My Quest for a Better World
As told by a former Catholic nun
A BETTER world—was that possible? Surely a world full of hate, violence, selfishness, corruption, injustices, and suffering was not the world that God purposed when he created it. There must be a better world. If that was possible, then I was determined to help to bring it about.
I was born and grew up in the province of Corrientes, Argentina, a place famous for its worship of the Virgin of Itatí. The people are Catholics, extremely religious, and they make many pilgrimages each year to worship that virgin. I was among them. From childhood I had a desire to know this God of whom so much was spoken, but my father prohibited me from attending catechism classes. Later, during my adolescence, because of his wrong associations, my father became a drunkard. All of us suffered but especially my mother, who bore the brunt of his verbal and physical abuse. As a result, I came to hate the opposite sex, considering all men wicked and perverse.
My Goal—A Gun to Kill
School, though, brought out the best in me. I studied with zeal and tenacity, receiving diplomas in dressmaking and commercial subjects and later graduating with the highest grades as a teacher. Now my fondest dreams were beginning to be fulfilled: the acquisition of titles and diplomas that would free me of the paternal yoke. At the same time, I made plans to work hard so that I could better my mother’s situation and then—buy a gun to kill my father!
This, of course, brought me no joy, much less peace and happiness. Rather, I felt like a caged animal. I was 20 years old and found myself in a labyrinth with no exit.
Religious Life—Expectations Versus Realities
About this time I began to associate with nuns and also with Communists. Both sides tried to pressure me with their ideas. But the thought of helping the poor in far-off lands such as Africa and Asia made me decide in favor of the convent.
For 14 years I lived in a convent. My life in the convent was comfortable, quiet, and peaceful. It was not until I began to work with priests having a philosophy centered on the developing world that I was made aware of the difference between the world we nuns lived in and the world of the rest of mankind—that world of pain and injustice where people suffered under the oppressive yoke of the high and mighty.
In my religious order, the Theresian Carmelite Missionaries, much was said about justice, but my superiors seemed to ignore it completely in their dealings with others. Members of the teaching staff received a salary far below the government’s established wage scale, with no fringe benefits for themselves and their families, and they could be dismissed without previous notice and without indemnification. Domestic help fared even worse; after working from 10 to 12 hours in the school, they had to find extra employment in order to subsist and feed their families. I wanted to correct that unjust situation.
When I mentioned it to the mother superior, she told me that all I needed to be an extremist was a machine gun over my shoulder! At that moment I thought that I would rather be an extremist than be as inhuman as they were. Thus, I decided to request dispensation from the perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience that I had taken. I wanted to help the church in a wider field. The dispensation was readily granted.
My Political Activity
Then I really began to fulfill the vow of poverty. Many times I would not have had a morsel of bread had it not been for the goodhearted people who surrounded me. For the first time, I found out how the common people really lived. I worked hard with the local church in all fields—religious, social, and political. As a teacher of adults, I had many opportunities to talk to them about the backward conditions forced upon them by society, their causes, and the possible solutions. What were these solutions? First, working by peaceful means and protests; and then, if necessary, using violence in order to reach that desired goal, justice.
The religiopolitical movement I was associated with, organized by Catholic priests and supported by members of the laity, directs its activities to the underdeveloped areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It advocates an immediate, radical change of the socioeconomic structures by a revolutionary process, with a definite rejection of all types of economic, political, and cultural imperialism. Its aim is to establish a Latin-American socialism that promotes the creation of the hombre nuevo (new man), free of the bonds imposed by foreign political systems.
We committed ourselves to penetrate more and more into the ranks of the poor, identifying ourselves with their situation in life. With these ideals in mind, I fought to help everyone—young and old, adolescent and adult.
My Private Life—The Greatest Disillusionment
In my fight to better the conditions of the poor, I forgot that the heart can be treacherous. I fell in love with my boss, a priest, with whom I lived for two years. In time I became pregnant. When the priest found out, he wanted me to have an abortion, which I refused, since that would have been murder. In order to have the child, I had to give up my work with the priest and leave the city for fear that it would be discovered that I was his mistress.
I left the city greatly hurt and thought of committing suicide by throwing myself under a train, but something restrained me. I persevered. Friends, family members, and kindly disposed persons in my hometown gave me their love, compassion, and understanding—something that the only man I ever loved never did. When my son was born, these were the ones who cared for us. I wanted my son to grow up to be a strong, dynamic man, true to his convictions and willing to die for his ideals. In token of this desire, I gave him the middle name Ernesto in memory of Ernesto Che Guevara (the well-known Argentine guerrilla), whom I greatly admired.
When the Argentinean government was overturned by the military, leftist groups began to be persecuted. Many of my companions were arrested. Several times my home was raided by the encapuchados (hooded ones), who ransacked everything and stole almost all my belongings. Many times I was summoned to appear before the authorities to reveal the whereabouts of my companions, but I remained loyal to my friends, preferring death to turning traitor.
A Turning Point
Living under such pressure, I needed someone to talk to, someone I could trust and count on as a true friend. It was then that two of Jehovah’s Witnesses called at my door. I received them happily, noting about them a certain tranquillity and friendliness that attracted me. I wanted them to return to study the Bible with me. When they did, I explained the difficult situation in which I found myself and told them frankly that I did not want to get them involved as accomplices. They assured me that they had no fear, since the authorities knew who they were.
Our Bible study was an obstacle course from the beginning. Since I had lost faith and confidence in God, it was very difficult for me to accept the doctrinal points in the Bible study aid The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. I was about to give up the study, considering that the Bible was a myth and that Marx was right when he said that religion was “the opium of the people.” When I expressed my feelings to the Witnesses and told them not to waste any more time on me, they replied that they did not consider it a waste of time to help people who needed help.
I got a different impression when I was invited to go to the Kingdom Hall. I was fed up with meetings where dialogue, mutual respect, and friendliness were so noticeably lacking. However, the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses were different. They are Bible-based and faith-strengthening, and they move us to love one another and to love even our enemies.
New Christian Personality Supplants Violence
At last I found the way to better the world. On June 8, 1982, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism, and then as never before it became my desire to strip off the old personality, the political hombre nuevo of violence, and to put on the new personality, with its fine fruits, described at Galatians 5:22, 23. Now I am participating in another kind of warfare, a Christian warfare, preaching the good news of the Kingdom and giving of myself to teach others the Kingdom truth of a better world to come.
What a blessing it is to be able to teach my little son that instead of growing up to imitate Ernesto Che Guevara, he can walk in the footsteps of Christ Jesus, our Leader and Model! I pray that my son and I, together with all lovers of righteousness, including my former companions and my relatives, may enter into that everlasting better world, a paradise earth filled with joy, peace, happiness, and justice. Violence does not benefit anyone; it only fosters hatred, divisions, frustrations, and troubles that never end. I speak from experience, for I have lived it.—By Eugenia María Monzón.
[Picture on page 22]
Preaching from house to house in Argentina