MARCOS IRRUETA, a skilled engineer work ing for a factory in the Vizcaya province of Spain, has renounced half his pay and asked the management to use it to increase the wages of the plant's neediest workers. He was making about £20 a week, which, by local standards, is very high.
" Some people would call this charity, but I prefer to call it social consciousness," said the chaplain of the local union, commenting to NCWC correspondent Jaime Fonseca.
Mr. Fonseca also tells the story of a teaching nun in Andalusia who said that wealthy women sending their daughters to the school asked the nuns to refrain from teaching them the Church's social doctrine. Alms, they said, were enough for the poor.
The nuns did not oblige. The Church in Spain. writes Fonseca, is working for a radical change in the social thinking of Spaniards; Catholic Action organisations and parochial "revival" movements are at the spearhead of a drive to close the gap between rich and poor, management and labour.
The Madrid headquarters of Fe Catolica, an adult catechetical movement. counts 600 trained leaders or "fishers", led by Fr. Ramon Sanchez de Leon. S.J., and including the former Communist leader Joaquin Tesser. From the movement's centres throughout the country the Church's social doctrine is proclaimed.
At Granada, during one of the "commando" retreats known as Cursillos de Cristiandad, one rich merchant rose in front of 300 men to promise that he would make restitution to society for the excessive profits he had made.
The area had been a hotbed of Marxism, where churches and religious houses had been burned to the ground. Resentment against religion persisted for long years after the Civil War. But Fr. Miguel Peinado, promoter of a liturgical revival movement, can now declare that patience, charity and the miracle of the Mass have prevailed.
Today, the families of his parish support a school for 300 children and the Communion rail is crowded on weekdays. A school for catechists thrives with 60 teachers.
Back to Madrid, where the president of the Catholic Employers' Association (Accion Soria! Patronal) can state that many employers are becoming convinced of the value of human relations based on the Church's industrial moral principles, and are making use of the Association's social workers and industrial mediators. This is something quite new for Spain. A rcion Social Patronal has active groups in 28 cities. For eight years now it has sponsored industrial relations congresses and institutes, and has had its recommendations on workers' conditions and wages adopted by 18 steel concerns in four provinces.
So it is. for instance. that 2,200 employees of the Luzuriaga Steel Works at Guipuzcoa hold 23 per cent of the company's stock, which they have recently bought with savings and a loan from the local credit union. The ASP is now engaged in studying banking employment practices and recently completed a survey among construction firms.
The Young Christian Workers are turning out pamphlets on social questions which sell like hot cakes. They are reaching hundreds of thousands of workers through their cell work, and have established a permanent institute on Marriage, where preparation courses for married life are given.
The Workers' Brotherhood of Catholic Action find belief in God among most workers, together with some religious practice, but there is still distrust of the clergy who arc seen as champions of the wealthy.
Yet a Barcelona lawyer, Lorenzo Gomis, can report that he knows "many priests who by their personal dedication and love have changed whole towns." The Brotherhood's President testifies that "in three years of intense training and study, we have converted many Marxists into zealous, wonderful Catholic leaders."
Workers are suspicious of the Spanish trade union structure which include managements, skilled and unskilled workers in one body.
The aim of the Catholic social drive is to change the attitudes of "a rich class, pious indeed and sound in family morals, but numb to any social responsibility."