“James Forman’s basic concept is that the churches have been a helping hand and a willing partner in the oppression of black people. This also holds true for Puerto Rican people, especially the Catholic Church, since most Puerto Ricans are Catholic.”
This was Pablo (Yoruba) Guzman talking. Speaking for a militant, revolutionary Puerto Rican group called the Young Lords, Yoruba said, “What we do, we do out of love.” The Lords in New York City, and a Mexican-American coalition in Los Angeles, have been leading a new round of assaults on churches. Takeovers and destruction of church property seem to be the next rung of escalation in the confrontation tactics developed last spring by Black Manifesto-maker James Forman and his supporters.
The target of the Lords’ attack was, curiously, a Methodist church. The First Spanish Church was chosen, Yoruba said, “because it was right smack dead in the center of the barrio” (Spanishspeaking community). And, he added, it’s the one church in the community that has shied away from social action: “It’s only open for a few hours and for the rest of the week it turns into one big brick that sits on 111th Street and Lexington.”
The Lords seized the church late last month and turned it into a “liberation school” for ghetto children. They served free breakfasts—and Marxism. “All power to the people,” shouted seventy-five youngsters as they swilled orange juice with their cookies.
The congregation and pastor refused space for the program, later filed suit to oust the Lords after they had spiked a railroad tie across the front door. The eleven-day occupation ended when eight unarmed sheriff’s deputies arrested 111 Young Lords and peacefully removed them from the premises.
Simultaneously, more than fifty white supporters of the Lords left the New York offices of United Methodist Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke. The demonstrators, including many seminarians, took over the Methodist Board of Missions suite for forty-eight hours, saying they would stay until the Lords were permitted space in the Spanish Harlem church.
Wicke, refusing to agree with the demand, said that the Lords were not a part of the regular congregation and that he had to protect the congregation’s “right to worship as they see fit.” At one point, a bearded youth pushed the bishop roughly against a wall. The mission-office occupiers promised an escalation in “pressure on the Methodist hierarchy” if Young Lords were arrested. Some Methodist mission-board personnel helped the occupiers.
The Young Lords organization is part of the Rainbow Coalition, which includes the Black Panthers and the Patriot Party, a revolutionary group of poor whites. Yoruba thinks Christ “was a pretty violent cat when he had to be,” and views the Lords’ cause as “a Holy War … with righteous feeling … and that’s why we’ve got Christ right up there next to Mao—he was a heavy cat.”
A Young Lords position paper calls for self-determination for Puerto Ricans—independence on the island and inside the United States. It says: “We oppose the American military … fight anti-Communism … believe armed self-defense and armed struggle are the only way to liberation“We are opposed to violence—the violence of hungry children, illiterate adults, diseased old people, the violence of poverty and profit. We have asked, petitioned, gone to courts, demonstrated peacefully, and voted for politicians full of empty promises. But we still ain’t free. The time has come to defend the lives of our people against pig brutality, for revolutionary war against the businessman, politician, and police. When a government oppresses the people, they have the right to abolish it and create a new one.”; … in short we want a socialist society.”
Meanwhile, out in the City of the Angels, a Chicano-Catholic conflict looms as Mexican-Americans seek social action and James Francis Cardinal McIntyre stresses “service to people.” St. Basil’s, an architecturally striking Catholic church on Wilshire Boulevard, is the focal point for protests by militant groups.
The Reverend Blase Bonpane, an ousted Maryknoll missionary, conducted an impromptu mass on the steps before a Christmas Eve melee in which 200 persons stormed the church. Five policemen were injured and seven demonstrators arrested in the midnight debacle, repeated the next morning by a smaller number. Glass was broken in the entrance doors and foyer showcases.
A spokesman for Catholics Por La Raza said St. Basil’s was chosen because it has $4 million budgeted to construct a hospital. “The Chicanos feel they have been short-changed by the institutional church, that it must proclaim something of the message of Jesus, which had to do with poverty and not … million-dollar structures,” said Bonpane.
In another militant maneuver, Black Economic Development Conference leader Muhammad Kenyatta showed displeasure with the response of the Presbytery of Philadelphia to $250,000 “reparations” demands by the BEDC. Interrupting a service in the Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Church, Kenyatta dumped communion bread and wine on the floor, saying: “This is the blood and body of my people.”
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