BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
THE student demonstrators English, French, Spanish or German—should have the backing and sympathy of Christians, says Fr. John Fay, the national chaplain to the Young Christian Students.
After seeing at first hand the student turmoil on the Continent, Fr. Fay decries the suggestion that there is any sinister link between the student revolts which have swept through Europe.
"Any experience of working with students makes one hesitate to believe that they can be organised into action on a world basis by a single master plan," says Fr. Fay writing in the July issue of Catholic Gazette.
They are united by technology in a way which leaves the Christian community far behind, he says. "The student situation everywhere has much in common. "They are all being persuaded to face responsibility and they are taking note of the persuasion. Indeed, one may see a kind of paradox in the fact that, if anything, students have an overdeveloped sense of their own responsibility for their own student world.
"Thus it is necessary to insist that the grievances inside the university system which have sparked off so much trouble are genuine grievances.'' Fr. Fay goes on to defend the students' frustration with the out-dated university exam systems, the paternalism of university authorities, the heavyhanded authority and the reluctance of those in power to make reasonable changes. "At some points along the way students begin to feel that their protests are not rigorous enough. or not clamorous enough to be heard. At some point, according to Christian traditional teaching, the position becomes had enough for one to adopt extreme measures of attracting attention. "When society tells one to be quiet because one's problems are merely those of adolescence or of inexperience, the situation isexacerbated by the patronising solution, and a breaking point is soon reached." The revolt of the French students revealed that change must come, says Fr. Fay, who points out that while no European country (outside Spain and Portugal) would dream of using police to expel workers from their own factories until at least all other means had been exhausted, the students of Nanterre had to face riot police, called in by the Dean as an immediate response to their sit-in protest.
"The original protest was planned by Christian students in collaboration with anarchists and Trotskyists," adds Fr. Fay. "All had a sense of injustice in common and all found themselves being attacked brutally in their own student homes and libraries.
"It was this irresponsible use of the ultimate weapon of violence which sparked off the chaos in France."
Fr. Fay says that when he spoke to these students at the time of the riots he had to face the argument that once brutal violence had been used it was essential for the students to stand firm, or France would be set back for more than a decade in the belief that honest protest could be silenced by the police. If the riot police were to win, then France, as a place where man might stand and be counted, was finished. Added Fr. Fay: "At this point the Christian student went to Mass for courage and then took to the barricades. He was convinced he stood with Christ who, when faced with violence, did not run away like the apostles, but died upon the Cross. . "U were not a Christian, one stood for the same human principles and realised perhaps for the first time that Christ had died in defence of them. In the Christian student view, the consecration of the world had begun — at least with courage."
Smut. 150 university chaplains, from all denominations. will meet at The Hayes, Swanwick, Derbyshire, from September 9 to 12 to discuss the current upheavals in universities in Britain, other parts of Europe. and in America. Speakers will include Bishop Wheeler of Leeds.