“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the polemical Christian-Atheist blog.
In my view the 3 most sincere and influential ‘Red Christians’ were Thomas Muntzer, Wilhelm Weitling and Camilo Torres. All 3 can be considered failures in their own lifetime: 2 were killed for their pains, trying to bring Jesus’ message as they saw it to the world. But here they all are on my blog, years, even centuries, later: they must have done something right, something that resonates with the human condition.
If, like a friend of mine, you convert to Catholicism and are asked to pick a new ‘Catholic’ name, here’s one to choose: Camilo!.
I’ve downloaded two documents written by Torres. (The comments came with them, I didn’t write them.)
First a press release when he left the Catholic priesthood, then, when he joined the communist guerillas, a statement on the goals of those  guerilla fighters.
See my biography of him (in index) for the background to these valuable documents. I hope you find them interesting.”
Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

Red Christian documents #30:

A Call to Arms

by Father Camilo Torres

Camilo Torres was born in 1929 into the upper crust of Colombian society. Torres grew up like all the other spoiled and pampered children of the oligarchy. The only hint of difference was the desire of Torres to live his life seriously which would lead him to choosing the priesthood as his career. In the seminary he began to manifest a concern for the great mass of poor Colombians. Torres finished his studies in Europe. He studied sociology and searched for the answers to the plight of the poor in science. He was a good student and became fluent in four languages.

Torres returned to Colombia where he became involved in trying to organize young people to become involved with the poor, trying to get the church to recognize its social obligations to the poor, and trying to get the government to begin programs that would really help the poor. He spent eighteen years trying. Thousands of young people followed him, but when it was time to act or when the repression started, very few remained. The church, in spite of his efforts, continued to firmly maintain the status quo with everything being controlled by the oligarchy. And the government of the oligarchy had no intention of relinquishing any real power to the people. As a result, Torres would become convinced that the only hope for Colombia was in revolution, and that he must make a choice between acting on his love for the people or continuing to support the status quo by remaining a priest. Torres believed that Christianity meant just one thing: “to love efficaciously.” His love of God and the people of Colombia compelled him to leave the church. The following is the statement released to the press when he did so:

“When circumstances exist which make it impossible for people to give themselves to Christ, a priest is called upon in a special way to make war on those circumstances, even if this leads him to forfeit the celebration of the Eucharist; for the Eucharist, if it is not accompanied by the self-giving of Christians, is a ritual devoid of meaning. In the present structures of the Church it has become impossible for me to continue exercising my priesthood as far as external worship is concerned. However, the Christian priesthood does not consist only in the celebration of external rites. The Mass, chief goal of all priestly activity, is fundamentally a community action. Now the Christian community cannot offer the sacrifice of the Mass with authenticity if that same community has not been practising beforehand, and in an effective way, the love of neighbour which the gospel talks about.

I chose Christianity because I believed it to be the purest way of serving my neighbour. I was chosen by Christ to be a priest for all eternity, and I was urged on by the desire to dedicate myself twenty-four hours a day to the love of my fellow-man. As a sociologist I have tried to make that love genuinely efficacious by means of scientific research and technical advances. Analyzing Colombian society I have come to realize that the country needs a revolution in order to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and provide well-being for the majority of our people. I believe that the revolutionary struggle is a Christian struggle, and a priestly one. Indeed, in the present specific conditions of Colombia, participation in that struggle is the only way men can show love for their neighbours as they should.

Ever since I became a priest I have tried in a hundred different ways to encourage laymen, whether Catholic or not, to join the revolutionary struggle. However, as these laymen’s actions have drawn forth no response from the masses, I have resolved to dedicate myself to the cause, thus fulfilling part of my priestly mission of leading men to the love of God by the sure path of love of neighbour. As a Colombian I consider this activity to be of the very essence of my Christian life and of my priesthood.

As things stand at present in the Church mine is a mission at odds with the hierarchy’s will. I do not wish to disobey that will, nor do I wish to be untrue to my own conscience. For that reason I have asked His Eminence, the cardinal, to relieve me of my clerical obligations in order to serve the people in the temporal sphere. I am giving up one of the privileges I hold most dear (the celebration of the Church’s ritual) in order to create conditions which will give to that ritual a more authentic meaning.

If I make this sacrifice I do so in the belief that my commitment to my fellow-countrymen obliges me to it. The ultimate criterion on human decisions is love, supernatural love; I am prepared to run all the risks that that love may ask of me.”

It would not be long afterwards that Torres would join a band of guerillas. Time had come for action. Torres was not a communist, but he did clearly recognize that the Marxists seemed to be doing more than anyone else for the poor in Latin America. As a guerilla he issued the following statement to the press as to the goals of the guerillas:

“People of Colombia:

For many years the poor of our country have waited to hear the call to arms which would launch them on the final stage of their long battle against the oligarchy.

