Choosing Means Toward A Just End

Hildegard Goss- Mayr

In 1962 under the auspices of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Jean Goss, my husband, and I went to Latin America. We were aware that the whole continent of South America was in the pre-revolutionary situation.

For four months, we did nothing but to study the situation and to listen to the people. On that trip, we met two people who, no one sense or another, have marked the recent history of Latin America. We started our trip to Bogota, Colombia, where we introduced to a priest called Camillo Torres. He was then a chaplain at the University of Bogota, where he worked with students. But he had already begun to make his commitment as a priest struggling for justice. When we discussed what he had been doing and how he envisaged the work for Liberation, it soon became very clear that he believed dialogue with those in power was impossible; they would not agree to talk to him. He felt that in the end for him there were no other ways than one day to join the Armed Forces in Colombia. But there is one question in his mind and in his heart. He asked: ‘how can I be faithful to my people, who must be liberated from exploitation, at the same time remain loyal to the message of Lord Jesus, the message of love, not violence and hatred?

We talk to him about the power of nonviolence and our belief that the revolution of Christ goes beyond anything we have discovered by worldly means. We tried to explain how the nonviolent revolutionist is no less radical; he goes with the very gift of his being into the process of change. But he refuses the life of the oppressors. He has a different aim: to liberate the oppressed and the oppressors in the order for real transformation takes place.

'If one day our conscience really pushes you to join the revel, what will you do? Whom  will you kill?' Jean asked Camillo. Jean told how he, as a Frenchman, had gone into the Second World War convinced that he would kill Hitler, or at least his co workers and generals of the invading army. But whom did Jean kill? Young boys and fathers of families. He didn’t kill Hitler or any other Nazi leader. It will be the same with you, Jean told Camillo. Whom will the government send against the guerrillas? They will send the Colombians who are poor, men who would not find work and who put on the uniform because their families had to eat. That’s how the system divides the poor. It sends in its army to shoot down the guerillas, the poor against the poor.

Camillo Torres finally did join the guerillas. After three or four weeks with the guerilla forces, he was killed. But he has followed his conscience and had been true to himself. He was not somebody who proclaims the revolution without being willing to give all he had to give. So he has become an aspiration to all Christians in Latin America who are choosing counter violence and the just war in their liberation struggle.

A few months later, in Rio de Janeiro, we met Dom Helder Camara. Previously, we had met young people who told us the church in Brazil was linked with the rich. Some of them would have left the church but one person: Helder Camara. So we went to see this auxiliary bishop who was working with poor in the favelas of Rio. He was appealing to the rich to give money to so that descent housing could be built for people living in make shift shacks. When we met him in one of the favelas, Jean said, ‘it’s wonderful what you are doing, Dom Helder, but it is not enough. For how many Centuries will you have to built descent houses for the poor, when there are three billion poor in the world without adequate shelter?’ Jean Asked.

Dom Helder threw up his hands. ‘Oh, you french!’ he exclaimed. ‘You always think you know all things better than we. But let’s talk about it. So we began to discuss what it means to live the Gospel in radical way, to identify with the poor and their cause and to help conditions in which the people themselves could begin to struggle by using the power that is within them – nonviolence, the real weapon of the poor- to bring about the changes.

At first, Dom Helder asked us not to use the word nonviolence. There’s enough passivity around us in Brazil, he said. If we speak of nonviolence the people will be even more passive. We talked for more hour and we prayed. Little by little we discovered together the nonviolence of Jesus Christ. In Rome, during the Vatican Council, Helder Camara came up to us and said: ‘You know, I am the first nonviolent bishop of the Catholic Church’.

He has come as a prophet again and again, with the message that Latin America cannot be liberated – especially by nonviolence means – until we in the first world remove the support we are giving to those in power in Latin America. We must stop sending arms and building up the national security states in the third world. We must change our policies and become countries committed to basic human rights and to justice in the economic exchanges in the north south relationship. Dom Helder has always one of those who challenge us to understand important role we in the industrialized countries play in the liberation process.

While it was important to bishops like Dom Helder Camara, Cardinal Arns, Dom Fragosa, Jose Maria Pires, the Chilean bishops and the others to join in this effort, something equally important, if not more important, happened in the early sixties

Christian begun to form grassroots communities. Of course, not all these hundreds of thousands of grassroots communities believe in nonviolence, but in quite number of them Christian have discovered that the way of liberation Jesus brought us in nonviolence way They would say you cannot be a Christian unless you commit yourself to the struggle of justice. They have committed themselves to work against expulsion from the lands and to struggles for schools and roads, for just wages and for representation within the enterprise. There have been numerous and very impressive example of nonviolence action carried out by the poor throughout Latin America and their struggle continuous to this day.

Hildegard Goss- Mayr is International FOR secretary for Latin America, where she and her husband, Jean Goss, traveled and worked for many years. They live in Vienna.