Cardijn’s friend and colleague, the French Dominican theologian, Yves Congar, who had just launched his own conciliar diary, has left us a colourful if not positively disdainful description of the launch ceremony for the newly constituted preparatory commissions:
“What a performance!” Congar wrote. “Papal gendarmes or Swiss guards in full uniform everywhere. The actual arrangements were impeccable. But what ceremonial, what a display of pomp! We were shown into a tribune, where I went and sat beside Fr de Lubac. The whole length of St Peter’s has been fitted out with tribunes, armchairs. A fantastic equipage of fellows in crimson uniforms, Swiss guards in helmets, holding their halberds with proud bearing. All the colleges in Rome have been mobilised and there were certainly a good ten thousand people present. Why? What a waste of time!
“At about ten minutes past eleven, the Credo was intoned and the Pope came in on foot. It was a good moment. But then the Sistine choir sang a theatrical “Tu es Petrus’: mediocre opera. The 10,000 people, the forty cardinals, the 250 or 300 bishops, said nothing. One only will have the right to speak. As for the Christian people, they are there neither by right nor in fact. I sensed the blind door of the underlying ecclesiology. It is the ostentatious ceremonial of a monarchical power.
“The Pope read a text in Italian which I did not fully understand, but which seemed to me very banal…
“Alas! After giving his blessing (alone, always alone, to the 10,000, the 300, the 40…), the Pope got up and departed, enthroned on the sedia;- stupid applause. The Pope made a gesture as if to say: alas, I can do nothing about it,” Congar concluded.
We have no record of Cardijn’s own feelings about the ceremony but Congar’s comments probably offer a good proxy – except that the JOC founder would, as always, have sought to focus on the positives of the event.
Moreover, Cardijn would have quickly latched onto the fact that among the large number of bishops and priests who were present, he did have allies, beginning with Congar.
These allies, whose presence is noted by Congar, also included the sociologist, Canon Fernand Boulard, the Belgian Dominican, Jérôme Hamer, Cardijn’s publisher Jean-Pierre Dubois-Dumée as well as Cardinal Liénart, Archbishop Emile Guerry and Gabriel Garrone, the latter of whom who had written a book explaining the concept of Specialised Catholic Action and defending it from critics including the Belgian, Léon-Joseph Suenens, an auxiliary bishop in Cardijn’s own diocese of Malines-Brussels.
Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council, ATF Press, 2012, 25.