Thoughts of a group of YCW leaders and chaplains

With the next meeting of the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate looming the JOC Internationale published an 8,000 word paper in July 1961 in three languages setting out its Vatican II proposals under the title “Thoughts of a group of YCW leaders and chaplains of North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe submitted to the Preparatory Commission of the 2nd Vatican Council.”

Although many of Cardijn’s ideas are present, stylistically the document clearly reflects the input of those who participated in the reflection process.

In its introduction, the document highlights three critical aspects of concern:

a) The sphere of the lay apostolate

b) Long-term consequences of the Council’s decisions both for Christians and non-Christians

c) A desire for the Church to become “more effectively present in the working class world” in order to “reclaim the masses” who knowingly or unknowingly await “their salvation through its message.

It then sets outs its reflections and proposals in three chapters of the document that follow a see-judge-act format:

Chapter1: The process of industrialisation… The gap between young workers and the Church

“The YCW never works from a definition or a system,” Chapter 1 begins, “but always – and this can be seen from this report – from facts gathered from the ordinary life of hundreds of young working men and women.”

“The majority of young working people, through the conditions in which they live and work, drift further and further away from the Church,” it continues. “To all intents and purposes, they are beyond her reach.”

Thus, despite the fact that the industrial revolution has brought “positive and beneficial elements of great value,” it is also “causing wholesale destruction.” Not only is this impacting Christianity, but “in North Africa it is destroying Islam; in Central Africa, the animist religions; in Asia, Hinduism and Buddhism.”

It characterises the impact of working life as follows:

Working life today, with its modern processes demanding a progressively more advanced technique, its frantic desire for production, its small regard for morality in business, kills the human dignity of the worker – and ’a fortiori’ that of the young worker. But the greater part of his life is spent at work; this is the milieu which has the predominant influence on him.

Again modern life splits the person up into more and more watertight compartments; life at work is a completely self-contained unit: the time spent in travelling, is not in harmony with this time at work, it is spent in the company of another group of people, with different outlook: leisure time bears no relation to the first two activities, on the contrary it serves as a means of escape from the monotony of work; and so family and social life completely lose their link with work. This splitting up and dissection of life depersonalises the young worker: he is no longer able to form an integrated picture of life or to think out his philosophy of life as that of a being who has a dignity all his own; and that, in the final analysis, the true purpose of work, travel, leisure time and family atmosphere should be to serve the dignity of man.

The outcome of all this is “depersonalisation,” “dehumanisation” and ultimately “dechristianisation.” Moreover, such a civilisation “leads the worker to a materialism which in bringing comfort, becomes by that fact the true ‘opium of the people’.” Thus not only is the world confronted by “Marxist Communism” but also by “practical materialism.”

As a result, “more and more the worker is the victim of the powers which operate in industrial society; he goes further and further into a frightening emptiness where no interior motive whatsoever is present to make him think of higher realities.”

All this raises several questions for the Church, which the document outlines as follows:

In these circumstances, is it not up to the Church to go more deeply into certain aspects of her social teaching? Should she not find ways of helping young Christian leaders to work out coherent economic systems and to perfect effective methods? Above all, has not the Church the sacred obligation in every part of this new world to give substance to a deep, strong life and a. faith which can be the Christian driving force of the whole?

Chapter 2: The faith that claims all life… The apostolate and the realities of life… The organisation of the Church

The document begins to seek an answer to these questions in Chapter 2:

The evolution of the modern world, which has now passed into a scientific age, raises for most workers the problem of their allegiance to Christianity. By this very fact, the Church is faced with the problem of the method to be used in persuading young Christian workers to commit themselves to their faith. The way he is guided, instructed and involved in the Christian life must be revised, because as it stands, it is no longer adequate to the mentality and the spiritual needs of the young worker today.

