Chapter Two (2/8)

Euskadi comes back to life

Discussing the early postwar years, F. Urbina highlights the positive fact that Catholic Action provided a space for personal and social growth to many young people of the urban middle class, in a desolate period during which the long-term outlook for this group was grim. Catholic Action, he says, "also penetrated into the socially unprotected layers of the urban petty bourgeoisie. It did not, however, manage to reach the working class until the beginning of HOAC and JOC, in the late ’40s.1

"The particular history of apostolic movements," we continue reading from the same author, "begins for HOAC in 1946; for JOC, in 1947. HOAC was created as a result of action by the hierarchy; the man chosen to lead the outreach to the working-class faithful was Guillermo Rovirosa who, from the beginning, gave the movement the stamp of working class authenticity. JOC began more at the ecclesiastical margins; it arose almost spontaneously, somewhat ‘clandestinely,’ through the actions of a few priests and activists, young workers in the Basque Country and Catalonia, and later in Madrid and Valencia. Later, in 1956, they were completely merged, as HOAC, under the CA, which was officially recognized by the hierarchy."2 There is no need to pause now to remember the importance of the AC during these years, which is recognized and beyond dispute.

These dates deserve some correction, at least as far as Guipuzcoa, and specifically Mondragon, is concerned. Arizmendiarrieta tells us that since June 11, 1940, there existed in Mondragon "an exclusively workers group, entirely made up of young men between 16 and 19 years of age, which has weekly meetings, or a sort of study group. (PR, I, 12; cfr. Ib. 126).3 By February 1941, the number had reached 30 (ib.12). In May 1942, this group was named "Juventud Obrera Catolica" [Catholic Worker Youth], better known simply as "worker youth" (ib.31); it goes by the acronym JOC (ib.32) and we are informed that in 1941-1942, it organized 45 study groups and assorted activities (ib. 32-35). The annual report for 1943 even gives us a list of members and applicants to the JOC in Mondragon (ib.38), etc. etc.

Returning to F. Urbina, who has written about this period with interest, we note that among the causes of this development of the Catholic worker he cites the following in first place: "The influence of the French apostolic movements on church leaders in Spain (JOC and Action Catholique Ouvriere), which were already very advanced."4 Urbina notes that this is especially true for the JOC of San Sebastian, Bilbao, and some other major urban centers.

Personally, we are inclined to think that the tradition and activity of groups that, before the war, were called "social apostles" or "propagandist priests" is of no less importance.5 We cannot ignore the important role which those priests and teachers of Christian social doctrine managed to carry out under poor conditions, only to end up being shot, jailed, or exiled, and in every case, slandered and abandoned by their own ecclesiastical hierarchy.6 On the contrary, everything leads us to believe that Catholic worker movements in Euskadi arose after the war in perfect continuity with the doctrinal and even personal tradition of the pre-war period, with the difference that unions were prohibited. We recall as well that the aforementioned influence of progressive French Catholicism on the Basque Church dates to before the war—the International Catholic Conversations in San Sebastian will give us a new confirmation of this—and was reinforced during the war.7

This does not prevent us from recognizing that, after 1945, the wind changes in Euskadi. Limiting ourselves to the Basque Church, let us recall that around this time, the return of exiled and jailed priests is beginning.8 The defeat of Fascism is felt by Basques in general, and also by their clergy, as a victory of their own.9 Though defeated and shackled, Euskadi is beginning to move.

In 1945, Monsignor Mateo Mugica, Bishop of Vitoria in exile, writes his Imperativos de mi conciencia [Demands of My Conscience], a defense of the clergy and of the "unjustly persecuted, accused, and condemned" Basque faithful.10 In 1947, the workers celebrate May first with a general strike, successfully carried out.11 The same year, the clandestine opposition redoubles its activity with propaganda, graffiti, Basque flags (for example, on the top of the steeple of the cathedral in San Sebastian), and bombs. In Aberri Eguna, the resistance intervenes in Radio San Sebastian, transmitting a message in Basque and Castilian from the lehendakari [president] Aguirre: thirteen thousand demonstrators are gathering in the church of San Anton in Bilbao.12 In September 1948, the Seventh Congress of Basque Studies takes place in Biarritz and several lecture cycles organized by the "Gernika" International Society of Basque Studies are organized, in which social topics stand out.13 When the Diocese of Vitoria (the three Basque provinces) is broken up on 1 July 1950, many priests from San Sebastian sign and publish a document which is sent to the new prelate for San Sebastian Monsignor Font y Andreu. "The speculation," reads the letter, "practiced by the highest bodies of the State, with such severe consequences as the obvious insufficiency of salaries and shortage of food; even the very subsistence of a State clearly incapable of providing for the citizens’ most elementary material needs (food, shelter, clothing) and moral ones (the guarantee of freedom to exercise human rights)—is this matter not important enough for instruction and joint action by the Spanish Episcopate? Since the Church is not capable of preventing great abuses of power current rulers, by what right is this state of affairs offered up to the world as a Christian regime, and even as a paragon of Catholic states?"14 And somewhat later: "Why, while the Church continues to present among the rights of man that of unionization and freedom of information, does it remain silent in Spain before the Sindicato Unico [Single Union, the state-run union, the only one allowed] and the tightest press censorship? How can the Church complain about the "iron curtain," when in Spain, censorship has been exercised against the Most Excellent cardinals and the official work of the Church, and the microphones in radio stations have been closed to any sermon or discussion not previously censored?"15

Finally, in the same year, 1950, the clandestine publication Egiz (With the Truth/In Truth) appears and denounces "serious public immoralities," understood as the suppression of worker unions, the prohibition of the Basque language, etc.16 A total of 18 issues came out, "which met with an enthusiastic reception."17 On 20 August 1951, a decree signed by the three new prelates of the Basque Dioceses prohibits priests from having any management role or any collaboration in the journal, even if only in its circulation. The journal continues to appear. Another decree, on 20 March 1952, threatening collaborating priests with the canonical punishment of "suspensio a divinis," finally shuts down the publication.18

Between 1945 and 1950, Euskadi comes back to life; it is in full bloom. Beltza can rightly describe this period as "the Golden Era" of the Basque government in exile, in which the resistance reaps its greatest successes.19 But leaving aside other aspects that touch most directly on political development, it is our belief that, among the most notable activities of this period, the International Catholic Conversations of San Sebastian, because of their importance both inside and outside of Euskadi, deserve to be highlighted.20

The first Conversations of San Sebastian were organized in 1935 by a group of young intellectuals who were convinced of the need to establish a permanent exchange of ideas among Catholic thinkers of different nationalities. This need arose from the fact that religion, as historical fact, develops in different countries in very different historical and social circumstances. The diversity of perspectives and attitudes was such that there was a danger of isolation and of mutual incomprehension.21 "The cultural and religious crisis," writes C. Santamaria, "that preceded the war was at its height in 1935, and a sense of foreboding was already in the air with respect to events which, before long, would shock the world. It was in this environment that the first attempt at conversations took place…"22 The second Conversations, planned for July, 1936, could not take place. But it is interesting, even ironic, to recall the subject on the agenda: "The Newness of Christian Thought in Relation to Today’s World."23

With WWII over and peace reestablished, the Conversations began again in 1947 with the topic "The Biblical Command of Love among Christians as an Element of International Solidarity." This year and, above all, in the two following years (1948, 1949), the profound differences in thought among the participants became evident, with regard to the idea of a "Charter of Human Rights according to the Church’s Thought." A considerable number of Catholic intellectuals of international renown took part in these debates.24

At the time, the Conversations of San Sebastian played a fundamental role in Spanish intellectual renewal. In a small-minded Spain, they became the privileged agora for the free interchange of ideas and projects. Present at the Conversations of 1947 were representatives of the following countries: Germany, Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Chile, Spain, France, Holland, Hungary, England, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Poland, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the USA.25 "I attended the International Catholic Conversations in San Sebastian for the first time in 1949," wrote J.L. Aranguren, "an undertaking carried out by Carlos Santamaria and whose importance for Spanish Catholicism has been enormous, considering that until then, Spain had been the victim of a new "Tibetization."26

