The apostolic nature of the YCW

The Rio de Janeiro YCW International Council concluded on 11 November 1961.

Replacing outgoing international president, Romeo Maione, was Brazilian, Bartolo Perez.

Other key decisions of the Council included the adoption of an orientation document, “The Apostolic Nature of the YCW.”

Structured as a Three Truths dialectic, the document’s aim was to “try to take the basic fundamentals as outlined by Monsignor Cardijn, and apply them to our advancing YCW.”

“The YCW started, starts and restarts,” the document continued, “with the exercise of the YCW dialectic.

“It started with Monsignor Cardijn when he discovered that the reality of working life clashed viciously with the ideal of working life as taught by the Church. It starts in the heart of a young worker when he discovers through his YCW enquiries that the truth of reality often clashes with the truth of faith. It is from this clash that the YCW was born, and continues to be born, in our world of today. The YCW – wherever it starts, is faithful to its dialectic – a dialectic which takes the form of regular see-judge-act enquiries in life. Because of this, the YCW can be an international movement whilst still retaining its Asian, African, or American characteristics each YCW remaining faithful to the fundamentals, yet distinct in its handling of the problems which arise due to the clash between the reality and the ideal in every country.”

Truth of Faith

“The basic truth of faith is that which is contained in the revealed truth of the Church,” the document says. “By Baptism, we are admitted into the family of God, creator of the world, maker of all – of atomic energy, of modern science and technology and of the delicate beauty of a rose in bloom; we become a brother of Christ, the God-man, who came into the world to live with us and finally delivered himself on a Cross out of His infinite love for us. Why? In order to give us another chance to do the will of His Father – to go out and complete the creation started by God.”

“In short, our faith gives us a whole new insight into the condition of man, his wonderful calling to be a Son of God, his mission, his work, his talents. The YCW teaches us to “stand in awe of our fellow-man,” so important and irreplaceable in the Plan of God.”

Truth of Reality

“Although the YCW starts with the truth of faith, it is the ‘see’ part of the enquiries that gives us the anvil, so that the iron of life can be shaped by the blacksmiths hammer. Because of the act of faith inherent in the YCW, our eyes begin to see the reality. Through our local and national enquiries, we begin to see and to note this truth of reality. We become conscious of what is really happening around-us. In and through our daily lives – through a spirit of enquiry — we probe even deeper into reality.

“Before going on to the main part of this report, we must pause for a moment to put the truth of reality – as discovered by the young worker – within the context of a larger truth of reality – the speeding development of our modern world. The YCW whose basic mission is to young workers, must be awake to the large-scale problems that have such repercussions on the lives of young workers. We must be prepared to understand the larger forces at work in our world so as to better serve the young workers.

The problems of working youth – the mission of the YCW – must be discovered and solved in a world, in deep social crisis, in a world that is moving from the simple to the complex, from the small village to the big city, from the artisan to the large factory, in a world which is dominated by the twin forces of science and technology.”

Major issues identified included: demographic forces, colonialist structures, migration and atomic power.

“Add all these forces together and the result is the demolishing of the old traditional order concurrent with the construction of a social order based on new international political and economic realities.”

It identifies the problem of exploitation as “a major factor of the modern world.”

“The worker is something akin to a machine – to be used for production and then thrown aside. This fact is very evident in the areas which are just coming in contact with the modern world. The person is alone, unprotected, and at the tender mercy of those who put production before the person.”

The result is that people ask themselves many questions: “Who am I? What am I? Where am I going? What is life all about? And finally, is life worth living?”

“These are the tearing, searching and penetrating questions asked by modern youth. These are the questions that the YCW must answer.”

The apostolic nature of the YCW

The document warns that “the tendency to consider the YCW only as a social action movement persists.”

“This confusion should not surprise us too much – after all the YCW does not limit itself to speaking about Christ, but lives Christ – in our factories, offices, mines, plantations, etc. How can Christ, living in the militant Christian, stand aloof from his fellow man busily and urgently building a family, a neighbourhood, and a more just world. Charity demands that the YCW leader do something about the real problems of young workers and at the same time bring the young workers to Christ.”

