEC students at the University of Madrid, introduced the vacationing students to the theology of Karl Rahner.[4] At the European Study Session of the JECI in Folkestone, England, in September 1965, it was the chaplain of the Spanish JEC from 1962 to 1967 and, in 1965, simultaneously the chaplain of the JECI, Jesds Maria Lasagabaster Medinabeitia, who presented his thoughts on ‘The Role of the Christian in the World and the School of Today’ to his audience, basing his reflections on the works of Rahner, Schillebeeckx, and other reform theologians, but also devoting significant space to the theology of Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz.[5]

If the Iberian dictatorships served to alert European JECI activists to the fragility of democracy, the political and social realities of Latin America contributed to the politicization of the JECI even further. For the JECI was, by definition, not a European but a world association of Catholic students. Latin American students played prominent roles in the JECI from the 1950s onwards. Thus the Brazilian Luis Alberto Gomez do Souza was elected Secretary General of the JECI at the 1958 World Council session in Dakar, Senegal. More importantly, for many crucial years during the wave of radic- alization of student politics, the chaplain of the JECI, headquartered in Paris, was Father Luis de Gonzaga di Sena, formerly an instructor at the priest seminary of Olinda and the University of Recife, forced to leave Brazil as a political exile.[6] Radical ferment had gripped Latin American campuses long before it began to affect most European campuses north of the Pyrenees, and their ideas rapidly gained followers within European sections of the JECI by the late 1960s.[7] The Portuguese delegation to the 1970 London Conference of the JECI, themselves no strangers to bold initiatives, in their internal conference report prominently noted:

Of all groups present in London, those who impressed us by far the most were the Latin Americans—and this for various reasons. Apart from being extraordinarily communicative, everyone there felt that their contributions to our gathering were the most precious. They are individuals used to thinking for themselves, full of ideas and questions, capable of always expressing what is on their minds when they have something to say, truly committed to the tasks at hand. One virtually senses how their brains are continuously active, always tackling issues straightforwardly, focusing on the reality of their home countries and the entire world. Their thought processes were continuously stimulated by their confrontation with these realities, always ready to take up the challenge to think for themselves. One could tell that they have a deep-going understanding not only of their own situation but, more generally, of the world situation as such.[8]

  • [1] I intend to address the vagaries of JECI politics in the 1960s and 1970s in a future article.This subchapter of Chapter 4 is merely designed to trace the vague outlines of the turbulencesaffecting the life and times of the JECI in les annees 68.
  • [2] To mention but one goldmine: the archive of the Jeunesse Ouvriere Catholique Internationale (JOCI) in Brussels is extremely well organized and enormously rich—though, thus far,painfully ignored by scholars.
  • [3] Report on the ‘Universitatslager der IKSY’, ‘Anseremme, 30. VIII-12. IX [19]60’—Bibliotheque de documentation internationale contemporaine (BDIC), Fonds Jeunesse Etudiante Catholique Internationale (JECI), F delta 1980/106.
  • [4] The French text of his allocution, ‘El sentido del trabajo estudiantil en el plan de Dios’, canbe consulted in BDIC, JECI, F delta 1980/110.
  • [5] ‘Le Role du chretien dans le monde et l’ecole d’aujourd’hui’, ‘Session d’etudes europeennesde la JEC Internationale, Folkestone (Angleterre), 6-11 septembre 1965’—BDIC, JECI, F delta1980/810.
  • [6] Father Sena arrived in France in 1964. Later on assuming the position of chaplain of theJECI, he served in this capacity until 1974; see ‘Merci Sena', in Lettre au Conseil 12 (70-4), March1974—BDIC, JECI, F delta 1980/213. None other than Dom Helder Camara in 1964 becamearchbishop of Olinda and Recife, the home base of Father Sena.
  • [7] A classification of organizations belonging to the JECI, based on an internal questionnaire sent to JECI sections in 1970, which asked for clarification on their preferred strategiesfor social change, clearly shows Latin American sections in the vanguard of radical sentiments,with sections from all other continents clearly trailing behind their Latin American cohortin the degree of commitment to radical solutions; see ‘Rapports de la Session Mondiale dela JECI', ‘Londres 1970': Peter Praetz, ‘Introduction generale', p. 14—BDIC, JECI, F delta1980/46.
  • [8] ‘Informa^ao sobre a sessao mundial e o conselho mundial da JEC Internacional (Londra,23 jul. - 18 ago. 1970)', pp. 10-11—BDIC, JECI, F delta 1980/1062. I thank Roberto Zaugg forvaluable assistance in translating this passage.
 
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