Cardinal Joseph Cardijn and the Young Christian Workers movement

Sunday 19 February 2012

23-02-p15-cardijn-350Joseph Cardijn was born in 1882 in Schaerbeek, Belgium. He grew within the industrial revolution setting that defined 19th century Europe. As a boy, he watched child workers tramping to work in factories and he learnt from his father about the efforts of social reformers to improve their living and working conditions.

Inspired by concerned priests like Fr Adolf Daens and by Pope Leo XIII's iconic encyclical, Rerum Novarum, Cardijn entered the minor seminary in 1897. When his father died in 1903, he made a vow to consecrate his life to the cause of workers.

He was ordained a priest in 1906 and in 1912, after five years' teaching Latin at another minor seminary, he was assigned the parish priest of Our Lady of Laeken near Brussels. Within a year he had organised groups for over 1000 women including the first young workers groups. The same year he met young Fernand Tonnet, who would become one of the famous 'founder trio' of the embryonic Young Christian Workers movement.

Imprisoned by the occupying German forces during World War I, Cardijn took the opportunity to draft what would become the manual of the future YCW.

Once the war was over, he was back in action with Tonnet, who had also survived the war as a soldier. Together with Paul Garcet and Jacques Meert, they launched the Young Trade Unionists, which in 1924 adopted the name Young Christian Workers.

Pope Pius XI backed Cardijn and the YCW and in 1935, he declared it an "authentic model" of Catholic Action. By the mid-1930s, small YCW movements existed in North and South America, Africa and Asia.

In Australia, Catholic Action supporters Paul McGuire and Kevin T. Kelly were also promoting the YCW. In 1939, Kelly published a short pamphlet which led to its foundation in Australia, particularly under the leadership of Fr Frank Lombard and lay leaders Ted Long and Frank McCann.

By the 1950s, Cardijn was a recognised international figure, touring the world. He gave the keynote address at the first international lay apostolate congress in Rome in 1951. In 1957, he brought 32,000 young workers to Rome for a World Assembly at the Vatican followed by the first International YCW Council.

In a meeting with Pope John XXIII, Cardijn proposed the writing of an encyclical to mark the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum. This became the encyclical Mater et Magistra which also formally recognised the 'See Judge Act' method.

Pope John also named Cardijn to the Commission on Laity preparing Vatican II. In 1965, Pope Paul VI made him a cardinal enabling him to participate fully in the last session of the Council where he gave three speeches.

In 1958, Cardijn made his first visit to Australia speaking at public rallies in Melbourne, Adelaide and elsewhere. He came again in 1966, this time as a cardinal, in one of his last international trips before his death at the age of 84 on 24 July 1967.

Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s ‘See Judge Act’ method for social inquiry

“There are three stages which should normally be followed in the reduction of social principles into practice. First, one reviews the concrete situation; secondly, one forms a judgment on it in the light of these same principles; thirdly, one decides what in the circumstances can and should be done to implement these principles … Knowledge acquired in this way does not remain merely abstract, but is seen as something that must be translated into action.”
-Mater et Magistra (On Christianity and Social Progress)
Pope John XXIII, 1961

What exactly is happening?
Why is this happening?
Who is being affected?

What do you think about all of this?
What do your values, your beliefs, your faith say?
What do you think should be happening?

What exactly would you like to change?
What action are you going to take now?
Whom can you involve in your action?

Photo: Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, © MDHC Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne

Previous Article Stories of hope - Peace is the word
Next Article Face to face with ... Sharon D’Mello


Trending Now