“It would be, of course, much simpler to say that the YCW should just spread the good news of the gospels and leave material problems to others,” the document continues. “If so, what must the YCW leader do in face of the glaring problems of social injustice which he discovers in his enquiries? When he finds, for example, that the regulations covering a certain apprenticeship program are not being respected – is it enough for him just, to pray, and ask God to change things? Or must he feel responsible for bringing about the necessary changes?”


The apostolic nature of the YCW (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Joseph Cardijn, The Three Truths (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Call for worldwide survey of working conditions

PETROPOLIS, Brazil, Nov. 9 — Young Christian Workers from 85 countries unanimously called for a worldwide survey of working conditions of young workers and resolved to set up an international program for vocational training for young people entering the labor force.

Some 350 delegates gathered here for the YCW’s second international congress (Nov. 2 to 11). They had held no similar meeting since their first congress in Rome in 1957.

Present for the meeting in this resort city was Msgr. Joseph Cardijn, 80-year-old founder of the movement. The congress began with a Mass offered by Jaime Cardinal de Barros Camara, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, during which the various delegations recited prayers in their own languages.

The congress was opened officially by Canada’s Romeo Maione, outgoing president of the International YCW, in the presence of high dignitaries of Church and State. Archbishop Armando Lombardi, Apostolic Nuncio to Brazil, read a letter sent on behalf of His Holiness Pope John XXIII.

“There is no doubt,” the letter said, “that this meeting will result in new missionary development and strengthen the union of young workers of All races and colors in the Mystical Body of Christ.”

The general program of the YCW was outlined by Malone in his keynote address.

“Basically,” he said, “our task here is to do something about the problems of working youth, but at the same time we must realize how the problems of young workers exist within the context of larger problems which are now sweeping the earth… Modern times demand heroic virtue. Man is hungry for peace, and ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.'”

Maione mentioned such current problems as population growth, the upheavals accompanying the end of the colonial era, migration, education and the breaking-up of family life.

But he indicated that the greatest problem is the decline of religious influence on society: “When religious values start to slide, so also does respect for the human person. Without God what is man? Without God humanism is a lie. What is man worth? Why respect him? This slippery trail leads us into confusion once again and the world becomes a Jungle where the strong do what they will with the weak.”

Calling for the construction of a new social order which is broad and realistic, Maione said: “There are few men, if any, who can prophesy about the future structure of the world. If we are humble, we must all admit that we are not competent to say how the present and future discoveries of science will affect our social structure.”

He insisted that out of the prevailing international anarchy of today anew social order based on the masses of mankind must emerge.

If the traditional ruling classes are in danger of decay today, he said, it is because they have refused to adapt, or have proved themselves incapable of adapting, to the task of the just organization of anew world.

The congress, besides calling for a survey of working conditions throughout the world and for an international training program also voted for permanent mutual aid programs between YCW groups.

It urged YCW action on behalf of workers at both the national level and before such organizations as the U.N. Economic and Social Council, the International Labor Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization.

Also approved were two appeals:

  • That men of good will “cooperate in the efforts of young workers to build a more Just and more human world, placing themselves at the service of the community and avoiding any kind of individualism”
  • That national government and international organizations “strive together” for world peace, and “carry out their mission by fulfilling the urgent aspirations of the people and bring about respect for the human person.”


YCWs of 85 countries call for worker survey, wider vocational work (N.C.W.C. NEWS SERVICE)

Papal message for the Rio Council

One of Cardijn’s concerns while in Rome was evidently to ensure that there was a papal message for the imminent International Council of the YCW due to start shortly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He was not disappointed.

On 25 October 1961, Cardinal Amleto Cicognani addressed a letter on behalf of John XXIII to (outgoing) IYCW president, Romeo Maione.

“The presence at this Brazilian meeting of nearly 300 national leaders of the Y.C.W. of all countries is a witness to the vitality of your movement throughout the world and there is no doubt that this meeting will result in a new missionary development and strengthen the union of young workers of all races and colours in the Mystical Body of Christ,” Cardinal Cicognani wrote.

“The Holy Father, who is extremely pleased by the progress accomplished by the Y.C.W.’s, encourages them with all his heart to go forward, strengthened by the grace of Christ Jesus. For it is in Him that they must be, as the Apostle says, “rooted and built up, and confirmed in the faith, abounding in Him in thanksgiving,” (Col. 2, 7). What a splendid task it is to share in the redemption of all the working youth of the world and to reveal to it, no matter what be its material, moral and spiritual misery, the image of the living God, creator and redeemer of our souls!