Every time the people’s despair reached breaking point the ruling classes always managed to deceive them, to distract their attention, to placate them with solutions that amounted to no real change at all. When the people looked for a leader and found one in the person of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, the oligarchy had him killed. When the people sought peace, the oligarchy gave them violence. When the people could stand no further violence and organized guerrillas for the seizure of power, the oligarchy staged a military coup so that the guerrillas would surrender under false pretences. When the people asked for democracy, once again they were deceived, this time by a plebiscite and a National Front which imposed on them the dictatorship of the oligarchy.

Now the people are no longer so credulous. They do not believe in elections. They know that all legal channels of action have been used up. They know that the only road left open to them is that of armed struggle. They are desperate and have made up their minds to risk everything, even life itself, in order that the next generation of Colombians may not be a generation of slaves; in order that the children of those who today are prepared to offer their lives may receive education, a decent home, food, clothing, and above all human dignity; in order that future Colombians may live in a homeland which is really theirs, free from American domination.

Every sincere revolutionary recognizes that armed struggle is the only way left. Nonetheless the people hope that their leaders, by means of personal example, will sound the call to arms.

I want to tell the Colombian people that the moment for battle has arrived. I have not betrayed them. In the plazas of every town and city I urged the organization of the popular classes for the seizure of power, and I have not ceased to insist that we give ourselves to this cause unto death. Everything is now ready. The oligarchy intends to organize one more electoral farce with all the usual trimmings: candidates who resign and then accept again, two-party committees, renewal movements based on ideas and personalities that are not only obsolete but also have betrayed the people. What more are we Colombians waiting for?

I have joined the freedom fighters. From this corner of the Colombian jungle I declare that I intend to fight and not to lay down arms until we have brought the people to power. I joined the Army of National Liberation because in it I found the very ideals that inspire the United Front: I found the desire for grass-roots unity, and indeed the achievement of that unity amongst the peasants, leaving aside all religious differences and traditional party squabbles, leaving aside also the spirit of competition with other revolutionary groups of whatever sect, movement, party or caudillo; I found a group that fights to free the people from the exploitation of the Colombian oligarchy and American imperialism, a group that will not lay down arms until the power of government is completely in the people’s hands, and whose objectives are those of the United Front’s platform.

Every patriotic Colombian ought to be preparing for war. In every corner of the country experienced guerrilla leaders will gradually arise. Meanwhile we must all be on the alert. We should gather together arms and ammunition, train for guerrilla combat, discuss things with our most trusted friends, collect clothing, drugs, provisions, and get ready for a long drawn-out war.

We should effect lightning attacks on the enemy whenever we are sure that the outcome will be in our favour; we can thus put so-called revolutionaries to the test and weed out the traitors. We must not overlook action, but neither should we be overimpatient. In a long drawn-out war we will all be called upon to act at a given moment; the important thing is that we be ready and armed when that moment arrives. The individual is not expected to perform every single task; the tasks should be shared out. United Front members should be in the vanguard of initiative and action. We must be patient in the period of preparation, and confident that the final victory will be ours.

The people’s struggle must eventually become a nation-wide struggle. And since the battle is going to be a long one, we have decided to begin now.

Fellow citizens’ listen to the people’s call, the call of the revolution!
Activists of the United Front: put your slogans into practise!
For the unity of the popular classes, unto death!
For the organization of the popular classes, unto death!
For the seizure of power by the popular classes, unto death!
Unto death, since we are determined to fight to the very end.
Unto victory, since a people which gives itself to the cause unto death always achieves victory. Unto the final victory, then, faithful to the watchwords of the Army of National Liberation.
Not one step back!
Liberation or Death!”

Torres was only with the guerillas about three months. He had trained with them, was given a pistol, and was told that he had to earn the right to carry a rifle. He insisted on going on a planned ambush. As one of the soldiers who were the victims of the ambush was brought down, Torres left his cover to retrieve the coveted rifle of the dead soldier. As he reached down to pick it up, he was shot in the shoulder; and as he tried to crawl away he was mortally shot again. Two of his comrades tried to rescue him and both of them were also shot down. Camilo Torres was killed on his first combat mission with the guerillas.

Torres faced a profound theological dilemma. If he stayed within the established church, he would be contributing to the oppression of the masses since the church supported the rule of the oligarchy. This would cause him to violate God’s command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In addition, he would manifest that he loved himself, his position and security in the church, most of all. On the other hand, if it was true that the only way the lives of masses would ever improve would be by revolution, then the best way he could demonstrate his love for the people was to take part in the revolution. But such action would involve him in violence and the taking of life–both of which are prohibited by God. There was no escape. Torres could not run away. So in the end he reach the conclusion that the greatest love was manifested and the most violence avoided by the revolutionary path.
(to whom many thanks; and for a good article and reading list see:-)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Alphabetical index for other ‘Red Christian documents’ Posts, including Muntzer and Weitling
Liberation theology
Red Christians #2: Camilo Torres

[341, i&l, t&c]




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