Even during Cardijn’s absence in Africa, work continues back in Belgium to prepare his submissions for the PCLA.
On 19 January 1961, Tournai vicar-general, Mgr Désiré Joos, writes to Marguerite Fiévez in response to Cardijn’s earlier request to assist him with the drafting and translation into Latin of his documents.
“I tried to send you a few suggestions for correction and translation as quickly as possible,” he wrote.
“It’s always awkward to put on someone else’s boots! I hope I have not betrayed anything,” he added apologetically.
“My apologies that the Latin is not typed up; we just didn’t have time.”
On 23 December 1960, Marguerite Fiévez, clearly acting on Cardijn’s instructions, wrote to Mgr Pietro Pavan, a professor of Catholic social doctrine at the Pontifical Lateran University, enclosing two documents drafted by Cardijn.
“This is a great opportunity to reconnect with you albeit by a completely different path!” wrote Fiévez, who was clearly familiar and on good terms with him, no doubt through her involvement with the COPECIAL, i.e. the Permanent Committee for Congresses of the Apostolate of the Laity..
“Before his departure for Africa a few days ago, Monsignor Cardijn asked me to send you the attached note, on ‘Priests and the social doctrine of the Church.’ Following the line of the Pontifical Commission for the Apostolate of the Laity in preparation for the coming Council, Monsignor Cardijn is concerned with many fundamental issues that you find expressed in the various notes he drafted for the Commission in question. If he had your views on it, I think he would then be in a position to judge whether after a few modifications he would be able to present the note to the Commission at one of the coming sessions.
“If you would like extra copies, I would be happy to send them to you. You will see that the note was written in particular circumstances (on the occasion of his last trip to Latin America) but we could correct a few passages to make it more generally applicable.
Reading between the lines, it is clear that Fiévez – and of course Cardijn – know full well that Mgr Pavan is already working on John XXIII’s draft encyclical, even though this is not public information.
“I hope I will see you again in February, following the meeting of the Pontifical Commission, on the occasion of the meeting of the Governing Council of the Standing Committee,” Fiévez concludes, referring to a forthcoming meeting of the COPECIAL. “I will be very happy to be able to exchange some impressions with you once again.”
Prior to leaving for Africa, Cardijn had also drafted a letter to the president of the Preparatory Commission, Cardinal Cento. This too was sent by Marguerite Fiévez on 18 December along with Note 2 and Note 3 that he had completing writing before his departure.
In the letter he explained that he was leaving to attend a JOC training session in Lomé, Togo, after which he would continue his punishing travel schedule to other countries.
“After the meeting, I will continue to Dahomey, Cameroon, Brazzaville, Leopoldville, Rwanda and Urundi, thus completing the African tour that I had to interrupt in July following the painful events in Congo,” Cardijn wrote.
“I am sending your Eminence two notes which attempt to clarify the one I sent to Him on October 31,” he added.
“The first contains reflections and suggestions about the work program of the Commission, proposed by Monsignor Glorieux; the second seeks to set out the two essential and parallel aspects of all lay apostolate. I apologise in advance for the repetitions they include; but it is often by repeating and confronting that we end up clarifying ideas!
“I am sending two copies to Monsignor Glorieux, hoping that they will arrive before December 22. Other copies are available to Your Eminence and the Commission, if there is a need to communicate these texts to other Members.
“I will be in Rome for the next Session of our Commission from January 30 to February 4. I can extend my stay there after that date if that would be useful for the work of the Commission.
“I also take the opportunity with this letter to offer to Your Eminence my most fervent wishes for a Holy Feast of Christmas and a Happy New Year! And may He deign to accept my deepest homage and respect,” Cardijn concluded.
Apart from his packed schedule, Cardijn faced yet another challenge in responding to the requests of the Preparatory Commission: the documents he received were all in Latin.
Although Cardijn had evidently learned Latin at school and in the seminary, Marguerite Fiévez was undoubtedly much less familiar with the language.
Thus, with Cardijn already in Africa, when she received another document from the PCLA dated 19 December, she arranged for a “quick translation” into French by an unnamed person, probably a JOC chaplain.
As well as enclosing a series of reports, the note explained that the Second Sub-Commission, which was dealing with the issue of formation of lay people would also look into the formation needs of priests.
“It also seemed necessary,” the note explained, “to consider what is required to prepare priests in light of the modern form of the apostolate. Rev. P. Jarlot and Mgr Geraud have prepared a note on this issue, based on the wishes of the bishops as well as their own experience.”
“However, since this subject does not fall directly within the competence of our Commission, we will only include their conclusions which contain several concrete proposals.
“Pending what the Commission on Seminaries prepares, we would be grateful if you would send us your observations as soon as possible,” the note requested.
Fathers Georges Jarlot SJ was a French expert on Catholic Social Teaching then working at the Gregorian University while Mgr Joseph Geraud was a French Sulpician priest stationed at the Procure Saint Sulpice. Both were well known to Cardijn.
Finally, the note added that Archbishop Pericle Felici, the secretary-general of the Council, had published a booklet including the lists of the various people making up the various conciliar preparatory commissions.