“Thus the Y.C.W.’s, by their very life, their work sanctified by the state of grace, and their action based on prayer and nourished with sacramental graces, will share in the edification of the body of Christ (Eph, A, 12). United in the friendship and animated by charity, their constant concern will be to achieve a personal apostolate in their environment, in union with the other Catholic youth movements, and to give to their working comrades the example of an attractive Christian community.

Preparing young workers for family life

Evidently, Cardinal Cicognani had been well briefed on the topics the Council was to deal with.

“The programme of these days of study is largely concerned with “the preparation of young workers for family life” and the international action of the Y,C.W. ,” he continued. “These are without doubt two subjects of capital importance.    

“For it is absolutely necessary that, in the upheavals of the modern world, the family should retain its character as a sacred sanctuary, in which man and woman fulfil themselves in conjugal love and the joys of fatherhood and mother hood. The Y.C.W. has already done a great deal, but it will never do enough to train these young people, who to morrow will be the heads of families and the guardians of homes. And we must rejoice that its representatives should make their voice heard at the great international organizations in favour of legislation enabling still more all young workers to enjoy conditions of life and work permitting the greater human and Christian fulfilment of their personalities.

Mater et Magistra

And Cardinal Cicognani did not miss the opportunity to mention Pope John’s recent encyclical, Mater et Magistra, which had been suggested by Cardijn himself and specifically recommended the Jocist “see-judge-act” method.

“The Holy Father, who again recently has expressed his paternal solicitude for all workers in his Encyclical Letter MATER ET MAGISTRA, is hoping that the Rio de Janeiro meeting will mark a new development of the Y.C.W., especially in the countries of Latin America, which are so dear to him.

“And that is why he grants a fatherly Apostolic Blessing to tireless Mgr. Cardijn, to yourself who are to preside this meeting, to all taking part in this Second International Council, and to all the chaplains and leaders of the great Y.C.W. family throughout the world.

“I am happy to send you this precious encouragement of His Holiness and I should like to express my own best wishes for the work of the leaders of the groat international Catholic movement of young workers,” the cardinal concluded.



Cardinal Amleto Cicognani – Romeo Maione 25 10 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Cardinal Amleto Cicognani – Romeo Maione 25 10 1961 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (

Amleto Cardinal Cicognani (Catholic Hierarchy)

A leaven of expanding influence

On 23 October 1961, Archbishop D’Souza of Nagpur, India wrote to the Indian YCW chaplain, Fr Rupert, who was preparing to leave for the YCW International Council in Rio de Janeiro.

“My dear Father Rupert,

“I am sorry I could not get a message across to you before you left, as I was out of station for a while. I do hope I am not late in reaching you. We have just finished two Conferences here – one of the Bishops of the Region and the other an Interdiocesan Conference of Priests, where, among other things, we discussed the question of the social uplift of our people. The Y.C.W. as is but natural figured in our discussions.

“I would have loved to be present on an occasion like this when our young Christian workers, from all over the world, have assembled together. However, I shall follow all your proceedings in spirit and in prayer. This is indeed, an unique occasion which can spell great things for the Church and I wish you to convey to Mr. Romeo Maione my heartiest congratulations. Tell him from all of us, how deeply interested we are in this Conference and also in the programme that the Y.C.W. has chalked out for itself for the spiritual welfare of the working classes. We here in India have pledged ourselves to make the Y.C.W. a leaven of expanding influence and a power for good. To this end also, our Five Year Plan will give us an opportunity to spread the Y.C.W. far and wide till it infiltrate into every industrial area where its presence is needed.

“Remember me also to all our Delegates and I am sure all of you will give a good account of yourselves. We shall be waiting to hear the results of your deliberations.

“With my heartfelt blessing and best wishes for a successful Conference and tour.

Yours devotedly in Christ,

(+ Eugene D’Souza)

Archbishop of Nagpur.

Director of the Section for the Lay Apostolate”



Archives JOCI

The Layman and the Council… Does the Layman ‘Belong’?

