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"Operation University"

John Courtney Murray


In the press for March 31 we had news of "Operation Nursery," mounted to crush what was described as "the first major attempt to revive nazi ideologies." What I emphasize here is the significant fact that all the leaders of this attempt were men trained to leadership in the Hitlerjugend.


We read, too, that the reopened German universities are crowded with students, a large group of whom talk earnestly of a "strong" Germany, and dislike professors with democratic ideas. Their own ideas were learned in the Hitlerjugend, and are still alive and compelling within them..


Last fall there took place in London a huge World Youth Congress. It was dominated by communist forces, embodied in a well trained delegation of youth leaders. (So strong was communist influence that the English bishops, notably the present Cardinal Griffin, were deeply concerned.) As a result of this Congress, a World Federation of Democratic Youth with headquarters in Paris, will be set up this summer. Soon, therefore, we shall see operating a sort of "Youth International."


Youth Looks to Organization


After the London Congress a committee of seven nationalities met and decided to bring into existence a new International Student Federation. A preparatory committee is now doing the organizing. It wishes to obtain the widest possible representation, from all kinds of student organizations, at an immense international gathering in Prague this summer, August 17 to 31. Catholic student groups are being invited.


Last November there also took place a big International Student Congress (600 delegates from 51 nations) in Prague. The city and the national government played the host munificently, at a cost of some five to seven million Czecho-Slovak crowns. Communist influence was again well defined and effective, if perhaps less dominant than at London. Afterwards, some of the delegates, including some Americans, were invited to visit Russia by the Soviet Youth Anti-Fascist Committee. The few American representatives at Prague were mostly left-wing.


Again, this coming summer the World Student Christian Federation will assemble in its first real postwar congress. International Student Service will likewise hold another summer session.


Finally, it has been noted that three out of four of "the public" that sought admission to the UNO sessions at Hunter College have been under twenty years of age. They did not come for entertainment; they symbolized the fact that youth is vitally interested in the movement for world organization.


Taken together, all these facts most certainly point to some conclusions. First, it is evident that the youth of the world is on the move. More than that, it is being gathered into movements—organized, inspired by ideas, self-conscious, able to utter corporate views and take collective action. These youth movements are going to help move the world, in one direction or another. Yesterday's youth movements (as in Germany) helped to create many of the problems of today. Today's youth movements will either solve these problems, or aggravate them, or create new ones.


Second, youth has discovered its own international community. Youth is youth, no matter what language it speaks. And it is determined to express its natural community in organizations, wherein international cooperation on student problems may be realized. The future leaders of international society will be trained in these organizations.


Third, there is no doubt that Moscow understands the power of youth. It is consciously enlisting the aid of youth in furthering its own purposes, whose sinister character is ably concealed beneath the aura of idealism that youth finds so seductive. The World Federation of Democratic Youth will be an agency of communist penetration. And communist forces have already signified their determination to influence the new International Student Federation, launched at London and Prague. Leaders of various international youth organizations whose inspiration is Christian, or at least humanist, are aware of this problem. They do not view with indifference the prospect of Moscow capturing the world student and youth movement. And they are taking steps to meet the problem.


The problem is also put squarely to Catholic youth, its leaders and moderators. In general, the problem is how Catholic youth can be put on the move, in the international field, in a solidly organized movement, with a truly conquering spirit, that will carry through a positive program and also combat communist influence. More concretely, the question is how Pax Romana can be made in living fact what it is on paper—the agency of Catholic international university student solidarity, and the Catholic representative in the world youth movement.


American Catholic Students Lag


Curiously enough, Catholic students were the slowest in realizing their need of international cooperation; among all the international student organizations Pax Romana, born in 1921, was the latest in the field. And it is still the weakest, at the very moment when the world situation demands that it be strongest. After World War I it performed an effective work of reconciliation, on the student plane, between the nations that had fought each other. As part of this work, it brought into fruitful affiliation all the European student federations; and in 1939 it made its ill-fated venture into the New World, holding its XIXth World Congress in New York and Washington. World War II broke out while the Congress was in session. During the war its mission was largely one of relief to students, carried on under shattering difficulties.


These phases of its work—reconciliation and relief—are not ended. But the Holy See has already indicated that a new phase must begin. The indication is in a long letter from Cardinal Pizzardo to the Second Inter-American Assembly of Pax Romana, held March 10-19 in Lima, Peru (at which, incidentally and significantly, there was no official United States student representation). The letter makes it quite clear that Pius XII wants the Catholic international student movement to be a strong ally in the mission upon which he has focused the eyes of the universal Church—that of creating a new spiritual unity among nations. Its special work is to be the intellectual penetration of the university milieu—the winning of the universities, professors and students, for the ideas that underlie peace and Christian world order. Pax Romana's old mission of fraternal union must be developed into the field of intellectual charity—the creation of that société d'esprits without which there can be no society of nations. In effect, what the Holy See wants is the mounting of "Operation University."


This is an immense task, of incomparable difficulty. But it is no more immense and difficult than the task to which the dynamic leftist student movement has set itself. We cannot admit that it is impossible, if only for the reason that it is imperative. The Interfederal Assembly of Pax Romana

will address itself to the task at its meeting in Fribourg this coming August. But what I want to emphasize is the fact that the building of a strong Catholic international student movement, able to carry out the Holy Father's wishes, is the common and collective responsibility of educators, youth directors, and youth itself, everywhere.


And in this respect the United States finds itself in a peculiarly embarrassing position. On the one hand, no other country in the world is so isolationist, so backward in the matter of international student cooperation; on the other hand, no other nation has so great a responsibility in the matter. We have immense potential student leadership; but it is quite undeveloped. For instance, whatever the merits or defects of our undergraduate student organizations (and the defects are many), we have no formal university student organization. (And the university student is the proper agent of international collaboration.) In their maturity, when their capacity for leadership is readiest, our Catholic students are, for all practical purposes, cast adrift.


This problem, I think, will be the special responsibility of the National Catholic Educational Association. Taking over a private initiative, it is about to form a graduate association that will undertake the work of Catholic international intellectual cooperation. The promotion of the international student movement must necessarily be a function of this association. So, too, will be the promotion of student and professor exchange, and the foundation of a badly needed Catholic International House that will be the center of the Catholic movement for intellectual cooperation.


Beginnings are always small and difficult. But they may as well be bold. I would suggest this beginning for United States participation in the world student movement: that a group of twelve students be selected, carefully and intensively trained, and sent over to the Prague meeting of the International Student Federation in August, with the quite sober and entirely feasible intent of "taking it over." They could do it. They would not be without allies among European Catholic students. But, of course, someone would have to pay their way.