THE APPRENTICESHIP YEARS OF GONZALEZ RUIZ
From 1945 to 1948, Gonzalez Ruiz took up a post as parish priest in his native Seville, though in a part of town which was home to the vast army of disenfranchised, under- or unemployed sevillanos then barely recovering from the horrors of the civil war. ‘I discovered something hitherto unknown to me: the nobility of the soul of the poor.’ A teaching stint at a church institution in Malaga followed; soon thereafter, however, he was able to arrange for an appointment as a researcher at an ecclesiastical institute in Rome. And this is where his life took yet another turn.
‘During my second stay in Rome [... ] I observed a great change in Italian public life.’
Roman bookstores were overflowing with inexpensive editions of Marxist classics. I felt immediately attracted to this literature. I literally devoured several works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. I recall the enormous impact which The German Ideology and The Holy Family [early works by Karl Marx] had on me. But I read all this in secret or, better, all by myself for, though there was no formal prohibition to do so, no one would have understood what I was doing.
‘I lay awake during many nights listening to the Spanish or Italian edition of Radio Moscow’, Gonzalez Ruiz added, though he also noted a characteristic feeling of unease. ‘I confess that it produced in me the identical impression of monotony and affectation as did the programmes aired by Radio Vatican.’ A feeling of great empathy coupled with dissatisfaction settled in. ‘As I had already experienced the lack of adequate connection between “theory” and “practice” in my role as a Catholic, I began to suspect that, in the other “camp”, something similar was going on.’
From then on, Jose Maria Gonzalez Ruiz was consumed with the idea of bridging the gap between Marxism and Catholicism, two traditions which, in his view, had much in common but which also suffered from a tremendous lack of mutual recognition and respect. Forever travelling between the two worlds of Italy and Spain—Italy a democracy with a vibrant Communist tradition, Spain suffocating under a ferocious right-wing dictatorship but with growing pockets of resistance champing at the bit—with Malaga, Madrid, and Rome serving as home bases, Gonzalez Ruiz eventually became a leading intellectual in various associations aiming to break down the artificial barriers between (unorthodox) Marxism and (progressive) Catholicism, notably within the Internationale Paulusgesellschaft, animated in its heyday in the second half of the 1960s by the Austrian gadfly journalist, Gfinther Nenning.
High-level gatherings assembling leading intellectuals from Eastern and Western Europe were part of Gonzalez Ruiz’s calling, just as much as more intimate encounters between curious individuals hailing from both camps. Gonzalez Ruiz’s account of the meeting between Jose Maria Diez-Alegria, perhaps the second most prominent Spanish Left Catholic theologian after
Gonzalez Ruiz himself, and the leading Spanish Communist Manuel Azcarate at a trattoria in Rome may speak for itself: ‘I believe that this was the first time that the—at that time—illustrious professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome had contact with a flesh-and-blood Marxist from abroad [... ] During the meal, Alegria, despite his natural communication skills, at first behaved rather awkwardly; but, as soon as we began to feel the effect of the wine from the hills surrounding Rome, the conversation became animated and the friendship was sealed.’ Not only was Jose Maria Diez-Alegria a prominent faculty member at the Roman Catholic university, but two of his brothers were officers in Franco’s military!