Criticising traditional approaches, it notes that:

The catechism lays great stress on the bare facts of Theology and little indeed on the bearing which the mysteries of the Faith have on the everyday life of the Christian who must be transformed in his resolution to follow Christ by these mysteries. Instruction is given, but it does not easily produce this true faith; the deep commitment of the whole person and the witness of a good life.

And it outlines the Jocist response:

By using its teaching methods in both the secular and religious spheres, the YCW movement does adapt its catechesis to the mentality of the young worker; he is on the look-out for a dynamic ideal which he can live up to by commitment to a person and to solid truths. The YCW lays before him a choice and a loyalty involving his whole being and life. By starting from this commitment (which is both a conscious act of the will and a way of life) it instills a thirst for a doctrine which throws more and more light on perseverance and progress in the act of commitment. At the time when a young worker is about to be baptised or is about to make his First Communion, the YCW does not ask itself: “Has he understood? Is he quite clear about it?” Instead, it asks him: “What steps do you intend to take in order to be a true Christian? Have you decided to change your way of life?” The first stage is always the decision, an initial transformation of the individual’s way of life, attachment to Christ and service to others. Then gradually, further progress is achieved, further demands are made and more abstract truths taught.

What it amounts to is a kind of apprenticeship system of the Christian life for the masses. It begins with a simple act of faith, but leads on to a total commitment.

The key point in this context is to begin with “everyday life and experience,” which is the starting point for kindling “the act of faith in the young worker’s soul.”

“Too often, as far as the priest is concerned,” the document warns, “the study of the life of the people is only an academic matter – like the research undertaken for a thesis – when it ought to be the manifestation of a lasting desire to prepare the way for God’s life which has to take root in soil that is ever changing and always new.”

Thus, “the young worker must, above all, acquire the basic insight into the connection that exists between the gospel – what he hears preached every Sunday from the pulpit – and his daily life.”

“For until he does, he does not know how to live the Christian life,” the document warns. Moreover, “this lack of relevance to everyday life can be seen in practice in many circumstances of the life of the Christian community,” it explains offering several examples:

– The clergy do not always see that the Apostolate is for the layman in day-to-day life; this is his essential mission: far greater importance is laid on what he does, or ought to do, in the service of the parish, helping out with Church services and activities, etc,

– On Sunday, the parish priest gets his parishioners to pray together and teaches them truths, only rarely does he ask them to do something which involves their whole lives. In some countries, the Catholic schools are more preoccupied with ensuring victory (over state schools) in sporting activities, than with training lay apostles who are to go out to lead Christian lives.

– In rural areas (in Asia, for example) many Catholic parents only allow their daughters-out in the evenings to work in the support of the Church, but not to act as lay apostles to some other girl, or in the midst of a family or some other meeting.

On the basis of this experience, “we feel justified in asking that the Council should insist on the importance of the problems of the incarnation which are the gateway to faith and the ground in which it develops,” the document continues.

These problems also raise further questions about the Church’s organisation:

Faced with the world of today, which is changing at a dizzy pace, should not the Church rethink her organisation? This should be done at any rate, in the areas where it is becoming obsolete, because it was devised to evangelise a static world. Even in the village, the parish church is no longer the focus of the activity of the inhabitants, not even of the Christians. A new civilisation has completely shifted the centres of influence and poles of attraction.

Chapter 2 thus suggests several responses including:

More and more the accent will have to be put on an effort to create Christian communities which are completely integrated into society. These should be firmly anchored in the mental background of their members and given their form within the daily round of profane life. This is necessary precisely because these communities must be able to Christianise all the potentialities of the varied environment of which they form part, by reason of the very presence of lay Christians there. If the parish does not change in the face of present-day phenomena of urbanisation and culture, etc., the inner dichotomy which the Christian experiences between his life and religion will be increasingly accentuated.

Chapter 3: Doctrine of work… The apostolate of the working world and young workers

In its response to the above issues, Chapter 3 proposes that the Council “must also, we feel, invite Christians to live and to be active in the world of labour.”

