In preparation for the 1979 International Conference in Solidarity with the Independence of Puerto Rico, Bishop Parrilla was on tour of the United States. His fiery oratory denouncing the colonial status of Puerto Rico endeared him to us. It was a special joy to meet him again in Mexico City, where we joined with citizens of some fifty-one countries. I was there as a delegate of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).
Bishop Parrilla had recently been arrested for participating in the ecumenical prayer service on Navy territory on the island of Vieques. Christians of various denominations had gathered in protest against the U.S. Navy takeover of three-fourths of the island. Deeply sensitive to any violation of human rights, Bishop Parrilla pled for justice. "Man is worth more than the strategies of war, more than supersonic airplanes, more than all the treasures of the earth," he declared. "Christ died for all humanity regardless of race or social status. Therefore, we must respect human rights and work for the liberation of the people of Vieques." He saw the struggle of the people of Vieques as one of regaining the beautiful land that God had created and to live in peace and tranquility.
Arrested with him, among others, were Padre Andre Trevathan, an Episcopal priest, and Wilfredo Vélez, a Methodist minister. Bishop Parrilla was willing to accept imprisonment rather than pay the $500 fine for occupying what he claimed was his native land. Having counseled prisoners, he welcomed the challenge of a first-hand experience in prison. This was denied him, however. He was placed on a year's probation and ordered to stay away from Vieques. Subsequently, Bishop Parrilla, along with others who appealed to the Boston Appeals Circuit, was declared innocent of the charges relating to Vieques.
He was then free to attend the conference in Mexico, and to participate in the resolutions condemning the existence of U.S. military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean, urging the eradication of colonialism in all forms in the Caribbean, asking
the United States to refrain from further repression of the Puerto Rican independence movement, and demanding withdrawal of the U.S. Navy from Vieques.
Each year that we returned to Puerto Rico, we paid our respects to Bishop Parrilla. We found him secluded in his little office of the Juan XXIII Social Center, surrounded with books, and continuing his research and writing. We would always call for an appointment, for he was cautious as to whom he admitted. Knowing his phone to be tapped, along with thousands of others in Puerto Rico, any discussion by phone was avoided.
He had not as yet completed his M.A. in economics when he found himself drafted into the U.S. Army. He served in Panama as radar chief. It was then that he became converted to Catholicism, and took courses in philosophy and theology at St. Mary's Seminary in Emmittsburg, Maryland. In 1962, he was ordained to the priesthood. He served various posts in Puerto Rico, Cuba and New York, and was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Cagüas. Following his arrest, however, he was dismissed from the Río Piedras parish, where he had been conducting Mass and tending the poor.
In his concern for the poor, he challenges them to become aware of their potential power. To this end, he has been active in organizing cooperatives. He served as program director at the Cooperative Institute, UPR. He does not hesitate, however, to criticize the cooperative movement in its failure to meet the needs of the poor.
Any issue involving injustice gains his support, whether a street vendor threatened with eviction from his corner, maltreatment of sugar workers in Santo Domingo, the eviction of a "squatter" family from their home which led to the killing of Adolfino Villanueve, to closure on businesses on Sunday, abortion, and the evils of tobacco and drugs.
He equates the high rate of suicide with an unjust system and social disintegration, in which the traditional Puerto Rican values have been overridden by foreign values. Under colonial domination, Puerto Ricans lack confidence in themselves, and fear freedom.
Last we saw him, his weekly articles were still being run in Claridad, but had been cancelled in other newspapers. He had sent us a packet of his books: Puerto Rico, Church and Society; Puerto Rico, Survival and Liberation; Cooperatives, Theory and Practice; Neomalthusianism in Puerto Rico.