Romeo Maione, a Canadian with long experience in the lay apostolate is currently international president of the Young Christian Workers. He sends this article from Belgium. He recently visited Rome for meetings in connection with the anniversary of the social encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI. He will return to Canada at the end of this year to become assistant to the director of the Social Action Department of the Canadian Catholic Conference.


A few years ago, a small group of highly regarded theologians met to discuss the role of the layman in the Church. The principal result of their discussion nicely illustrates a central problem in the life of the Church today. For nothing like a consensus on the role of the layman came out of the meeting. The theologians could agree only that the layman is neither priest nor Religious. Around the world. hopes are running high that the Fathers of the forthcoming Ecumenical Council will have something positive to say about the role of the layman. And there is good reason to believe that these hopes are well-founded. In response to the calls of modern popes, laymen have begun to shoulder more and more responsibility for action. Indeed, the question is no longer whether laymen can bear the responsibility of carrying the Christian message into everyday life, but how far to go.

Lay apostles sincerely attempting to “restore all things in Christ” according to the mandate of Pope St. Pius X are asking for clarification of the limits of their responsibility and the extent of their autonomy. In the absence of a consensus on the necessary distinctions, too-easy solutions have often been provided. Those who have advanced near temporal-spiritual distinctions, and would limit the involvement of the Church in our time to the purely spiritual level, have learned that circumstances demand something more. Many questions are heard, but perhaps the most familiar and the most critical could be put this way; “How far can the lay apostolate go into the temporal order without committing the Church to detailed, debatable, political or economic programs?”

The failure to resolve this question led to the division of the vast and well-organized family movement in France in 1950. One element wanted to plunge into the political field to solve the pressing housing problems, while others insisted the movement remain purely educational. The movement finally split, and the French hierarchy set up a new apostolate to insure live spiritual development of the two movements. Other examples of how pressing this particular question can be have occurred in Australia, Italy and Spain. In Australia, a lay apostolate organization called simply “the Movement” did a very effective job of clearing the communists out of the trade unions, then tried to clean up the small minority of communists in the Labour Party The Labour Party asked the Movement to stop its activities. It didn’t. The Labour Party condemned the Movement and, in time, the Movement split the Labour Party. In Italy, the ACLI (Associazione Christiano Laboratore Italiano), one of the major Italian lay worker movements, is facing a crisis because many of its leaders are also members of parliament. The Church has called on the organization to get out of politics. An ACLI leader can no longer take a responsible job in the political field. The Temporal-spiritual division, it appears, is better made in books than in life. The average worker neither has the theological background nor the time to treat frontiers of action as textbook exercises.

He knows that as a lay apostle. he is called to be a good politician. As the leader of an organized movement, it is his job to develop an apostolic spirit among members, encouraging them to take positions on moral issues in political and economic life, the temporal order. 

At least in Europe, the question of the day is, how far can an apostolic movement go into the temporal order? It cannot escape the attention of the Council. 

In Europe, of course, the rural society in which the Church was actively present and very much involved is gradually giving way to a new and industrialized Europe. This evolution is much slower than in the U. S. In America, the “new ideas” about the lay apostolate came to a new country. In Europe, they germinated and grew in a well established order. Today, the Church in Europe is trying to free itself from the “old order” so that it can embrace and bring the good news to the developing new way of life. In an effort not to be identified with the old ways, some advocate that the Church completely remove itself from the temporal order. 

This, of course, would reverse the whole movement of the lay apostolate to date. From a state of suspended animation, the laity has now been awakened, and responding to the Popes, is attempting to meet some of the serious crises of our age. And inevitably, the spiritual and temporal interests intersect. 

It would be difficult to pinpoint the moment in modern history when the laity was awakened. The lay apostolate itself is, of course, not a new thing in the Church. Pius XII pointed this out to exponents of the lay apostolate attending the First World Congress of the Lay Apostolate in Rome in 1950. The apostles used the Roman roads, and laymen in those times did an effective job of spreading the good news of the Gospels everywhere. 

Pius XII repeated the exhortation of Pius XI in asking laymen to exercise an active apostolate in the Church. The words of both these modern Popes gave new life to many traditional lay organizations, and at the same time gave birth to new lay movements like the Young Christian Workers, Young Christian Farmers, the Young Christian Students, the Christian Family Movement, and a host of others. 

