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.
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?
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)