Moreover, “it should recommend them to instil a Christian soul into these organisations: the motive force which urges them to act effectively in this field, and thus give their apostolic witness its true dimension of justice, must be love.”

It continues:

Further, for our part, we must make every effort to see that working conditions themselves correspond to the human dignity of the worker, which we hope to see restored to its full value.

The value of work, the dignity of the worker, the effort in productivity, all ought to be put into a view of creation in which man and his work respond to the divine plan in a lasting collaboration. This presupposes an education for the workers which will embody the doctrine in concrete situations

Chapter 2 also emphasises the need for more and better cooperation between hierarchy and laity:

In all humility and loyal obedience, we wish to stress the importance we attach to frank relations being established between the Church’s Hierarchy and the laity responsible for the apostolate in the world of work

In this context, it offers the example of Bishop Chappoulie of Angers, France, who “each month receives the leaders of the YCW and discusses with them the problems they meet with in the diocese.”

It laments that “too often, the laity are still condemned, at different levels of Church life, to a state of inactivity.” Pointing to possible solutions, it highlights the need for more and better forms of specialisation:

Cannot the Council under new forms insist on what Pius XI has already recommended: “the immediate apostles of the workers will be the workers”? This specialisation of the apostolate is not only valid for the particular needs of industrial society, but for all the most fundamental problems of our time. It is a question of wanting an apostolate and apostolic organisations which specialise less on the foundation of fixed social classes, but rather on the basis and in the terms of the continually more specialised social milieux of the modern world.

Finally, it emphasises the need to stir up an increasing number of priestly vocations from the vocation as well as for a greater focus on Catholic social teaching.


In a concluding section, the YCW leaders and chaplains formulates a series of concrete proposals for the Council:

1. The apostolic role of the laity in the mission of the Church, its own irreplaceable task of witness and leaven at the heart of profane realities and the positive role which it has in the construction of the Church itself, should be affirmed and specified.

2. The imperative and urgent necessity of the apostolate of the workers in the world today should be underlined, as much in the countries in the process of development as in countries technically highly developed; and most particularly the apostolate of the young workers, which stands at the heart of the Christian transformation of the working world.

3. The solemn affirmation of Pope Pius XI in the encyclical “Quadragesimo Anno” should be recalled, declaring that ’”the first and immediate apostles of the workers will be the workers”: the responsibilities of those to whom the Church confides this mission should be specified at the same time as its basic requirements.

4. An appeal should be made to priests in all countries to offer their help as priests to the laity who engage in the apostolate of the worker. They should be ready to support them and help to form their personalities in the way which such important apostolic responsibilities require.

5. Finally, an institution should be created within the government of of the Church to study and take charge of the question of the lay apostolate in the world; this should not only function from the juridical point of view, but from the vital and dynamic aspect of the promotion of a true laity, which can make the message of the Gospel incarnate among the realities of the life in the world today.


JOC Internationale, Thoughts of a group of YCW leaders and chaplains of North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe submitted to the Preparatory Commission of the 2nd Vatican Council, July 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

The Church and the world of work

Five weeks after returning from Rome, Cardijn sent a 5000 word document entitled “L’Eglise face au monde du travail” (The Church facing the world of work) to Archbishop Dell’Acqua to assist in the drafting of an encyclical to mark the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum.

“The note, which I wrote in a single session, focuses particularly on the international aspect of the world of work and the problems it raises. I certainly have not presented the Church’s whole doctrine on justice as would have been necessary. The text in fact is merely a series of reflections drafted by hand without any pretensions.