This revival of lay activity was also marked by the creation of international coordinating bodies, based in Rome, designed to implement the work of lay movements. The Conference of Catholic International Organizations, whose main office is in Fribourg, Switzerland, and the Permanent Committee for the Organization of the Lay Apostolate Congresses, whose offices are in Rome, are both working to develop the lay apostolate internationally.

The Permanent Committee for the Organization of the Lay Apostolate, which has already organized two international conferences on the lay apostolate in Rome, is planning a third to be held just after the Ecumenical Council. 

Although preparations for the Council and the work of its various commissions are shrouded in silence, it is becoming clearer that one of the central themes of the Council will be the question of the lay apostolate. One of the commissions of the Council will address itself exclusively to the problems of the lay apostolate. (It is interesting to note that this commission is the only one which does not depend directly on any of the congregations making up the Curia.) 

The setting up of this commission of the lay apostolate was greeted with great joy by laymen active In the affairs of the Church, although some were less than joyful to find that no laymen are present on any of the commissions, particularly the lay apostolate commissions. 

At a recent international meeting a lay leader was overheard to say, jokingly, “Well, it was the men who discussed the role of women in society and finally granted them the right to vote; it is now the turn of the clergy to release the potential energies of the layman.”)

Many lay leaders, particularly in Holland and Austria, have been openly discussing the absence of laymen in the preparatory work of the Council —and some high Church authorities have promised to bring the matter up in Rome. 

While one may regret the absence of experienced laymen in the preparatory work, one can rejoice at the impressive array of internationally-known clerics with first hand experience of the lay apostolate who make up the Commission which will deal specifically with lay matters. 

Fernando Cardinal Cento, the president of the Lay Apostolate Commission, was once a nuncio in Belgium and has first hand knowledge of the lay movements, especially the worker movements. Monsignor Achille Glorieux, secretary of the commission, was once a Young Christian Workers chaplain in France, and is now chaplain of the Permanent Committee for the Organization of Lay Apostolate Congresses. Monsignor Joseph Cardijn, international chaplain and founder of the Young Christian Workers, and Bishop E. Larrain of Chile, vice president of CELAM, the Latin American Council of Bishops, are two others on the commission.

(It was Monsignor Cardijn, incidentally, who was the first to make the see-judge-act method which Pope John recommends in Mater et Magistra as a central part of the modern lay movement.) 

The general lines of the commission study are apparent; the role of the layman in the Church and the relations between the lay apostolate organizations and the hierarchy, the problem of the limit and extent of the autonomy of the lay apostolate in the temporal order, all these will certainly be on the agenda. 

Many well-informed laymen seem to be reasonably sure that the Fathers of the Council will set up a Congregation for the Laity which will play an active part in the Curia. In any event, the question of the laity in the Church is bound to be taken up by several of the Commissions. 

The Commission on Theological Studies will discuss the doctrinal position of the laity. The Liturgical Commission will discuss the participation of the laity in the liturgy. The Seminaries Commission will approach the problem under the heading of the necessary formation of priests who will be formers of lay apostles. The Missions Commission will surely study the question of the laity when it discusses the penury of the clergy in mission lands, and in a more particular way, Latin America. This will lead to a discussion on the pastoral role of the layman in mission countries. 

Finally, the commission set up to deal with the unity of the Churches will be discussing the laity because of the increasing contacts between Catholics and non-Catholics in everyday life. So the laity will be very much present in the Council, sharpening the awareness expressed by Bishop de Smet of Bruges in a pastoral written in preparation for the Ecumenical Council. 

“Jesus continues His priesthood in the Christian community as a whole,” the Bishop wrote. “It is in it and by it that He offers sacrifice to the Father. It is by it and in it that He spreads His gospel. It is by it and in it that He will realize the consecration of the world. It is false to think that Catholic doctrine reduces the faithful to a passive state. It is inexact to pretend that they are but a flock of sheep, docile and forcibly resigned to being led by their pastors. If you have understood correctly. you will know that the Church is a cooperation of all the baptized who —together— form the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ.”


Romeo Maione, The Layman and the Council… Does the Layman ‘Belong’?, Pittsburgh Catholic, Thursday August 31, 1961 (Catholic News Archive)