Desktop version

Home arrow Religion

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font


<<   CONTENTS   >>

THE RADICAL TURN AT OSTEND

Certainly by the closing years of the ‘sixties’, a careful perusal of documentation extant within the copious archives of the MMTC betrays a quickening sense of questioning and challenging of the status quo within society—and within the church. Space does not permit a more detailed exploration of such trends; instead a brief glance at the first world conference after the 1966 founding session in Rome will outline a number of distinct evolutions in the outlook and the action repertoire of the MMTC. When in early October 1970 150 delegates from fifty countries and all five continents assembled for the Second General Assembly, a new era was already under way. The vacation colony of the Belgium Christian Trade Union of Woodworkers and Construction Workers in Mariakerke near Ostend on the Belgian coast was a beehive of activity from 4 to 11 October.[1]

A series of workshops assembled the international delegates, producing documents which showcase the quasi-volcanic activities at grassroots levels, mediated by the elected representatives deliberating in Ostend. Perhaps the most clear-cut manifestations of the new winds blowing within international Catholicism were, however, two central speeches. One was delivered by the MMTC chaplain, the Portuguese Father Agostinho Jardim Gonsalves. Father Jardim publicly launched an ‘Appeal for Liberation’, a call to action definitely not meant to be adulterated by ‘a bourgeois interpretation or a sentimental pietism’—Jardim’s words—designed to defer concrete measures to a distant future age. For Jardim, liberation was meant to become liberation in the here and now, and the opening lines of his Appeal for Liberation suggested some ideas for the specific tasks lying ahead:

It corresponds to the profound aspiration of all workers: to liberate themselves from the conditions which have rendered them slaves; to rise from lethargy and the suffocating slumber which are the consequences of misery, in order to go forward with resolve and dignity; to banish all that which may stand as an obstacle to self-affirmation and pride in one’s class, paternalistic attitudes included. [... ] When workers refuse to resign themselves to unjust situations to which society condemns them; when they ask for higher wages, more dignified housing, concrete access to education, an effective participation in the building of society—then they call for a liberty which allows them to develop their talents and their capacities, their physical energies and the free development of their spirits.[2]

The other keynote speaker was Francois Houtart, then teaching at the University of Leuven, a Belgian priest and sociologist who had served as peritus at Vatican II. In the words of the La Croix journalist Felix Lacambre, at Ostend Houtart ‘carefully analysed the internal and external mechanisms responsible for global underdevelopment, the consequences of political, economic, cultural, military and social domination in the framework of the capitalist world system. Yet, for all his criticism of the western way of life, he also disapproved of the Communist regimes in Russia and China.’ In fact, the headlines and the three bullet points introducing Lacambre’s article nicely capture Houtart’s keynote presentation at the MMTC’s world congress: ‘The exploitation of workers gives birth to violence.’ ‘The voice of the people who suffer and that of Christ who liberates.’ ‘To change the structures generating hunger.’ ‘Do not judge those who resort to arms.’[3] It is perhaps useful to supplement Lacam- bre’s comments with a direct citation from Houtart’s incendiary speech:

We can detect a sense of growing solidarity within the struggles occurring throughout the world today, amongst the revolutionary movements of Latin America, the liberation movements in the Portuguese colonies, the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front, and even within pockets of the “Third World” existing within the interstices of the rich portions of the world, such as the Black Panthers. [... ] In fact, the third world war has already begun: that of the rich people against poor people. And it is a war of truly global proportions: the war in Vietnam toppled an American president; the guerrilla fighters in Guatemala cause headaches for the West German government; national liberation fighters in Angola and Guinea-Bissau are mowed down by the bullets coming out of

Belgian-made rifles and American napalm. It is precisely this imperialism of moneyed interests—which Populorum Progressio addresses—which lies at the root of injustice and which is why the new name for peace is development.[4]

As a later summary of the MMTC’s history astutely remarked, the Ostend assembly ushered in a massive reorientation of its global outlook and its daily work. ‘Liberation’ subsequently became a household term in MMTC’s deliberations and publications, and it was explicitly defined to denote a complete redistribution of resources and change of values throughout the world, rather than an incremental increase in income for workers. And if Houtart’s call for development as the new tonic to combat global underdevelopment could perhaps be misunderstood to mean a mere reshuffling of resources without the need for new overall parameters, the MMTC’s balance sheet drawn up in 1974 dotted all the i’s in this respect as well: ‘The discussions held in 1970 in Ostend very quickly led the MMTC to realize that the idea of thorough and long-lasting development must give rise to another set of more outwardly oriented and global ideas, which will more effectively sweep away the reformist sense still attached to development projects today.’[5]

The following observations were made in a document internal to the French section of the MMTC, the Action Catholique Ouvriere (ACO), but the spirit holds true for large sections of the MMTC as a whole: ‘By means of this active presence within workers’ struggles and our constant efforts to discuss and update our practices, many leaders of the ACO have become convinced that it is no longer they who introduce workers to the message of Christ, but that in effect Christ has preceded them and reveals himself in the signs of the times’ manifested in everyday battles.[6] The apostolic missionaries of Catholic Action underwent a learning process identical to that reported by second- wave worker priests described in Chapter 2.

  • [1] Astute and informative commentaries on the Ostend proceedings were published, amongstothers, in the mainstream French Catholic daily newspaper, La Croix, with statistical information presented in Felix Lacambre, ‘150 delegues de 50 pays examinant le developpement integraldes travailleurs’, La Croix, 7 October 1970—MMTC, 1.2/12.
  • [2] ‘Reflexion doctrinale du Pere Jardim’, in ‘Compte-rendu de la Deuxieme AssembleeGenerale’, in Infor MMTC no. 13 (November 1970), p. 29—MMTC 1.2/16.
  • [3] Felix Lacambre, ‘L’Exploitation des travailleurs fait naitre la violence’, La Croix,10 October 1970.
  • [4] ‘Conference prononcee par le chanoine F. Houtart’, in ‘Compte-rendu’, p. 18.
  • [5] ‘Rapport: Revision et Orientation’, ‘2eme partie: Action du MMTC et de ses mouvementsmembres’, in ‘Documents de Travail. Assemblee Generale MMTC 1974’, p. 7—MMTC, 1.3/11.
  • [6] ‘Rencontre de l’ACO fran^aise et du Bureau (Paris, 1-6 Octobre 1973)’, p. 2—MMTC, 2/2.
 
<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics