History of the commitment to Peace in Askartza Claret School
“Bakea, zergatik ez? – Why not peace?”
José Luis Ortiz de Guinea cmf
Licensed in Philosophy and Theology
Youth pastor for more than 50 years
Askartza School, Pastoral Coordinator
At the beginning of the ’80s (1980), the pastoral team of Askartza Claret School began to show a particular concern for education for Peace. The social-political context in Euskal Herria was crying out for it. The attacks of ETA, the deaths, the threats to the families, the revolutionary tax… stirred the entrails of any educator who lived the evangelical values, committed to defending the values and human rights.
In those same first years of the 80s, the Auxiliary Bishop of Bilbao, Juan María Uriarte, did not entrust the pastoral care of youth in the parishes of Las Arenas and Leioa. The pastoral team of Askartza in those years was young and numerous. We assumed the commitment with dedication and responsibility. In a short time, a large group of young people was formed in the faith groups, closely related to each other. With the lay people and youth monitors, we created a large team, with which we were transmitting to the young people the concern for peace and the work for it. Very focused on Euskal Herria.
On September 10, 1986 Eta assassinated Dolores González Catarain (Yoyes). This murder was a new blow to coexistence and a solid call to confront violence “wherever it came from.” It led us to ask ourselves, young and old, how we could collaborate with others in the joint struggle for peace. I remember that Collectives for Peace and Disarmament published a poster with a red background; the image was a kind of swastika, with a gun pointing at a person. Several of our young people dared to place them in different places in Bilbao and our geography of Leioa and Getxo. During the Christmas vacations, we had a massive gathering in school in Askartza Claret. As young Christians, followers of Jesus of Nazareth, admirers of Gandhi, and inspired by his “non-violence,” we asked ourselves “what the Gospel was asking of us” in this situation, in this town.
I remember how back from vacation, in the first high school religion class, I asked what had been the most written word in the Christmas greetings. “Bakea,” Peace was the unanimous answer. The dialogue led us to a daring, naive, youthful proposal: to go two by two through the institutes and schools of the then-called “Greater Bilbao,” calling young people to a demonstration in Bilbao. The proposal surprised skeptics, but it overcame all difficulties and was carried out in March 1987. We were about five hundred young people from youth groups in Bilbao’s Gran Vía, the newspaper Deia reported. We were not alone; other schools joined us. Many onlookers or participants are on the sidewalks.
The fact did not go unnoticed and encouraged others. We returned to hold another demonstration in May of the same year, with greater participation of many groups that already before us had begun to gather fifteen minutes of silence in some places of Bilbao when a violent attack happened.
This demonstration was the one that would give origin to the Coordinating Committee of the Gesture for Peace, of which we were promoters and participants until the end of it.
The realization of these gestures and demonstrations meant continuous work in the respective schools and parishes. We celebrated the “Gestos” in the school in the mornings and the afternoons in Leioa and Las Arenas every time there was an attack. Then we started to hold them every Wednesday to intensify our commitment and show the violent ones that we were increasingly active militants and were overcoming the fear of expressing it publicly. There were problems and difficulties, but we went ahead.
In addition to these actions, we continued the work of reflection in the classes and youth groups, strengthening the commitment that every human being must assume to live in peace.
In the following years, we saw the need to burn the flame of peace. The militancy for peace needed not to harbor violent attitudes or hatred towards the violent. For this reason, we saw immediately that it was necessary to educate for forgiveness, as our master Jesus practiced and called us to practice. To this end, we opened ourselves with the proper criteria to collaborate with other groups, the Diocese of Bizkaia, and with the Basque Government in educational proposals for peace.
Meetings, round tables, “month of and for” peace. Every January, on the 30th or close to it in the calendar, we celebrate the “Bake-ekitaldia” (Peace Demonstration in the schoolyard). For many years, three thousand people, including students, educators, workers, and families, have gathered together in the schoolyard. From the smallest, twenty minutes of manifestos, songs, dances, and songs for Peace. Expression of all, of the whole school, for Peace. This collective expression, the conclusion of the work for peace, carried out during the month of January in all levels and classes, continues until today and will continue because it is necessary to keep always attentive to the struggle for peace and because it is already a sign “teaches” of the identity of Claret Askartza, also for society.
Each month of January has had as a focus of attention, reflection, commitment, and celebration some aspect, reality, value, counter-value, … related to the broad spectrum that encompasses the value and, therefore, the word peace.
We were pioneers in accepting and being part of the program of participation of the Victims of violence in schools. These testimonies were and have been very positive for our education to be builders of peace, respect, and coexistence. When the high school students began to hear the son of the murdered father tell directly how he lived it, what he felt, what it has meant in his life …. and, above all, that he forgave the murderers…, they were disconcerted physically, there was a shrinking movement in the seat, because they were unable to forgive infinitely smaller things and because, as they said in their questions and participations, they would never forgive if it had happened or would happen to them. In the following years, the successive meetings with more victims and the work of reflection in the classes and groups helped many “conversions” to understand the value and courage of forgiveness and the meaninglessness and uselessness of rancor. Resentment, the victims said, produces much pain, and forgiveness liberates. Achieving this change of mentality and culture has been and will be a slow process. People who have managed to forgive continue to help a lot.
On our own, not many years ago, we went a step further; we entered into a relationship with Victimizers who had recognized their error,r and invited them to meet with young people and adults at school. These were also very positive testimonies for the young people when they heard their confessions and recognition of the wrong done, the mistake….. And how they encouraged the young people not to let themselves be fooled by such temptations and to protect themselves because one is never free from such temptations of fanaticism…..
We continue to work for peace because, unfortunately, the “devil” of violence continues to lurk among the peoples, individuals, and communities, so it is crucial to empower young people with this fundamental value for just human coexistence, solidarity, ty, and equality.
“Peace is the way; there is no way to Peace.”
The slogans that open and close my writing are still reflected in the banners that every January preside over the “BAKE EKITALDIA” “Meeting for Peace” in the schoolyard.
José Luis Ortiz de Guinea cmf