Cardijn’s homage to John XXIII

Writing in the July-August edition of the IYCW Bulletin, Cardijn paid homage to the recently deceased Pope John XXIII.

Despite not knowing him before he became pope, Cardijn developed a very close relationship with the pope, who had promised to support him even more than Pius XI and Pius XII had done.

Here is his homage to John XXIII.

Bulletin of the International YCW

July – August 1963 No. 90

During the reign of John XXIII: A New Pentecost

In five years John XXIII, the “transition Pope” has renewed the Church and the world! “Et renovabis faciem terrae…”.

He spoke so freely of a new Pentecost!

I will never forget our first meeting.

I was in New Zealand when we learnt on the radio through the Archbishop of Christchurch of the death of Pius XII. After a session of fervent prayer in the chapel, we asked ourselves: “How will we find a worthy successor to such a great and holy Pope?”

I continued on my voyage to Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia and it was at the airport of Formosa (now Taiwan) that people told us: “We have a new Pope: John XXIII!”

– John XXIII, who is he?

– It’s Cardinal Roncalli, the Patriarch of Venice

– Roncalli… never heard of him!

A little later, I went to Rome after also visiting Japan, Korea and finishing my tour of Asian countries. The Pope received me. I wanted to kneel down and ask for his blessing… but he came to me with open arms and embraced me:

– I have known you for such a long time! I have been following you and your work. I will support the YCW as Pius XI and Pius XII, indeed even more than they did!

He stopped and looked at me:

– How old are you?

– Holy Father, I was born in 82.

– And I was born in 81!

– What month?

– November, Holy Father…

– Me too. What day? I was born on the 25, the feast of St Catherine! You see, we are young! We will work together for the salvation of the workers…

And he told me about his life, he spoke about his family, the reforms that he proposed to introduce at the Vatican in relation to the salaries of the guards, employees and families.

I saw him again in 1959:

– Very Holy Father, could I propose to the Pope an idea that has come to me? In two years, in 1961, it will be the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum. The times and the problems have completely changed… And I launched into an explanation.

– Send me a written note!

How many times he thanked me for it! He did not merely want a doctrine; he lived it and he wanted the world to live it: the dignity of the most human person, the poorest, of every race and colour; the dignity of the poorest family. And with that, all the consequences and all the applications from the social and human point of view; the relations between communities, based not on force, arms and profit, but on openness, loyalty, and the most absolute solidarity; the price finally, between all and for all, guaranteed by a just authority instituted, recognised and supported by all, and not by an atomic power that would ruin the world.

To achieve this, dialogue is necessary, person to person contact, simple, open, straight, whatever our opinion, ideology or the religion of our interlocutor.

And John XXIII opened the Vatican to all, friends and adversaries. Or rather, he did not have adversaries, only misunderstanding and obscurities. And whatever the cost these needed to disappear. He did not know obstacles, he left the Vatican, visited sick friends, hospitals, handicapped asylums, poor parishes and prisons. He wanted to see, to understand, to be present.

And to achieve this, he decided that all the bishops and their advisers would meet in Rome in an Ecumenical Council where they would discuss problems, seek solutions, not secretly but we could say in the open air in front of representatives of other Churches and confessions as well a the press and international opinion.

That took five years… Five years of youth, will, courage, prayer and work! With no rest. And the world, the whole world was touched, turned upside down, more than by an atomic bomb!

John XXIII died on the second day of Pentecost. “Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and you will renew the face of the earth…”

May the Holy Spirit give to the Church and to the world a new John XXIII!

Jos. Cardijn.

(Translation Stefan Gigacz, 27 May 2012, Version 1.0)


Joseph Cardijn, During the reign of John XXIII: A New Pentecost (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

A second volume proposed!

On 10 June, Delarge wrote to Cardijn expressing his own satisfaction and happiness with the project and thanking him for his cooperation.

The book is already attracting great interest, which they hope to amplify.

He also indicates his readiness to publication a second volume written by Cardijn.


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Complimentary copies of the book

On 22 May, Delarge sent to Marguerite Fiévez a list of persons and organisations to whom a complimentary copy of the book would be sent as well as a list of publications to which copies would be sent for review purposes.


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Return the uncorrected proofs!

After several weeks of back and forth over the proofs of the book, on 20 May 1963, Fiévez wrote to M. Souchier, the printer, asking him to send her the uncorrected proofs with the original text that had not been approved by “Malines,” i.e. Suenens and the archdiocesan censors.

