Homily to Catalonia: the nun entering Spain’s regional politics
The Guardian, by Ashifa Kassam
Whether she’s advocating an audit of the national debt, lamenting the deterioration of Spain’s public health services or urging the creation of a public bank, the Benedictine nun Teresa Forcades rarely minces her words.
Now the Catalan sister, buoyed by recent municipal elections that saw the housing activist Ada Colau voted in as Barcelona’s first female mayor, wants to hang up her habit in hopes of leading a leftist coalition that could bring the same sort of change to the region.
“I think we are in a very particular moment,” said Forcades, pointing to the Catalan regional elections, slated for 27 September. “And in this particular moment, I think we can all agree we need a people’s constituent process from below. And if we do that, that’s the real revolution in Catalonia.”
In 2013, she and the economist Arcadi Oliveres launched Procés Constituent, a social movement guided by a manifesto calling for an independent Catalonia, where banks and energy companies would be nationalised and all citizens would have the right to a home and a dignified wage. “From the beginning it was a project to politicise what had become something real in the streets; a social majority that wanted to stop the neoliberal politics that were happening in Spain,” she said.
Procés Constituent was among the backers of Barcelona en Comú, helping turn it into the most voted political force in last month’s Barcelona municipal elections. As Forcades started musing about an even wider coalition of leftist groups to face off against centre-right Catalan leader Artur Mas in the upcoming regional vote, the one thing missing from the picture was a leader.
It was exactly the kind of position that Harvard-educated Forcades – one of Catalonia’s most prominent anti-establishment voices – had always been attracted to. But she was loath to trade in the solitude of the monastery for a demanding career in politics.
It was her religious community that ultimately proposed a solution, offering her the chance to take a sabbatical of up to three years, the kind given to nuns to allow them to look after a sick parent. “I said, yes, but my mother is not sick,” said Forcades. “They said but society is sick so you can go and take care of it.”
Forcades envisions herself leading a leftist movement that could bring together parties as diverse as Podemos and the Catalan republican left. Last week Podemos’s Catalan branch said it would be open to the idea of a coalition of leftist parties backing one candidate in the regional elections. “If we could do that, then this would be the most voted options,” said Forcades. Her candidacy is set to be debated at an upcoming meeting of Procés Constituent in mid-June.
Forcades knows the foray into politics won’t be easy; while campaigning for Barcelona en Comú during the recent elections, she was rivalled by the Dominican nun Sister Lucía Caram, who was campaigning for Mas’s Convergència i Unió.
Spain’s interior minister took aim at the idea of nuns in politics, insisting it was a relic of times past. “Using nuns to do politics is odd, it’s not normal in the 21st century,” Jorge Fernández Díaz told reporters.
As Forcades readied herself to step out of the monastery and into the political ring, she’s steeling herself for more of the same. “Criticisms are to be expected. I follow somebody called Jesus and he had a lot of that.”
It’s a price she’s willing to pay in order to try and synchronise politics with the demands of the “indignados”, who occupied squares across Spain in 2011. “The best political system I can imagine is the one that we call democracy – but the real one, not the one we have now, where the people really have the say.”