Solidarity And Spirituality

Support Of Indian And Irish Independence

While attending Harvard University, in addition to engaging with events and issues relating to Latin America and countries throughout the world, Don Pedro is recognized as having been specifically influenced by the revolutionary movements existing at the time in India and Ireland.

With regard to the movement for Indian independence from British rule, Don Pedro was selected to represent Harvard Law School in the welcome reception for the visiting Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore. At this reception Don Pedro spoke following Tagore’s welcoming speech, commenting on his definition of nationalism. His views on the forms of struggle being adopted in India, which included Mohandas Gandhi’s non-violence, are known to have favored armed struggle, with the Indian nationalist Bal Gangadhar Tilak being named among those he looked favorably towards.

A much greater influence on Don Pedro would be the revolutionary movement of the Irish people in their struggle against British colonial rule. In this movement Don Pedro saw elements comparable to the situation of Puerto Rico that he would emphasize in his leadership in later years: a predominantly Catholic island nation with its own language, history, and culture facing a large, predominantly Protestant, English-speaking empire. As a student leader Don Pedro would have the opportunity to personally meet Éamon De Valera, a prominent Irish revolutionary leader, during his 1919 visit to Harvard for a conference that Don Pedro also provided remarks in.

Following the bloody 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland, Don Pedro’s strong, unwavering support of full Irish independence was at odds with the predominantly conservative leanings of Harvard students and faculty. In this climate, he helped to organize student councils in support of Irish independence at Harvard, Boston Technical College, and Boston College. Don Pedro organized conferences, debates, and demonstrations in support of the Irish cause and also collected donations outside factories and in Irish communities to provide the movement with financial support.

Don Pedro’s full support of Irish independence was so developed and clear that, on one occasion in front of an audience of 1,400 students, faculty, and foreign diplomats gathered to debate the issue, he delivered a speech that resulted in a standing ovation. This ovation was interrupted by a member of the British Parliament on diplomatic leave who was compelled to state, “I am a British nobleman, so there is no need to inquire my opinion on the Irish question. But gentlemen I would not be a Britisher, I would not be a nobleman, if I failed to admit that Mr. Campos has just delivered the most complete, the most brilliant speech on this matter, that I have ever heard.”

Before the Constitution of the Irish Free State was adopted in 1922, Don Pedro, known for his unyielding support of their cause, was consulted in its drafting. The influence of the Irish revolutionary struggle on his political thinking cannot be overstated. In fact, in an interview regarding her book Ireland and Puerto Rico: The Untold Story, author Aoife Rivera Serrano stated that Don Pedro’s struggle was “entirely modeled on the Irish struggle against Britain.” The book Nosotros Solos: Pedro Albizu Campos y el Nacionalismo Irlandés by Juan Angel Silén is devoted entirely to this connection.

Committing To A Spiritual Path

In addition to the active identification with Ireland’s revolutionary struggle, another critical influence on Don Pedro’s political development would be his personal commitment to Catholicism. Providing details with regard to his conversion, the Puerto Rican poet and independence activist Juan Antonio Corretjer points to a Father Ryan as guiding Don Pedro to make communion, and a Catalonian Father Luis Rodes, who was also an astronomer, as impressing upon Don Pedro the joining of science with faith. The fact that there was a large Irish community in Boston observant of the religion also meant that Don Pedro would have come into contact with many devout Catholics during his work in support of Ireland’s independence.

Active in St. Paul’s Catholic Club and a founder of Harvard’s Knights of Columbus, it is still clear, however, that Don Pedro adopted Catholicism for intellectual reasons rather than out of a religious experience. The reading of one text from 1842 in particular, El Protestantismo Comparado con el Catolicismo by the Spanish-born Jaime Balmes, is cited as a key event in the evolution of Don Pedro’s thinking. In this text Balmes argues, among other things, that Catholic and Spanish values are superior to Protestant and Northern European values in their respect of local cultures, customs, and languages. Additionally, Balmes quotes Irish patriots in order to highlight the failure of Protestants to secure Ireland’s freedom despite their claims of bringing Enlightenment and democracy.

In his essay on Don Pedro’s ‘Catholic worldview,’ scholar Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo points to three factors as serving to intensify the influence of Balmes’ ideas on him: the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland, Don Pedro’s membership in the Knights of Columbus, and the formation of the League of Nations after World War 1. Stevens-Arroyo highlighted the influence on Don Pedro of the militant organizing and martyrdom of the Irish patriot James Connolly, the active use of Catholicism in support of patriotism by the Knights of Columbus, and the prominent discussion of international law with regard to independence for oppressed nationalities at the Versailles Peace Conference.

In another analysis on the approach to his faith, Don Pedro’s daughter Cristina Meneses Albizu-Campos suggested that his Christian spirituality was unifying and singularly oriented to the project of national liberation for Puerto Rico. Pointing out the various creeds of the men and women that would take part in the nationalist movement under his leadership — “Catholics, Protestants, Espiritistas, Masons, Atheists, Agnostics” — she speaks to the Catholic sense of service and sacrifice for others that defined Don Pedro’s political work. Without a doubt, it is this Catholic/religious sense of “duty to help others take the path of humanity,” as Meneses Albizu-Campos described it, that profoundly influenced Don Pedro in Harvard.


References:

  • Albizu Campos and the Ponce Massacre, by Juan Antonio Corretjer (World View Forum, 1992).
  • Algunas Ideas Tentativas del Pensamiento Social Cristiano en Pedro Albizu Campos, by Ernesto Sánchez Huertas in La Nación Puertorriqueña: Ensayos En Torno A Pedro Albizu Campos (Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1997).
  • Ausubo Press will Publish Ireland and Puerto Rico: The Untold Story by Aoife Rivera Serrano, by PR Web (2009).
  • The Catholic Worldview in the Political Philosophy of Pedro Albizu Campos: The Death Knoll of Puerto Rican Insularity, by Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo (U.S. Catholic Historian, Fall 2002).
  • La Espiritualidad de Pedro Albizu Campos, by Cristina Meneses Albizu-Campos (Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, 2008).
  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).
  • War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror In America’s Colony, by Nelson A. Denis (Nation Books, 2015).

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