The conciliar workload was mounting quickly and the need to work in Latin only added to the growing burden!
Cardijn had only been back a month from the first plenary meeting of the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate (PCLA) in Rome but he was already on the move again, this time to Africa for an important leaders training session of the International YCW.
Before leaving, he hurried to complete two more notes for the Commission numbered as Note 2 and Note 3. Note 3, entitled “Quelques réflexions et suggestions (A few reflections and suggestions) and dated 15 December 1960, offered a detailed response to the PCLA’s proposed plan of work.
Note 2, again entitled simply “L’apostolat des laïcs” (The apostolate of lay people) and dated 16 December 1960, explained what Cardijn characterised as the “two essential, primordial and inseparable aspects” of the lay apostolate, namely “its relationship with God, Christ and the Church; with the plan of God in the work of Creation and Redemption,” and on the other hand “its relationship with the fundamental problems of man and the world, with their influences and their depth, in their total dimension.”
Seeking theological counsel – but not in Brussels or Louvain
Before sending these notes to the PCLA, Cardijn therefore sought to get feedback from a trusted confidant and theologian, namely Mgr Désiré Joos, the vicar-general of the Diocese of Tournai in the industrial south of Belgium. Why Mgr Joos rather than say Mgr Gerard Philips, a recognised expert on the theology of the laity at the University of Louvain whom Cardijn had previously consulted?
Cardijn does not explain of course. Nevertheless, he had previously come into (theological) conflict with Philips during the preparation and holding of the Second International Congress on Lay Apostolate in Rome in October 1957 where the latter was a keynote speaker. Moreover, Philips appeared to have allied himself with the Malines-Brussels auxiliary, Bishop Léon-Joseph Suenens, who had also criticised Cardijn’s approach.
Indeed, Suenens had published a major 1958 article in the Belgian Jesuit journal, Nouvelle Revue Théologique, entitled “L’unité multiforme de l’Action catholique” (The multiform unity of Catholic Action) in which, without mentioning Cardijn, he accused the Specialised Catholic Action movements of seeking a “monopoly” of Catholic Action.
Mgr Désiré Joos and Bishop Charles-Marie Himmer of Tournai
Cardijn’s choice of Mgr Désiré Joos from Tournai was therefore highly significant. Just 20km from the northern French city of Lille, Tournai lies in the middle of the coal mining belt that extends across Belgium and into France.
Its bishop was Charles-Marie Himmer (photo above), originally from the neighbouring Diocese of Namur, who had been a JOC and Specialised Catholic Action chaplain from the 1930s. As a bishop, he had already made himself known for his closeness to the working class.
In 1952, he had organised a Social Week that began with an enquiry carried out in every parish of the diocese into the “economic and social problems” in each parish. Addressing JOC chaplains at the conclusion of this enquiry, he took as his subject “Le problème ouvrier” (The worker problem), emphasising the importance of the work of the JOC in educating young workers to enable them to face up to the issues that had emerged.
“J’ai pratiqué à plein la méthode de Cardijn : voir, juger, agir,” Bishop Himmer also said on another occasion. “I fully practised the method of Cardijn: see, judge, act.”
“J’y suis resté fidèle, et j’y crois toujours,” he continued. “I have stayed faithful to it and I still believe in it.”
So it’s little surprise that he would also choose a vicar-general cut from the same jocist cloth. Thus, Mgr Joos, who served as Himmer’s vicar-general from 1954 to 1977, was also responsible for the Specialised Catholic Action movements in the diocese.
Mgr Joos was therefore clearly a man in whom Cardijn had great confidence and who shared his vision of the lay apostolate, particularly among workers.
“You are aware that I am a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Apostolate of the Laity in preparation for the next Ecumenical Council. I had to take an oath to maintain secrecy concerning all the documents I receive – and I believe this also applies to the meetings,” Cardijn wrote, clearly vexed by these restrictions.
“However, I need to consult with people more competent than myself or seek the assistance of collaborators in relation to many issues,” he continued.
“I am not able to type and I don’t understand Italian!” he lamented. “Moreover, other collaborators are also bound to the same secrecy as I am!”
“Given these circumstances, could I ask you to read and evaluate the next two notes that I would like to send to the Commission soon,” Cardijn requested. “I also enclose the first note which I sent earlier prior to the meeting that took place last November.
Cardijn’s twin concerns: Church and world
Apologising for several repetitions in the notes, Cardijn now moved to the crux of his concerns, namely “the relationship of the lay apostolate with God, with Christ, the Church and the Hierarchy in the Church; and on the other hand, the relationship with the problems to be solved by the laity and the apostolate of the laity in our modern world.
“This second relationship is often overlooked, if not ignored, particularly in the statements and definitions. Is there a way to overcome this?” Cardijn asked. “This problem really haunts me.”
Behind his polite language, Cardijn was in effect accusing the PCLA was ignoring the world and focusing only on the Church! What kind of conception of the apostolate of the laity could there be that ignored this issue?
