Mexican Fight, Global Struggle: The Emergence of “Youth” in the Catholic World

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM
Room 203 (Colorado Convention Center)
Robert G. Weis, University of Northern Colorado
This paper explores Mexico’s contribution to novel understandings of youth in global Catholicism during the early twentieth century. Mexican Catholic activists, long derided in historiography as fanatical puppets of a reactionary clergy, were part of a generation of militants moved by their experiences in Mexico and as members of emerging communities of youth across the Catholic world. Born in the first decade of the twentieth century, they came of age during the revolution. Their transition to adulthood coincided with the introduction of social reforms by the revolutionary government and the Vatican’s encouragement of combative, Christ-centered youth. Twenty-something Catholics only assumed the title of youth as an explicitly political and religious banner of mobilization in the wake of the revolution. Young people constituted the core of Catholic activism, but more importantly, all Catholic activists saw revolutionary anticlericalism as a cataclysmic test imposed by God upon a new generation whose actions would determine whether Mexico would continue to exist as a Catholic nation, or rip its bond with God and Rome. “Youth” referred not only to biological age; many would have been considered full adults. Rather, the term contained a political, religious, and social discourse which emerged from an ideological clash between fervent Catholics and anticlerical revolutionaries. Although this was a national struggle, activists saw universal dimensions in the clash. They reached across borders for support and found it among young activists who saw their local conflicts reflected in the Mexican struggle. For activists across the Catholic world, the clash afforded a quasi-millenarian opportunity to reach the Kingdom of Christ, a vague vision of an earthly society of piety, justice, and prosperity. This vision, together with the willingness to resort to violence in order to achieve it, brought Mexican Catholic youth closer to their contemporary coreligionists in other parts of the world.
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