"I'm not an absolute pacifist!" he declared on our last visit with him. He would not resign his right to self-defense. Clarifying this in a letter to us, he explained that the position of the Catholic Church is to accept war in self-defense. At the same time it condemns nuclear war and military recruitment against one's conscience. He prefers nonviolent action, but sees a need for a gamut of diverse methods for the independence of one's country. He quoted Albizu Campos, "Where despotism is the law, revolution is in order." He agrees with Pope John Paul that force is an acceptable means to secure justice when "prolonged tyranny takes away fundamental rights of the person, and at the same time, seriously damages the common good of the nation." He believes that the right of Puerto Rico to use armed force to liberate itself from the colonial yoke is part of the moral principle of self-defense established by Christianity centuries ago. This does not cancel out, however, other methods of struggle such as political and international pressure.
Nonetheless, Bishop Parrilla is outspoken in his opposition to military conscription because of its possibly forcing Puerto Ricans to fight in "Yankee" wars against their Latin American or Caribbean sisters and brothers, or to defend the interests of multinational corporations. He reminds us that Puerto Rico has never been at war with another country. He sees the American administration like a cowboy with hand on pistol, ready to shoot at the smallest provocation.
Bishop Parrilla once listed in Claridad his acts of opposition to conscription, and asserts that if men who refuse to register are to be arrested, then he, too, would be subject to arrest for advocating non-compliance. He has urged picketing of post offices on the grounds that, since U.S. troops have invaded Puerto Rican national territory, Puerto Ricans should not serve in U.S. troops. He advises that there are legal and moral ways to oppose conscription and that "a conscience well- formed, and not superficial or capricious, places one above any civil law that violates this conscience."
He points out the possibility of a nuclear holocaust and the necessity of refusing to promote it. He sees Puerto Rican participation in the Vietnam War as a "sad and traumatic experience." For example, 3,000 patients in the local Veterans Administration Hospital have been treated for symptoms believed to be linked to Agent Orange. "How impressive is the heroism of dozens of young Puerto Ricans, their moral strength and the rightness of their conscience, in defying military, inhuman and arrogant machinery!" he said in addressing students at the University of Puerto Rico.
He fears the stockpiling of nuclear weapons in Puerto Rico and the use of naval bases for the suppression of independence movements in the Caribbean.
He expresses to us his concern for Nicaragua and his fear that the United States was preparing for a direct invasion. He has Jesuit friends there, and declares that Nicaragua is not Marxist, but merely wants to develop its own way of life. He feels that the United States is attempting to keep Latin America in subjugation for its own benefit.
He challenges the FBI for its activities in seeking to neutralize certain political groups by means of infiltration, interception of mail and investigations based on mere allegations.
However outspoken politically, he considers himself a devout Catholic and in communion with the Pope. Though no longer an active member of the organization, he remains a Jesuit.
"I choose not to be a spectator in history, but an actor in it," sums up his philosophy. "The time has come to go beyond mere words and speeches, but to engage in forceful action."
In view of possible forms of action, Bishop Parrilla has written for Claridad essays on conscientious objection and civil disobedience. "Civil disobedience," he tells us in the September 26-October 2, 1986 issue, "when born of a well-formed and informed conscience, has to be seen as a patriotic force, operating for peaceful social change without civil or political disorder." It mobilizes political power through acts confronting an unjust situation. He points out that civil disobedience gives society a valuable service, drawing attention to conditions viewed as legal but actually harmful to the community. Civil disobedience has been observed throughout the centuries, he affirms, as with Socrates, Thoreau and many others.
He believes that in the present political and social environment of the United States and Puerto Rico, there are possibilities for increased and unprecedented civil disobedience. Already it has been demonstrated in anti-nuclear and anti-military protests, the struggle to oust the U.S. Navy from Culebra and Vieques, resistance against military conscription, "land rescue" to provide housing, protests against contamination of the environment and ecological destruction.
As for the development of one's conscience, he describes it as a gradual unfolding from childhood through the influence of priests, ministers, teachers, parents, and friends. Conscience is then able to determine which civil acts are in violation of natural laws.
It is not an easy road. Conscientious objectors must be willing to suffer the consequences of their acts. He challenges Puerto Ricans to be alert to the possibilities of civil disobedience through the dictates of their conscience.