7, rue Royale Sainte Marie,

Bruxelles 3

Bruxelles, 20 May 1963

Monsieur M. Souchier,


1, rue des Chantiers,

Paris 5ème 


Dear Sir,

Here we are, surely, on the eve of the publication of Monsignor Cardijn’s book. May I ask you for a small chore?

Given the (moral) importance of the alterations that had to be made to the manuscript, at Malines’ suggestion, Monsignor Cardijn believes it would be necessary to recover the first proof to which the corrections were made. Do you think it’s still possible to have it back? It would be a great help.

It’s a pity I didn’t know about this before I sent it back to you the other day by express mail; it would no doubt have made things easier. But then… I only received this request yesterday.

Please excuse me for bothering you again, and accept my thanks in advance.

With, dear Sir, my warmest regards.

Marguerite Fiévez


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Imprimatur finally granted

On 9 April 1963, a day after Cardijn had met with Suenens, the imprimatur was granted for his book.

Stefan Gigacz explains:

While there appears to be no written record of the meeting between the two men (Suenens and Cardijn), the outcome was swift. The next day, 9 April 1963, the vicar general, Msgr P. Theeuws, gave his imprimatur, accepting the modifications that Cardijn had made to his text.

Did Suenens blink? Fiévez and Meert certainly thought so, writing in their biography of Cardijn that he ‘stood firm’ despite the pressures that were placed on him ‘to change his emphasis.’ Moreover, while remaining rigidly faithful to his vow of obedience, Cardijn had forced Suenens to face up to his own responsibilities.

The whole episode left a bitter taste in the mouths of Fiévez and other close collaborators of Cardijn who were familiar with what had occurred.

Cardijn was deeply affected, even though he sought to avoid embarrassing Suenens, going as far as asking Fiévez to recover the initial proofs from the typesetter to ensure that these were not circulated.All things considered, Cardijn’s attitude demonstrated almost heroic forbearance.


Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 8, Suenens vs Cardijn, Lay people in the frontlines (Australian Cardijn Institute)

Suenens meets Cardijn

On 8 April 1963, Cardijn met with Suenens at the Episcopal Palace at Malines.

Fiévez recorded the outcome in her own notes:

Cardijn travelled to Malines… where he was faced [heurté] once again by the apparently very cordial and fraternal welcome offered to him by the cardinal, who took him in his arms, denying that there was ‘anything’ between them.

Stefan Gigacz writes:

Cardijn’s sense of betrayal was palpable. So too was the contrast between Suenens’ backroom modus operandi and that of his predecessor, Cardinal Mercier, who had always had the merit of being upfront.


Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 8, Suenens vs Cardijn, Lay people in the frontlines (Australian Cardijn Institute)

Negotiations with Malines

Having just returned from Germany, Cardijn wrote to Delarge on 3 April, confirming that he will make himself available for a recorded interview in Paris.

He also notes that the book text is not yet finalised while negotiations over its content continue with “Malines,” i.e. with Cardinal Suenens and the archdiocesan censors.

Brussels, 3 April 1963

Monsieur J.P. Delarge,

Directeur des Editions Universitaires,

72, boulevard Saint-Germain,

Paris, 5ème


Dear Sir,

On my return from Germany, I found your two letters of 27 March, for which I thank you very much.

I think I can confirm the commitment I made for the TV broadcast on the 23rd. And I’m delighted to be able to give you an affirmative answer, in principle, regarding the recording of a record. On both counts, I would like..:

1 – that you wait a little more (perhaps a week or so) to specify definitively the content of the texts to be prepared, given that slight modifications may have to be made to the text of the book, following suggestions from Mechelen, which I am currently negotiating;

2 – that the people responsible for both the broadcast and the recording on disk provide me now with the minimum indications I need for initial preparation; I would then only have to make more detailed adjustments.

Mademoiselle Fiévez has received some of the proofs from the printing works and passed them on to me. She’ll let you know herself what initial reactions we’ve had to them. If necessary, she could go to Paris to reach a more precise agreement with you.

Yours sincerely

Jos. Cardijn,

Chaplain general of the YCW


Corrections added to the manuscript

Taking account of Suenens’ observations, Cardijn prepared a series of revised footnotes and paragraphs to be added to the original text.

These included a footnote making clear that Cardijn was using the expression “Catholic Action” in the sense that it had been used prior to Vatican II and that its future use would be subject to the decisions of the Council.

