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FROM APOSTOLIC MISSIONARIES TO THE RADICAL LEFT

But, of course, it was not solely the influence of Latin American sections, magnified no doubt by the presence of Luis Sena in the JECI headquarters in Paris,[1] which opened the eyes of jecistes to global inequalities and the lack of justice in the world. The 1960s was a time when, triggered into action by the Algerian and Cuban revolutions and then further scandalized by the Vietnam War, First World activists began to ‘discover’ the Third World. The 1964 World Council of the JECI, held in Montreal, devoted its study session—a regular feature of such world councils—to ‘The Mission of Students in the Face of Underdevelopment’. The official report on the Council deliberations, written by the Argentinian General Secretary of the JECI, Paco del Campio, prominently underscored: ‘The deliberations of the Council during those twelve days focused on two fundamental aspects of the problem of domination in the world of today: the problematic of the struggle against underdevelopment which concerns all of humanity because of its global implications, and the quest for—and respect and development of—the original character particular to each region and each culture’, an agenda with unlimited implications, to say the least.[2]

The events of the calendar year of 1968—not only but above all in France— then added further fuel to the flames. A call for a meeting of Regional Secretaries of the JECI in early 1969 vividly paints a picture of a scenario bound to create further uncertainties. The document underscores ‘the acceleration of the transformations which today’s world is undergoing, the speed with which the student milieux are undergoing a learning process, mobilizing themselves and agitating within society, all the while undergoing a profound inner transformation, both with regard to ideas and actions’. At the same time the circular noted ‘the crisis which the Church is experiencing and which the Holy Father did not hesitate to call “a crisis of self-destruction”’, and the document goes on to suggest that ‘the fight against the societal status quo is the sole means which students have developed in order to demonstrate their desire to participate in the building of this world. Contestation—we utilize this expression for the moment without deeper reflection on its utility—is the language peculiar to the student movement in the underdeveloped and the developed world today.’[3]

After a period of what could in retrospect be regarded as Third World solidarity work, the focus of European sections now shifted back towards their own societies at home. Virtually all European sections underwent a period of intense radicalization, but a radicalization at two different speeds resulting in two potentially—but not necessarily—conflicting strategies. One sought to forge close links with other sections of society ‘and concentrated on an exploration of the reasons for the distrust of the student protests by the proletariat and the need for a strategy which aimed at solidarity between militant students and workers. The second assumed that the political neutralization of the masses of workers would not be overcome in the foreseeable future, and therefore called for a strategy aimed at undermining the support of the new capitalism by the intelligentsia and the absorption of socialist ideas into the educational system.’[4] Both views on how to change the world were a far cry from what the JECI had been all about a mere half-dozen years earlier.

New strategies called for new spiritual guides, and Edward Schillebeeckx and Karl Rahner were replaced by representatives of what can be regarded as the Far Left within progressive Catholic milieux. The star of the 1970 World Council in London was now Paul Blanquart, the Dominican radical priest who excited his audience by his invocation of the centrality of ‘utopia’ as inspiration for concrete action in the here-and-now. Religious belief can powerfully assist socialist action, he persuasively argued, precisely if it utilizes utopia as the intermediary—the point of contact—between faith and political action.[5] And the archives abound with statements with regard to the great impact made by Blanquart at the London gathering.[6] Paul Blanquart became a much-sought-after tribune at conferences all over Europe in subsequent years.

Four years later, at the next World Council of the JECI in the Dutch village of Cadier en Keer near Maastricht in 1974, it was Gustavo Gutierrez who spellbound his audience with a magisterial survey of the ways in which faith had made an impact on the contemporary world, ‘Experiencia de Fe’. Explicating the various contributions of earlier or contemporaneous radical theologians, notably theologies of development, theologies of revolution, and theologies of violence, Gutierrez underscored the particular vitality of the radical new theology with which his name has since become associated: the theology of liberation. Gutierrez offered the theology of liberation as the most radical solution of all such professions of faith, exceeding in explosive power all rival radical theologies then much in vogue throughout the world. The Spanish language version of his intervention notably includes a fascinating sixty-page transcript of the ensuing discussion with Catholic student revolutionaries at Cadier en Keer.[7]

It would go too far to further describe and analyse the remarkable radical- ization undergone by the JECI in the late sixties and the first half of the 1970s in particular; but this brief invocation of the overall contours of this development will hopefully have further underscored—if there was any remaining doubt—that Catholic student politics in the red decade between 1966 and 1976 was a constituent part of—and key force behind—radical student politics in Europe as such. Where Catholic students did not outright join the fledgling groupings of the New and the Far Left, many of their organizations became close allies and forged intimate ties with their radical secular cohort to the left of the Old Left.

  • [1] The central role of Luis Sena in the rapid evolution of the JECI to the left precisely in theconjuncture at the end of the 1960s and the very beginning of the 1970s was underscored in arecent email communication by Peter Praetz, who was then a member of the JECI leadershipteam in Paris; email by Peter Praetz to Gerd-Rainer Horn on 24 October 2011.
  • [2] Paco del Campio, ‘Rapport du Conseil Mondial’, ‘Montreal 1967’—BDIC, JECI, F delta1980/37.
  • [3] ‘Circulaire aux Secretaires Regionaux’, 26 mars 1969, p. 1—BDIC, JECI, F delta 1980/103.
  • [4] ‘The European Student Conference, 1969’, ‘Gwatt, Switzerland, March 23-27’, p. 1—BDIC, JECI, F delta 1980/785.
  • [5] Material on the crucial 1970 London World Council can be found in F delta 1980/43-6,including the text of Blanquart’s intervention, ‘Elements pour l’interpretation et la critique de lasociete', a presentation of high intellectual niveau, using the language of unorthodox nonstructuralist, indeed revolutionary, Marxism, followed by a lengthy discussion by variousparticipants and a final response by Blanquart in F delta 1980/46.
  • [6] Note, for instance, the reminiscence of the then-chaplain of the Spanish JEC, Jose PachonZunigo, in 1978: ‘In 1970 the JEC was profoundly marked by the ideas of Father Blanquart putforth at the World Council in London’; see Zunigo’s ‘Memoria Cristiana de la JEC. 1969-1977’,p. 3—BDIC, JECI, F delta 1980/820.
  • [7] Material on the 1974 Cadier en Keer World Council is in BDIC, JECI, F delta 1980/47-54;the text of Gutierrez's fiery speech, complete with the minutes of the subsequent debate itengendered, is in F delta 1980/54.
 
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