We have paused to discuss the topic of the International Catholic Conversations because their influence was decisive in the development of Catholic social thought and because they have yet to be studied. It is true that Arizmendiarrieta does not figure among the participants, but he is linked to them both through the Christian worker movement, whose most prominent representatives did participate, and, above all, through the Vitoria Seminary and the professors of its Social School. It is there that we find Arizmendiarrieta during these years, where the shining star was Professor G.R. de Yurre. Nor should we forget that for several years, Arizmendiarrieta had a close personal relationship, though not without tension, with Carlos Santamaria.27 It is not unlikely that much of the dispersed material that is in the Arizmendiarrieta Archive today—articles with no indication of author or origin, typed translations of lectures by foreign authors (J. Leclercq, etc.), which served him as valuable information and study material—came from these Conversations.28

As evidence of the change which is occurring, in the late ’40s, we see the first appearance of books in the Basque language since the war, which had been forbidden since the military occupation.29

The oft-quoted F. Urbina writes the following concerning the self-critical intellectual movement which, beginning in the late ’40s, even reaches the Second Vatican Council (1962): "But it can be said that at this level, as well as at the pastoral base, some of the fundamental impulses come as well from the effort at renovation during those years in Catholic Europe, particularly in France. That is when the great Catholic novelists began to be read: Bernanos, Mauriac, and Graham Green. The influence of philosophical-political thought, first of Maritain, and later of Mounier (…) widen the intellectual and spiritual panorama of the years just prior to the great Council."30 We think that it is also true, in Arizmendiarrieta’s case, that this is the time when the influence of these thinkers begins to be felt profoundly, even though his knowledge of them indisputably dates from earlier. This is not due solely to the change in atmosphere. Arizmendiarrieta himself has had a change in attitude during these years.


  1. Urbina, F., "Formas de vida de la Iglesia en España," in: Iglesia y Sociedad en España 1939-1975, Ed. Popular, Madrid 1977, 21.

  2. Ib. 55. The same dates are given in Ecclesia, N. 534, 6 October, 1951

  3. It is interesting to note that one of the reasons adduced for the value of organizing young workers separately is precisely "homogeneity, which is necessary for the complete development of study circles" (PR, I, 12.)

  4. Urbina, F., op. cit., 51.

  5. Larranaga, P. de, Contribución a la historia obrera de Euskalerria, Auñamendi, Donostia/San Sebastián 1977, vol. II, 178-180. Onaindia, A. de, Ayer como hoy. Documentos del Clero Vasco, Axular, Saint Jean de Luz 1975, 11. Elorza, A., Ideologías del nacionalismo vasco, L. Haranburu, San Sebastián 1978, 254-322 ("Los sacerdotes propagandistas y la ideología solidaria en la Segunda República"). These "propagandist priests" should not be confused with the well-known Propagandists of Herrera Oria (A.C.N. de P.), which they have nothing to do with.

  6. Let us remember only, and well aware of the injustice this does to the many names omitted, the names of Aitzol (shot), "Don Poli" (exiled), Onaindia (exiled), Mendikute, Markiegi, Lekuona (all three shot), Azpiazo (exiled), etc. etc. This important chapter, like so many others, has yet to be written.

  7. We referred earlier to Cardinal Verdier, Maritain, Mounier, Bernanos, Mauriac, etc. Let us recall also that the French Social Week in Rouen, July 1938, the last one celebrated before WWII, had not hidden its sympathies for the cause of the Basque Catholics in the Civil War, going so far as to invite a Basque delegation in exile to take part. See: La recente Semaine Sociale de France et le problème basque, Euzko Deya, Nr. 120, 7 August 1938. It is not surprising then, that when the Social Weeks begin again after the war in Toulouse (1946), there is a lively interest in them in Euskadi. It will be G.R. de Yurre who write about them in Ecclesia, and Arizmendiarrieta will make ample use of the lessons they contain.

  8. Iztueta, P. Sociología del fenómeno contestatario del Clero Vasco 1940-1975, Elkar, Donostia-San Sebastián 1981,144.

  9. See Aguirre, J.A., Obras Completas, Sendoa, Donostia/San Sebastián 1981,719-723. Also recall the "Memoria dirigida a S.S. el Papa Pío XII por miembros del Clero Vasco," of 25 November, 1944, cfr. Herria-Eliza, Euskadi, Estornés Lasa, San Sebastián 1978, 353-370.

