Oesterreich: Hildegard Goss-Mayr

The life of every person has an absolute value.

— Hildegard Goss-Mayr

For more than 52 years, Hildegard Goss-Mayr has been teaching nonviolent resistance against injustice and repression as part of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. She was influential in the 1986 nonviolent People Power Revolution in the Philippines, in the Liberation Theology Movement in Latin America, and the peaceful overthrow of tyranny in Madagascar. The organization Service for Peace and Justice (SERPAJ) that she co-founded, denounced human rights violations during military dictatorships in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile under the most difficult conditions.

Hildegard Goss-Mayr is deeply convinced that each person has a conscience that can be reached. In 1968, she and her late husband, Jean Goss, held a seminar about nonviolence in a local Christian community in Medellín, Colombia, in a mountainside slum with no running water. In the weeks and months afterwards, she relates, the women of the area decided not to put up any longer with the deaths of their children due to the lack of clean water. “So they went down to the town center with their children, to the beautiful plaza with its fountains and clear water, where the wind sweeps over, making little puddles. The first group began to wash their children in a puddle. The rich women, strolling by as usual, scolded them: ‘Your children will die if you wash them in the puddles.’ That was exactly the reaction they wanted. The women began to speak, explaining their situation until the police came and chased them away. But ten minutes later, a second group arrived. More and more rich women stopped and spoke with them. The police wanted to arrest them, and a policeman hit one woman. But a well-off woman stood between them and said, ‘If your wife were in this situation, she would have done the same thing.’ That day, a group of poor and rich women was formed. They went to the city administration and were successful.” When the Gosses returned six months later, water was already flowing on the mountain. “These women understood the power of nonviolence. They spoke to the conscience of those who were better off, and were ready to take the consequences, whether blows or prison. And that is why they were successful. A school was built, electricity laid. All because of their brave example.”

International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) Service for Peace and Justice (SERPAJ), Brazil