“I have just opened the book by Fathers Calves (sic, should be Calvez) and Perrin SJ: “Eglise et société économique : l’enseignement social des Papes, de Léon XIII à Pie XII (1878-1953)“. Collection « Théologie » publiée sous la direction de la Faculté de théologie S.J. de Lyon-Fourvière – Editions Montaigne, Paris 1959 (“Church and economic society: the social teaching of the Popes, from Leo XIII to Pius XII (1878-1953)”. “Theology” collection published under the direction of the SJ Faculty of Theology of Lyon- Fourvière – Editions Montaigne, Paris 1959.) It includes a very broad selection of pontifical texts.

“As I suggested to Your Excellency in my previous letter, a study committee could prepare a draft, as was done for Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno.

“I beg Your Excellency’s pardon for the simplicity of my suggestions but I believe that the time is truly ripe for a psychological shock in the world. Perhaps we could announce the new encyclical a little later and thus prepare great publicity for it and a great impact in every continent,” Cardijn wrote.

The Church faces the world of work

He takes up these themes in greater detail in his actual note, which is organised around his iconic Three Truths of Reality (See), Faith (Judge) and Method (Act) dialectic.

I. Truth of Reality: The universal dimension of the problem

“Never has the worker problem experienced the dimension, significance or gravity that it has today,” Cardijn begins in his usual apocalyptic style. “All the more so since its present dimensions do not signify the ultimate end point; on the contrary this is merely the beginning of a vertiginous transformation, both concerning work itself and all the actors who are engaged in it, and concerning the unheard of repercussions of this transformation on all aspects of the life of the whole of humanity.

“Not only the manner and life of work have been and are continuing to be transformed from day to day, but labour is in the process of turning the whole world on its head, creating an increasingly technological world, changing the very regime of work as well as the various aspects of human life – personal, family, social, cultural and recreational, political, national and international,” he insisted.

He continued noting that while both Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum) and Pius XI (Quadragesimo Anno) had dealt with the issue of work and labour in their encyclicals, Pius XII had not done so even if he had taken up various aspects in many of his speeches.

Now, however, the issues of work and labour had taken on a “universal dimension.”

“Today, the future of work has become a global problem, the No. 1 problem, one might say. It is increasingly becoming so: through the perfecting of new labour processes, which have spread rapidly in every country and among all races; through the growing number of wage workers, both young and adult – and particularly women and young girls – in all sectors of professional life (production, trade, finance, administration, teaching, transport, publicity); through the power of new technologies which overcome all obstacles and thus transform the face of continents as well as the life of peoples; through scientific, social and ultimately philosophical problems that have led to this evolution, through which man increasingly masters matter at the risk of allowing himself to become dominated by it,” Cardijn wrote.

He paints a dramatic picture of the effects of all this:

“It is technology with its applications in every aspect of life – which enables the most primitive peoples to move without any transition to the most modern conditions of life; it is also technology which multiplies the tentacles of urban and industrial agglomerations, which are also the source of deep-seated uprootedness; it is also technology which responds with irresistible advertising for the most unhealthy products, the most upsetting processes and aspirations, the most sensational news.

“In the frenzied race to conquer the world and the insatiable search for immediate profit, work, expenses and the labour regime, the growing number of workers are all dragged into a world that is divided into two economic groups: the under-developed and the over-developed, and into two ideological groups: the communist world and the capitalist world. This economic, social, cultural and ideological transformation is unfolding under our very eyes at a time when so many new peoples, and especially in Africa, which are achieving independence and are seeking capital, technicians, political alliances which will assist them to achieve their destiny.”

II. Truth of Faith: The truth about work and the world of the worker

Cardijn continues with one of the most developed outlines of his theology of work.

“In the present conditions of the world transformed by work, the anniversary of Rerum Novarum presses the Church to proclaim more solemnly still the TRUTHS which must be the base of a world regime for truly human and Christian labour. It has received a divine mandate to spread the knowledge of it,” he wrote.

1. The end of work is the transformation of the wealth of nature for the service of people and for the glory of God.

Work is not a punishment for sin, a kind of condemnation. Nor is it the supreme end for those who work; one cannot turn it into an absolute, a god.