  10. This document can be seen in Onaindia, A. de, op. cit., 76-117. In 1945, this document was issued in mimeograph. There is a copy in the Arizmendiarrieta Archive.

  11. Beltza, El nacionalismo vasco en el exilio 1937-1960, Txertoa, San Sebastián 1977, 35-37.

  12. Ortzi, Historia de Euskadi: el nacionalismo vasco y ETA, Ruedo Ibérico, París 1975, 267-268. BELTZA, op. cit., 34-35.

  13. Beltza, op. cit., 47-48; cooperatives are among the social issues dealt with.

  14. Onaindia, A… de, op. cit., 167-168.

  15. Ib. 169

  16. Iztueta, P. op. cit., 144-146. Belda, R., La Iglesia española y el sindicalismo vertical, asserts that "the first critical reflection on Spanish union organizing arose unexpectedly from the pen of (…) Brugarola," which is to say, around 1952 or 1954. For someone for whom the only real Spain of the ’40s (with its prohibited, but real, unions and political parties) was not the legal Spain, such an affirmation from a Basque priest is, to say the least, surprising.

  17. Onaindia, A. de, op cit.,33. According to Onaindia, issue number 16 of these magazines reached a circulation of 40,000 copies (p. 34). This issue was printed—generally, the issues were mimeographed, so their numbers must have been much lower.

  18. Iztueta, P., op. cit., 144. Onaindia, A. de, op. cit., 34-36.

  19. Beltza, op. cit., 31. Regarding the opposition in general, see Heine, H., La oposición política al franquismo, Crítica/Grijalbo, Barcelona 1983.

  20. We thank Mr. C. Santamaria for allowing us to consult the material in his private file for this study. For the historical explanation that follows, we use the unpublished and undated (but from 1950) writing in his possession entitled Les Conversations Catholiques Internationales de Saint-Sebastien (the translation is ours).

  21. Santamaria, C., op. cit.,1

  22. Ib. 2.

  23. Ib. 2. The program planned for those conversations (C. Santamaria’s file) reveals that the social and religious themes we find in Arizmendiarrieta after the war already occupied a prominent place in his thinking in the pre-war period. We take the liberty of mentioning the titles of a few of the planned topics: "Liberal Apostasy," "Repercussions in the Collective Conscience of the Crisis of Materialist Civilization," "The Psychology of Present-Day Anguish," "Popular De-Christianization," "Christian Ideals in Marxist Propaganda," "The Marxist Concept of Life with Respect to Christian Civilization." As can be seen, there is an abundant presence of the favorite topics of Personalist thinkers.

  24. These debates were conducted by the French internationalist Prof. Albert de la Pradelle; "in the course of the discussion," writes C. Santamaria, "there were Spanish participants who expressed themselves very freely concerning the authoritarian situation at the time in Spain" (Letter of C. Santamaria to Joseba Intxausti, 3 November 1983).

  25.   Memoria que la Junta de Conversaciones Católicas Internacionales de San Sebastián eleva al Excmo. Ayuntamiento de esta Ciudad (unpublished, archive of C. Santamaria).

  26. Aranguren, J.L., Memorias y esperanzas españolas, Taurus, Madrid 1969, 75.

  27. The Arizmendiarrieta Archive gives evidence of several services rendered by C. Santamaria to Arizmendiarrieta with regard to dealings with the central administration, of conference addresses given by the former in Mondragon, etc., and, also of some differences between the two beginning in 1966.

  28. The problem for the moment is hard to resolve since neither the Arizmendiarrieta nor the C. Santamaria archive have been organized or cataloged.

  29. Torrealdai, J.M., Euskararen zapalkuntza (1936-1939), Jakin, Nr. 24,1982,573. ID., Euskal idazleak gaur / Historia social de la lengua y literatura vascas, Jakin/Caja Laboral Popular, Oñati 1977, 304ss.

  30. Urbina, F., op.cit., 64-65.

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