He also added several paragraphs making clear that the lay apostolate was not limited to temporal action but was “evangelising action in life” and that it must be under the direction of the hierarchy, as Suenens insisted:

It is not a matter of temporal action but of spiritual evangelising action in life, the milieux of life and the issues that it raises. This action requires union with the Hierarchy and the priesthood whose action it extends. This concern for the apostolate in the life of lay people does not exclude other concerns, quite the contrary. A concrete book on the JOC would show it very clearly. The number of priestly, religious (even contemplative) and missionary vocations is an eloquent testimony to this.

He added a footnote adding that the expression “lay apostolate” also had a broader meaning than the meaning that Cardijn had given it in his book as “the lay apostolate proper to lay people.”

And he also added a footnote making explicit that the specifically lay apostolate of lay people was integrated into the apostolate of the whole Church.

These footnotes appear to have been drafted by Marguerite Fiévez.

Cardijn seeks audience with Suenens

On 2 April 1963, Cardijn, who had just returned from a two week trip to Germany, wrote to Suenens asking for an audience, which eventually took place on 8 April.

In his letter, Cardijn insists on his submission to authority but also very politely expresses his frustration at the “misunderstanding” that had arisen over his book.

Brussels, 2 April 1963

His Eminence Cardinal Suenens,

Reverend Archbishop of


Audience: 8 April (Handwritten note by Marguerite Fiévez)

Your Eminence,

Just as I was about to leave for a fortnight’s tour of Germany, I was made aware of Your Eminence’s observations on the manuscript of my book, which were passed on to me by my assistant, Father Uylenbroeck.

I am suffering greatly from the misunderstanding caused by this text to be published, and I would have liked to come to an agreement with Your Eminence before leaving for Germany. I was therefore extremely concerned about the matter throughout my trip. I had hoped for an Imprimatur signed by Your Eminence “ex toto corde”, marking our complete agreement on the substance and passing over the reconcilable nuances.

The principle that has guided my whole life is and will remain to the end: faithful and complete submission to Authority. This is why I dare to write to Your Eminence today to ask for the opportunity to discuss this matter. In the attached short document, I have tried to summarise the situation as it stands, to help clear up the misunderstanding and avoid any unfortunate consequences.

In the meantime, Fr Uylenbroeck has been asked by the Censor to revise and correct his text messages. This work will be submitted to the Censor as soon as possible, as the proofs of the book will be leaving the printing works in the next few days.

I would be most grateful if Your Eminence could fix a time to see me regarding this issue.

Once again assuring you of my most complete submission, I beg Your Eminence to accept the homage of the deepest respect with which I am Your most humble servant.

Your most humble servant.

Jos. Cardijn,

Chaplain General.

+ Appendix (Handwritten note by Marguerite Fiévez)


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Cardijn’s explains his position to Suenens

Along with his letter to Cardinal Suenens, Cardijn enclosed a note explaining his position.


Les laïcs en première ligne!

1. This text is first and foremost the story of a journey. It includes a large number of articles published several years ago – sometimes twenty-five years ago – and censored at the time. Most of them have been translated and published in various languages, and are already well known in many countries.

2. I submitted the text of the forthcoming book to archbishops and bishops, and a number of theologians and friends, when I personally handed over a copy to Your Eminence in Rome last November. They all urged me to publish it.

3. I am bound by a contract signed on 12 February with Editions Universitaires, Paris, which includes stipulations concerning ownership of the text and the financial consequences of its publication and translation.

4. Since signing the contract, Mr Delarge, manager of the publishing house, has insisted on interviewing me on French television and on producing a record about the book.

5. Won’t major changes have an impact on these commitments? Above all, won’t they provoke regrettable comments that will do more harm than good, and out of all proportion to the nuances of the proposed corrections?

6. The publisher’s requests regarding the publication date and the TV interview are becoming very pressing, making the need for clarification all the more urgent.

Jos. Cardijn

2 April 1963


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TV interview planned

On 27 March 1963, Delarge wrote to Cardijn outlining a proposal for him to visit Paris on 27 April to record a television interview to promote the forthcoming book.


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Cardijn responds to Suenens’ critique

Soon after receiving a series of corrections to the book manuscript proposed by Uylenbroeck, Cardijn responded with a note explaining his own position.


1 On Catholic Action – p. 21 of the proof

I’m afraid that by inserting the proposed note, I’m raising an issue that is completely foreign to my book and my intentions.

2- On the lay apostolate of lay people

I’m afraid that this expression – especially if it’s repeated insistently – might bring to mind changes in structures (social apostolate). It’s more a question of an apostolate of evangelisation, enabling lay people to discover and realise their divine mission, in their own lives, their own environment, their own problems (see Pius XII’s 1957 address to the YCW). This is the aspect of the proper apostolate of the laity that the book aims to emphasise, and that I have emphasised all my life working with young workers.

