The priesthood and the place of the laity in the Church

On 13 October 1961, L’Osservatore Romano published an article entitled “Le sacerdoce et la place des laïcs dans l’Eglise,” being the text of a speech delivered by Cardinal Fernando Cento to the Second Theology Congress organised by the Dominican Study Centre in Bologna.

In his article, Cardinal Cento borrows heavily from Bishop De Smedt’s pastoral letter on the priesthood of the faithful.


Bishop De Smedt Archives, Bruges Diocesan Archives

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)

Mater et Magistra adopts the see-judge-act

On 15 May 1961, Pope John XXIII published his encyclical Mater et Magistra commemorating the 70th anniversary of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.

Belgian priest, Fr Basil Maes, the future national director of the Belgian Catholic development agency, Broederlijk Delen, and chaplain to Caritas Catholica Belgica, later recalled Cardijn’s joy on hearing of its publication.

“I still see him joyfully entering my room, enthusiastically shouting: ‘Basil, it’s happened! See, judge, act!’.”

Indeed, §236-237 of the new encyclical had explicitly endorsed the jocist see-judge-act method:

236. 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. These are the three stages that are usually expressed in the three terms: look, judge, act.

237. It is important for our young people to grasp this method and to practice it. Knowledge acquired in this way does not remain merely abstract, but is seen as something that must be translated into action.

As we have seen, this was the culmination of much effort and advocacy, beginning with his proposal to Pope John XXIII, his and Marguerite Fiévez’s advocacy with others including Mgr Pietro Pavan and no doubt many others.

Less explicitly, the encyclical also adopted much of Cardijn’s positive theology of work, not as a punishment or merely a means of earning a livelihood but as a sharing in God’s work of creation.


A new encyclical to update Rerum Novarum (Cardijn @ Vatican II)

French original

Joseph Cardijn, L’Eglise face au monde du travail (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

English translation

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

French original

Joseph Cardijn, Les prêtres et la doctrine sociale de l’Eglise (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

English translation

Joseph Cardijn, Priests and the social doctrine of the Church (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

The Church and the world of work (Cardijn @ Vatican II)

Fiévez writes to Pavan about Cardijn’s suggested encyclical (Cardijn @ Vatican II)

French original

Marguerite Fiévez à Pietro Pavan 1960 12 23 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

English translation

Marguerite Fiévéz to Pietro Pavan 1960 12 23 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

A visit to Archbishop Dell’Acqua (Cardijn @ Vatican II)

Original French

Aide-Mémoire Mgr Dell’Acqua 06 02 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

English translation

Aide-Memoire Archbishop Angelo Dell’Acqua 06 02 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Stefan Gigacz, Cardijn’s proposal to John XXIII (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, Cardijn, work and the worker (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, Mater et Magistra endorses the See Judge Act (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, Cardijn and the theology of work in Mater et Magistra (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, See Judge Act at Vatican II (Cardijn Research)

Stefan Gigacz, John XXIII’s New Pentecost (The Leaven in the Council)

Stefan Gigacz, The Three Truths in Gaudium et Spes (The Leaven in the Council)

JOC leaders meet with Christian Worker movements

FIMOC-ACO-JOCI 25 09 1960

On 25 September 1960, JOC Internationale leaders, Romeo Maione and Maria Meersman, met for “Conversations” with leaders of the French Action Catholique Ouvrière (ACO) and the Fédération Internationale de Mouvements Ouvriers Chrétiens (FIMOC).

The three movements had been in contact and “conversation” since 1958. Discussions were under way about the possibility and the desirability of uniting the ACO, the member movements of the FIMOC and other JOC-inspired Christian Worker movements around the world in a broader international movement that would take the place of the FIMOC.

History of the FIMOC

In 1920, Dutch and Italian Christian democrats proposed to the Belgian Federation of Worker Leagues (Fédération des Ligues Ouvrières) the creation of an international structure.

Conferences in Cologne in 1929 and in Utrecht in 1931 and 1934 led to the creation of an “Association internationale sociale chrétienne” which brought together employers, workers groups, farmers groups and middle class (professional) groups.

According to Jacques Meert, eventually, only the worker wing remained. After World War II, a Swiss initiative sought to revive this leading to a first European meeting in 1948.

This led in 1952 to the foundation of the Fédération internationale des mouvements ouvriers catholiques.

Since then the ACO in France had also emerged as a Specialised Catholic Action movement but which was not part of the FIMOC.

This led eventually to discussion of the creation of a new international movement bringing together the various strands of the Christian worker movement.

Celebration of the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum

In the short term, however, the meeting looked into a proposal to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, which was due in May 1961, with an event that would take place in Rome coinciding with the anniversary.


