Last night Michael Scahill spoke at our Friday night meeting, together with Carol Hinchen and John Stanley. John had been to Cuba last year and Mike and Carol have just returned from two months of cutting cane. Mike has written about it for this issue of the paper.
A few weeks ago, David Miller who is out on parole from Lewisburg Pententiary after serving more than tow years spoke to us and in the course of his talk he said that he returned to the “world” neither a pacifist nor a Catholic and wanted to discard labels. Someone in the audience shouted out that he had indeed been “rehabilitated.”
But in both of these young men I can see only the deepest honesty, and soul searching and recognition of the fact that we are not indeed, any of us, Christian or pacifist, and they are indeed labels which we have taken so much for granted and are quite content to wear them. To be honest we certainly cannot say we are Christians. Being and becoming are two different things. We might better say that unlike the just man who falls seven times daily, we are failing seventy times seven times, to follow in the footsteps of Christ. It is all very well for a St. Paul who was struck blind with the grace he received on the way to Damascus to talk about “not judging himself.” But we belong to that 20 per cent of the world which possesses or uses, or the world which possesses or uses, or has at its disposal 80 per cent of the worlds’ goods. And of that 20 per cent we are the whites, and should be able to see around us conditions analogous to those in Latin America. We are the guilty ones and cannot help judging ourselves.
So it is good for us to be confronted with a David and a Michael and recognize that we do not deserve, have not earned the title pacifist or Christian.
Dom Helder Camara says, “the 20 per cent who let the 80 per cent stagnate in a situation which is often sub-human–what right have they to allege that Communism crushes the human person?”
Yes, Cuba is a Communist country and Dave Dellinger (whose nonviolence is proverbial), and these young ones scarce past their twenty-first birthday, return with enthusiasm, the deepest admiration for the struggle which goes on in Cuba to build up an econoy which will provide for the common good. Of course what has happened there has been achieved by revolution and is one of the most incredible stories in modern times. Eighty five men setting out in a small ship, called the Granma from their exile in Mexico, all but wiped out in an initial assault on their landing, and then the twelve survivors taking to the mountains and the fields and winning over the peasants, the small farmers, the villagers by the integrity of their personal conduct and finally marching into the capital from which the dictator had fled. And now, after eleven years, still struggling to build up by hard work and the austere life their farming, their commerce, industry and achieve a deeply human life for all. All this sounds impossibly idealistic but I visited Cuba in 1963 and its delights me that Michael and Carol have come back with the same deep enthusiasm.
Peter Maurin used to quote from Chesterton, “It is not that Christianity has failed. It has been tried and found too difficult.” Certainly the 20 per cent of the world is nominally Christian which is enough to damn Christianity in the sight of the 80 per cent. Archbishop Heider Camara tells the World Council of Churches.
The problem from the young is this. Shall they stand by and continue talking of non-violence when they are able to accomplish so little in the kind of program the Catholic Worker envisions, of education, round table discussions, hospitality, farming communes, all to be accomplished by voluntary poverty and manual labor? It means enormous self discipline and we fail to continually that it is no wonder that many of the young men coming out of prisons where they have witnessed massive injustices, or coming back from Cuba where they have witnessed massive injustices or coming back from Cuba where they have seen and participated in hard labor and brotherhood, building for the common good–it is no wonder that they begin to question whether they are truly pacifist, truly non-violent.
Brad Lyttle a year ago questioned his own pacifism. David Miller from Lewisburg penitentiary, Michael Scahill coming from Cuba, questions theirs. “When people have built up a good life, overthrowing tyranny can they stand by and see it destroyed? Must they not defend it?”
These are hard questions indeed. I feel that these young men have grown in honesty and seriousness. They have begun to see what study lies ahead. We need to learn from others, and from the struggles going on in India, Africa, China, Russia and Cuba.