I have never thought of this transformation of structures when I spoke of the lay apostolate.

+ + + + +

I propose two footnotes

1 – On the use of the expression “Action Catholique” (p. 21)

2 – On itempiai, the aspect of the lay apostolate I deal with in this book

book (p. 23)

+ + + + + 

I quote “The Church on mission” several times.

The entire third part of the book deals with the formation of lay people, in view of their entire apostolate.

Humanize before Christianizing: p. 23 (suggested note)

To me, this is not the problem. It’s not about that, nor is it about changing structures. My book is not written with the intention of discussing these problems. I’d rather not talk about them.



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Larrain: Book will be a great service to the Lay Apostolate Commission

On 10 March 1963, Bishop Larrain’s secretary, Fr Huidobro, replied on his behalf to Cardijn’s request for commentary on his book manuscript, signalling the “great service” that the book would provide for the drafting work of the Lay Apostolate Commission.


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Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 8, Suenens vs Cardijn, Lay people in the frontlines (Australian Cardijn Institute)

Fievez’s confidential remarks

Deeply upset by Suenens’ modus operandi (as well as his “notorious” views on Catholic Action and lay apostolate, Marguerite Fiévez wrote a confidential note recording the way in which Suenens’ opposition to Cardijn’s text was made known to him, not directly but through intermediaries, including Cardijn’s adjunct as international chaplain of the YCW, Marcel Uylenbroeck.


These handwritten notes date from March 1963. They refer to the differences of opinion between Cardinal Suenens and Mgr Cardijn, on the occasion of the publication of the latter’s book “Laics en Premières Lignes”.

As is customary, Mgr Cardijn had submitted the proof of his book to the archdiocese in order to obtain the Imprimatur. As it turned out, Cardinal Suenens didn’t share Mgr Cardijn’s views on the laity, Catholic Action, etc. (it was common knowledge), so the Cardinal saw fit to ask Mgr Cardijn indirectly for changes to the text submitted for ecclesiastical censorship.

It happened as follows:

The censor, Mgr Ceuppens, called Abbé Uylenbroeck, Mgr Cardijn’s assistant, to Mechelen to inform him of the points to be changed, inviting him to obtain these changes from Mgr Cardijn. Cardijn would no doubt accept them better in a conversation with his deputy, and above all, the Cardinal would not be implicated.

Cardijn was very surprised and saddened, both by the Cardinal’s desire to obtain changes which affected his own conception of Catholic Action, and by the procedure employed, which in a way deflected responsibility.

Leaving the same day for a tour of Germany, he refused to act without thinking.

The first two points of the handwritten notes are nothing compared to the disarray that had seized him:

  1. Suffering: first time (that he had disagreed with hierarchical authority on the essentials of his thinking)
  2. Apostolate of my whole life (he couldn’t see the possibility of changing anything essential in his text, without denying what he had always affirmed and for which he had been unconditionally supported by the Popes and numerous bishops and theologians).

Please consult the files relating to the edition of the work, for the precise points in dispute.

On his return from Germany, Cardijn went to Mechelen on April 8, where he was once again shocked by the apparently cordial and fraternal welcome he received from the Cardinal, who embraced him, denying that there was “anything” between them.



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1963 03 15 – Fiévez – Confidential note

Suenens transmits to Cardijn his “divergences” on the manuscript

On 15 March 1963 – having received a copy of the manuscript in October 1962 and after the contract for publishing had been signed, Suenens finally transmitted a list of “remarks” concerning his book manuscript.

Instead o f sending them directly, these remarks “made by His Eminence (were) transmitted by the (Diocesan) Censor and Fr Uylenbroeck.”

As always, Suenens opposed Cardijn’s conception of Specialised Catholic Action and lay apostolate, insisting on lay people playing a separate “active role in the work of evangelisation.”



(15 March, 1963) (Handwritten note by Marguerite Fiévez)

1- As far as the terminology used is concerned, the Council, the Bishops and the diocesan authorities consider that General Catholic Action is as fully valid as specialised Catholic Action, and do not accept it being said that CA is essentially specialised CA. This in no way prevents each Bishop from judging the application of local priorities.

2- Instead of saying that the layperson’s proper role is formally the Christianisation of the temporal, he affirms (His Eminence) that the layperson’s proper and formal role is twofold: on the one hand, it is his proper role to take an active role in the work of evangelisation, by preparing, supporting and prolonging priestly action; on the other hand, it is his proper role under his exclusive responsibility — to Christianise the temporal.