Fédération des cercles ouvriers catholiques belges (

Jacques Meert, Note introductive sur l’évolution de l’action sociale chrétienne au niveau international (Archives Cardijn 1304)

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)

A new encyclical to update Rerum Novarum

Cardijn arrived in Rome in late February 1960 with IYCW president, Romeo Maione.

According to his notes of the trip, he was filled with “pessimism” after the first two days of meetings with several priests and with the ACLI, the Italian Catholic labour movement.

All this was transformed, however, when he met with Archbishop Dell’Acqua who informed him that he had been able to arrange a private audience with John XXIII.

This took place on 2 March 1960.

And as he had foreshadowed in his preparatory notes, Cardijn did indeed propose an encyclical to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, which was due in May 1961.

Here are his notes of the meeting in the original French although it is not always easy to distinguish what Cardijn himself had said from what John had told him:

“Mercredi des Cendres 2 mars I960 (11.45 heures à 12.15 heures) – Audience privée.

1. Voilà la Jeunesse et voilà la vigueur !

2. Remerciements pour messages à Lima, à Kuala-Lumpur, à Léopoldville. Des chefs, des responsables. Importance des trois continents.

3. Il faut être ouvert à tous: orthodoxes, protestants et tous les autres. Ne pas être contre, mais pour ; les comprendre. Les catholiques ont aussi leurs défauts et leurs fautes. (A clarifier ! : Note manuscrite de Marguerite Fiévez)

Ne pas s’arrêter à des points accessoires. Les 12 articles du Credo suffisent.

4. Les catholiques s’opposent parfois à la réunion ; par ex. en Angleterre. Ils ont souffert pendant trois siècles.

5. Le problème du travail en 1960 n’est plus celui de Léon XIII, ni même de Pie XI. Personne n’aurait pu prévoir ses dimensions, son unité, son universalité, sa technicité. Les grandes Institutions internationales : le BIT, l’UNESCO, l’ECOSOC, etc…toutes ces influences sur toutes les races, sur toute la jeunesse. Une encyclique sur le monde du travail d’aujourd’hui ferait plus de sensation que Rerum Novarum et Quadragesimo Anno. Mais positive, ouverte aux collaborations nécessaires.

Il faut faire une note là-dessus et l’envoyer.

J’ai vécu longtemps avec Deploige, Pottier, Mgr Vanneufville, Tiberghien. Le Cardinal Mercier est venu à Bergamo.


Prêtres ouvriers reçus par le Saint Père


Le Synode de Rome : Il y a cinquante ans, 100.000 habitants à Rome – maintenant, 2 Millions.

On va canoniser bientôt un Cardinal. Se promenant un jour près de Padoue au milieu des enfants, il disait aux mères : « Courage, le bon Dieu donnera de plus grandes marmites ». (A Romeo) Vous êtes marié ? et vous avez deux enfants – quel âge ont-ils ? on attend un troisième.

L’indépendance du Congo. Autorité du Roi Baudhuin. La nature ne fait pas de saints. Il faut des périodes de transition.

Photo – bénédiction pour tous – accolades.”

And here is an English translation:

“Ash Wednesday 2 March, I960 (11.45 a.m. to 12.15 p.m.) – Private audience.

1. Look at these Young People and look at the vigour!

2. Thanks for messages for Lima, Kuala-Lumpur, Leopoldville. Heads, leaders. Importance of the three continents.

3. We need to be open to everyone: Orthodox, Protestants and everyone else. Not to be against, but for; understand them. Catholics also have their faults and errors. (To be clarified!: Handwritten note from Marguerite Fiévez)

Don’t waste time on incidental points. The 12 articles of the Creed are sufficient.

4. Catholics sometimes oppose reunion; eg. in England. They suffered for three centuries.

5. The problem of work in 1960 is no longer that of Leo XIII, nor even of Pius XI. No one could have foreseen its dimensions, its unity, universality, technicality. The major international institutions: the ILO, UNESCO, ECOSOC, etc … all these influences on every race, on all young people. An encyclical on today’s world of work would create a greater sensation than Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. But positive, open to necessary collaborations.

A note about it needs to be drafted and sent.

I lived for a long time with Deploige, Pottier, Mgr Vanneufville, Tiberghien. Cardinal Mercier came to Bergamo.


Worker priests received by the Holy Father


The Rome Synod Rome: Fifty years ago, 100,000 inhabitants in Rome – now 2 million.

We will soon canonise a Cardinal. Walking one day near Padua among the children, he said to the mothers: “Courage, the good Lord will give larger pots”. (To Romeo) Are you married? and you have two children – how old are they? we are waiting for a third.

The independence of the Congo. Authority of King Baudouin. Nature does not make saints. Transition periods are necessary.

Photo – blessing for all – braces.”

In any event, it is clear that the three men had a wide-ranging discussion. John was obviously concerned with interfaith issues but Cardijn managed to get his point across about the need for an encyclical.