“The Council is a unique opportunity which will not come again for a long time,” Cardijn warned. “And by then, the problems will have been solved either by us or despite us.”
Although he does not name Bishop Himmer, we can surmise that Cardijn also wanted Mgr Joos to relay these concerns to his bishop to the extent that this was possible without compromising Cardijn’s oath of secrecy.
“By the time you receive this letter,” Cardijn concluded, “I will have left for Africa where I will remain until 24 or 25 January. On 30 January, I need to be in Rome for the second session of the Commission. However, the note needs to reach the secretariat without delay (by December 22, it seems!). Could you entrust your precise remarks to Mademoiselle Fiévez who will take care of the sending the documents once the typing is finished?
“But after my return from Africa, perhaps I could see you for a moment just before my departure for Rome and discuss all this with you again.
Please excuse me for bothering you in this way. But you will me doing me a great service. And if in your view my request seems to contradict the oath that I have taken, please feel free to reject it,” Cardijn wrote.
Cardijn introduced the discussion at the special meeting of several members of the JOCI Executive Committee on 28 October 1960.
Unsurprisingly, he began by insisting on the “necessity of the worker apostolate” and recalling Pius XI’s statement that the first apostles of workers needed to be “the workers themselves.”
Workers thus needed to act themselves to solve “the problem of the worker world,” he said.
Begin with our experience as clergy and laity
JOCI vice-president, Maria Meersman, added that it was necessary to “begin with our experience” as “clergy and laity.”
Evidently referring to certain documents, JOCI secretary-general René Salanne noted that “we find ourselves before an amalgam of definitions.” The JOC, however, “began from problems,” he added. And there was a problem of “young people caught up in industrial evolution” who needed to be able to “accomplish their complete destiny,” he explained.
French priest, Jean Noddings, who had many years of experience working with the JOC in West Africa, warned that young workers could not be reached through “general pastoral approach.” By the nature of their environment they were unable to be reached this way, he continued.
Another priest, Fr Martin, also probably a French priest working in North Africa, noted that industrialisation was also destroying the religious sense of young Muslims.
Canadian Holy Cross Father, Oscar Mélanson, who also had many years of experience with the JOC in Brazil, agreed, noting that young worker militants remained at the “margins of the Church.”
Church continued to make same mistakes
Also Canadian, JOCI president, Romeo Maione, warned that the Church in many countries was making the same mistakes that it had made during the industrial revolution in Europe. The Church’s mode of evangelisation was designed for a “static world” or a “village church” rather than in view of the “new civilisation” that was emerging.
Summarising, Cardijn noted that many countries were still at the beginning of the industrialisation process and young workers, even those who had been baptised, were not being reached by the Church, let alone those of other religions.
Young people were not being formed to recognise the “value of their work” or “their personal dignity” or to address their problems, he noted.
René Salanne added that these were not just problems of young workers but “life problems.” Hence, the need to give meaning to life as “the Creator desired.”
Romeo Maione noted that the Church and others continued to start from “ideas” and thus “intellectualised Christ’s message.”
Life learning needed not “catechetics”
People needed “to learn from life,” he stated, warning that the masses did not learn “from courses.”
Fr Noddings agreed, noting a growing popularisation of “catechetics” rather than beginning with life.
Citing Spanish JOC chaplain, Don Mauro Rubio Repulles, Maione added that people, including priests, needed to “learn to see.”
“The priest who enters the seminary at age eighteen has not observed life before entering,” Maione warned, “And afterwards he is outside of life.”
Meersman added that it was necessary to “make the act of faith beginning with the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of people and events.”
Assistant international chaplain, Marcel Uylenbroeck, noted the need to “list the various problems,” including starting work at an early age, which was a cause of “dehumanisation” and hence also “dechristianisation.” He also noted the need to deal with communism on a “positive” basis.
Anguish for workers
Fr Mélanson added that it was necessary for the Council to develop “an anguish about the workers” and to develop a “humanism” that would save the masses.
Betty Villa from the Philippines noted that a critique of the YCW in Hong Kong was that it did not “help the parish,” e.g. with catechetics. In other words, the work of the YCW was not understood. She added that there was no link between the Gospel preached on Sundays and daily life. Hence, young workers did not know how to act.
Fr Noddings added that if priests really understood Catholic Action (in the JOC sense), they would do catechetics quite differently.
Maione added that the Council needed to make an option in favour of a “specialised” apostolate, a specialisation based on “realities” rather than “class.”
Fr Mélanson pointed to the problems of developing countries and the associated “frightening” issue of “urbanisation.”
Cardijn added that work had been “robbed of its meaning” and the need to give it a new community-based meaning. He noted that young people had a strong “democratic” sense to the point of being ready to die.
René Salanne noted that Quadragesimo Anno was outdated and suggested that perhaps a new encyclical was needed every five years.
Cardijn suggested that the Council needed to create a new Secretariat for engaging with non-Christians and perhaps for a new Congregation to study the problems of lay people in the Church.
Compte rendu de la réunion de quelques membres de la Comité Exécutif (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)