3- Instead of saying that evangelising action must first pass through temporal action, he affirms a connection and an independent relationship between the two actions. Cfr. Humaniser pour évangéliser, in L’Eglise en Etat de mission.


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Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 8, Suenens vs Cardijn, Lay people in the frontlines (Australian Cardijn Institute)

Proposed new Vatican lay apostolate body

On 27 February 1963, Jean Rodhain, wrote to Mgr Jean Streiff, secretary general of French Catholic Action and now also a member of the Lay Apostolate Commission, informing him of a proposal discussed in the commission for a new Vatican body dealing with the lay apostolate.


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Bishop Araujo Sales endorses Cardijn

On 18 February 1963, Brazilian bishop, Dom Eugenio Araujo Sales, also a member of the Lay Apostolate Commission, wrote to Cardijn approving the draft manuscript of his book, emphasising its timeliness.

Natal, 18/2/63

My dear Monsignor Cardijn.

I received your letter of January 15, 1963, as well as your publication, which I am now reading carefully. I’m very interested. The position is very clear and I fully agree with your points of view. I believe,

Your Excellency, that we are at a moment of the utmost importance in determining the role of the laity in the Church. In the present apostolic situation, the participation of the well-trained layman will succeed in keeping the various de-Christianized or almost de-Christianized circles in the Church, or in bringing them back into it.

In prayer to God to bless your extraordinary work, I send you an affectionate blessing.

Reverend Mgr. Jos. Cardijn

General Chaplain of the YCW

78, Boulevard Poincaré

Brussels 7 7 – CCP 62081


Dom Eugênio de Araújo Sales

Apostolic Administrator


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Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 8, Suenens vs Cardijn, Lay people in the frontlines (Australian Cardijn Institute)

A new title: “Laïcs en premières lignes”

On 14 February 1963, Jean-Pierre Delarge responded to Marguerite Fiévez explaining that it would not be easy to obtain the imprimatur in Paris because the office responsible was overworked.

He also proposed a new title for the book: “Laïcs en premières lignes” or “Lay people in the front lines.”


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Trouble to obtain the imprimatur

On 13 February 1963, Marguerite Fiévez wrote to Jean-Pierre Delarge expressing her concern that they had been over-optimistic regarding the grant of imprimatur by the Archdiocese of Malines- Brussels for Cardijn’s book.

Rue Royale Ste Marie,
Brussels 3

Brussels, 13 February, 1963

Mr J.P. Delarge,
Director of Editions Eniversi- taires,
72, boulevard St Germain,
PARIS, Ve France

Dear Mr. Delarge,

I think I’ve been too optimistic about getting the Imprimatur.

Monseigneur Cardijn thinks that it’s better, if it’s not too much trouble for you, to apply for the Imprimatur from the Archbishopric of Paris, and not to deviate from the usual rules, which require the application to be made in the diocese where the work is published.

He therefore relies on your good will, but is convinced that there will be no difficulty.

Many thanks in advance.

Yours faithfully, Mr. Delarge.

Marguerite Fiévez


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Streiff appointed to the Lay Apostolate Commission

On 31 January 1963, Mgr Jean Streiff, the secretary for Catholic Action in France, wrote to Mgr Achille Glorieux informing him that Cardinal Liénart had forwarded him a letter appointing him as a peritus for the Lay Apostolate Commission.

Paris, 31 January, 1963

Monsignor GLORIEUX

Commission Secretary

Apostolatu Laicorum

Opizio S.Marta

Vatican City – ROME


Dear Monsignor,

His Eminence Cardinal LIENART, back from Rome, sends me a letter of appointment and a card of “Peritus” from the Council.

He asks me in his letter to place me at your disposal immediately, which I gladly do.

In a few days we have a meeting of the National Committee for the Apostolate of the Laity and we have included in the program  the remote preparation of the World Congress and the search for the best method to work usefully and efficiently on the texts that you kindly sent us.

Be assured, dear Monsignor, of the assurance of my prayers for your work which affects us so closely in the expression of my religious and very friendly sentiments.

Monsignor Jean STREIFF

Secretary General of Catholic Action


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Stefan Gigacz, The Leaven in the Council, Chapter 7, The Council opens without Cardijn (Australian Cardijn Institute)

Publishing contract nearly finalised

On 25 January 1963, Marguerite Fiévez wrote to Jean-Pierre Delarge indicating to him that agreement had virtually been reached regarding the contract to publish the book.

Instead of 20% royalties, Cardijn was asking only 10% but 500 extra copies to distribute, evidently to Council Fathers, theologians, etc.


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