Later, Cardijn spelt out further details of his conversation with the pope as follows:

“The [social] question is not the same in 1960 as it was in the time of Leo XIII or even in the days of Pius XI,” he told the pope.

“An encyclical on the world of work of today would have even more influence than Rerum Novarum or Quadragesimo Anno, but an encyclical that is positive and open to all the collaboration required!” he suggested, no doubt also with an eye to the forthcoming Council.

John responded positively asking Cardijn to detail his proposal in a written note that Cardijn would waste no time in drafting.

Worker priests

Significant too is the reference to worker priests visiting John XXIII, who had been nuncio in France when they first began to have problems with the Holy See under Pius XII.

Moreover, the clampdown had continued under his pontificate with a new directive nine months earlier prohibiting priests from working fulltime outside the Church.

But what did Cardijn say or ask? What was John’s response?

Personal links

John’s comments that he had lived with Deploige, Pottier, Vanneufville and Tiberghien are also illuminating.

A lawyer who later became a priest, Simon Deploige had been Cardijn’s sociology and social economy professor at Louvain in 1906. Fr Antoine Pottier was a Belgian priest, who promoted a just wage, cooperatives and trade unions who was eventually transferred to Rome after opposition from local conservative politicians.

Gaston Vanneufville and Jules Tiberghien were two French priests from Lille, who had strong links with the Catholic social movement there and who had assisted the Sillon during their period of difficulties. Later Fr Vanneufville also helped Cardijn navigate the Roman bureaucracy.

If Cardijn and John had felt a bond after their first meeting in 1959, the discovery of these close personal links must have drawn them even closer.



Joseph Cardijn, Visite à Rome, février – mars 1960 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Joseph Cardijn, Visit to Rome, February – March 1960 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Preparing a visit to Rome

As usual, Cardijn’s preparation for his planned trip to Rome in late February 1960 was minutious.

Even the list of people he planned to visit is impressive.

Archbishop Angelo Dell’Acqua, the Substitute at the Vatican, with whom Cardijn has been in regular contact since his appointment in 1954 to replace Mgr Montini, who had been promoted to archbishop of Milan.

Cardinal Fernando Cento had previously been nuncio to Belgium from 1946 to 1953.

A tough-minded conservative who had been Substitute for Pope Pius XI from 1929-35, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani had only recently been appointed as Secretary to the Vatican Holy Office. The son of a working-class baker, Ottaviani, was sympathetic to Cardijn and the JOC.

Now the Secretary of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Archbishop Pietro Sigismondi was previously the nuncio to Rwanda the Belgian colony that hosted one of the strongest JOC movements in Africa.

Lebanese-born Cardinal François Agagianian was the Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.

Soon to be appointed as a cardinal, Archbishop Pietro Marella became nuncio to France succeeding the then-Archbishop Roncalli in 1953 and would serve in that role until the end of 1959.

Archbishop Antonio Samorè was the secretary of the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, the foreign affairs branch of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Cardijn knew and had working relationships if not friendships with them all.

In addition to these Vatican personalities, Cardijn planned to see Fr Jean-Baptiste Janssens, the Belgian-born superior general of the Jesuits, along with the heads of other missionary orders whose priests worked closely with the JOC, including the Oblates, White Fathers and Holy Cross Fathers.

He planned to visit Archbishop Maximilien de Fürstenberg, the rector of the Belgian College in Rome. Interestingly, he also planned to visit the Opus Dei priest, Fr (now Blessed) Alvaro del Portillo, who was on the “Commission laïcs pour le Concile” (Laity Commission for the Council).

In addition, he also foreshadowed a visit to Mgr Achille Glorieux, the French-born former JOC chaplain from Lille, who was secretary to the Permanent Committee for the Apostolate of the Laity.

Most of the topics Cardijn listed for his discussions revolved around the work of the YCW on the various continents and regions.

Particularly interesting and significant, however, is Cardijn’s note of issues to raise with Archbishop Dell’Acqua:

“Peut-on suggérer une Encycllque ?

a/ à l’occasion du 70ème anniversaire de Rerum Novarum, sur ‘L’Eglise face au monde du travail’

b/ pour dissiper le désarroi et la confusion sur « L’ Apostolat des laïcs ».”

“Could we suggest an Encyclical,” Cardijn asks,

“a/ on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum on “The Church and the world of work”

“b/ to dissipate the disarray and confusion over ‘The Lay Apostolate’.”

“The Church and the World of Work” and “The Lay Apostolate”: two themes at the heart of Cardijn’s mission.

Clearly, he was also highly concerned about the “disarray” and “confusion” over the latter.

Although he makes no specific mention of the Council, surely it was not absent from Cardijn’s thoughts.


Voyage à Rome de Mgr Cardijn et Romeo Maione (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Trip to Rome of Mgr Cardijn and Romeo Maione (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)