Human work is a privilege, an honour, because it demands the collaboration of man in the divine work of Creation and Redemption in order to satisfy in an increasingly adequate way the needs of the community. Without work, there is no genuine humanity, no genuine civilisation. The fatigues and abuses that accompany work are the consequences of sin.

Therefore workers are not “the wretched of the earth”, machines or slaves; they are not objects, instruments of toys; they are the sons and daughters of God; they are the very end of work.

2. This is why the Church, as divine Providence itself, desires, encourages and recognises the value and the legitimacy of all progress in science and technology. It wants them, not for the benefit of a tiny minority, but so that they will enable the needs, both spiritual and material, of the whole of humanity to be satisfied.

3. Technological and economic progress demands an increasingly sophisticated organisation of labour, within which various interests must be reconciled for the good of all.

4. The more the world of labour becomes an international complex, either in the sourcing and use of new products, or in the search for new manufacturing processes, or in the distribution of products manufactured on a market that has become global, the more the sense of responsibility and international justice must inspire a collaboration and a solidarity, that ensures the access of all in justice – not the privileged few but the innumerable mass of the most humble – in all the material and spiritual progress of civilisation.

5. However no form of economic, social or cultural organisation – as perfect as one could conceive of it and implement it – will be able alone to transform man (individual human life, family life and social life), neither to satisfy all the needs, whether secular or religious.

One can only arrive there by spreading, inculcating a new conception of the world, a unified and solidary world; and in changing the mentalities on the basis of mutual understanding and assistance; and to say it all by changing people in line with the teaching of the Gospel.

This transformation of man from the inside must be the object of an ongoing education: that of the child, that of the young man and of the young girl, that of the adult. And it will be all the more necessary in the future, since personal and social life will be more influenced by technology and by the complexity of human problems to resolve.

An integral human education supposes and demands a climate of freedom and unconditional support which alone can guarantee its effectiveness. Religion must play a fundamental role in the whole effort of social and international education. Also the Church has the right to respect and consideration all the more necessary since its task in this field will be increasingly urgent and more difficult. In such a manner that its action powerfully helps to give a real value to technological progress: far from enslaving or downgrading man, it must serve to raise and save him, in order to finally result in a totally solidary humanity.

III. Truth of Method: The specific role of the Church

“The Church’s mission is not to realise itself the transformations which have just been mentioned, nor to create scientific, technological, economic, social and political institutions responsible for the world of labour. The means for achieving these objectives forms part of the immediate responsibility and initiative of people themselves, both governments and private associations,” Cardijn writes.

“However, as has been said, the Church has the duty to spread the eternal truths that must guide both individuals and collectivities in the search and use of technologies and institutions, which all must be at the service of man, his temporal vocation and his eternal destiny. Teaching these truths, integrating them into the whole of human and Christian life, forms an integral part of its evangelising mission, in which the hierarchy, the priesthood and the laity have their distinct but essential roles in the expansion of the Reign of God on earth.

“And while it wants to achieve the full dimensions of this task, the Church cannot allow itself to be enclosed in the community of the faithful which constitute it; it must open out to all people of good will. This is why it wishes to collaborate with all the human institutions, both private and public, national and international, which seek in the respect of their reciprocal mission, the means to ensure the happiness of peoples and the Reign of God,” Cardijn explained.

The Church had several specific roles in this, Cardijn proposed:

a) Teaching the social doctrine of the Church

b) Formation of the laity

c) Formation of young people in particular for the world of work

d) Promoting collaboration and fraternal union.

A manifesto for Vatican II

Although he made no mention at all of the coming Council, it is difficult to interpret this magisterial document as anything other than his own personal manifesto and proposed agenda for the Council.


Original French

Cardijn à Archbishop Dell’Acqua (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, L’Eglise et le monde du travail (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

English Translations

Cardijn to Archbishop Dell’Acqua (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, The Church and the world of labour (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)