In February 1960 as part of his preparation for his forthcoming to Rome to visit Vatican officials and Pope John XXIII, Cardijn drafted a short paper, “Les prêtres et la doctrine sociale de l’Eglise” or “Priests and the social doctrine of the Church.”
He began by lamenting the lack of understanding of Church teaching that he had observed during his recent trip to the Americas.
“People everywhere complained about the fact that priests do not know the Church’s Social Doctrine and therefore do not spread it; that in practice they feel powerless in the face of social injustice, which seems to them to be the sole responsibility of temporal institutions.
“In general, they never speak, either from the pulpit or in parish meetings, about lay apostles, or the major problems of Latin America and the world, e.g. undernourishment, slums, lack of hygiene and social security, insufficient wages and unemployment, illiteracy.
“Rare are those who exalt the dignity of human work, of workers, worker families and their most basic rights,” Cardijn wrote.
As a result, priests failed “to think of training and organising young people or adults to seek together how to deal with the needs of their reality, their country or the world.
“Yet the Church’s Social Doctrine is nothing other than Christ’s doctrine regarding God’s plan in time as in eternity, on earth as in heaven,” Cardijn insisted.
“This mission entrusted by God to man, whom he created in his own image and likeness, makes him the irreplaceable collaborator of God, both in the work of creation and the work of redemption. Hence, the doctrine of Christ and the Church on the value of work, the dignity of the worker and his family, on the respect due to the poorest and most humble in a society animated by the Christian spirit. Is this not the only positive response to either communist or capitalist materialism?”
“If God has entrusted the implementation of His earthly plan to man, it is up to the Church to make it known to Christians and through them to humanity.
“Quomodo audient sine praedicante?” The faithful and parishioners will never be imbued with the Church’s Social Doctrine and be proud to spread it, convinced of their social mission, if the priest and the clergy in general do not evangelise them in a concrete and practical way.
“Moreover, the Church’s Social Doctrine is inseparable from its spiritual doctrine. This would be an evasion, and charity would become an artificial, fake, arbitrary kind of generosity, if it did not include justice as the basis of all human relations, including personal, family, social, economic, cultural, political, national and international.
“An individualistic conception of religion oriented only towards worship or towards a vague or simply alms-giving kind of charity is one of the greatest dangers facing the Church today,” he warned.
Instead, “Catholics must be the pioneers of a social apostolate capable of dealing with current problems.”
“The social and economic, technical and scientific transformations – which are taking place in Latin America as elsewhere – make the Church’s Social Doctrine even more urgent than ever,” Cardijn argued.
“The mass of humanity is abandoned to exploitation by the absence of a social doctrine which ensures respect for the weakest in all aspects of its earthly life, and its participation in the whole progress of civilisation,” he lamented.
Hence, the clergy needed to deal with “problems of underdevelopment.”
“Only positive formation, information and participation in international movements of apostolic action will be able to provide members of the parish or diocesan community with the means not only of forming their own consciences but of collaborating effectively in the solution of these issues problems,” he added.
“Man is a social person with a right to all the training and assistance necessary for this participation. If the masses are not encouraged to organise, this guarantees social disorder which is also the cause of temporal evils, and which moreover, is an offence to the Creator and the Redeemer.
“The formation of the disciples of Christ, from whatever social rank, includes this authentic lay apostolate, which will become increasingly urgent and must reach the whole of humanity,” Cardijn argued.
The more we proclaim it, the more this spirit of service will penetrate minds and institutions. And the more we invite the faithful to seek the means to incarnate and realise this spirit, the more the Church will raise up the militants and the apostles that the new world needs in order to be truly animated by the spirit of Christ. Secularism can only be overcome by the laity. And the laity can only be awakened and formed by the clergy.
As a result, priests also needed a social formation beginning with their seminary training. “Far from remaining theoretical, it needs to become increasingly practical, so that after leaving the seminary the priest will have not just learned doctrine but been initiated into action and organisation so as to to be able to become himself the formator, the animator and the trainer of the laity, including young people and adults.
“Seminarians, especially those in their final year, must not remain strangers to and distant from the movements of the lay and social apostolate. Pastoral courses need to include this initiation and learning, which supposes that the teachers themselves have been initiated into it,” he insisted.
And this needed to continue with priests already in ministry.
“A common front of the Church in the social field is as necessary as in the field of worship. Then the Church will display, at its head as in its members, the true face of Christ everywhere, and the whole world will have, and will be able to proclaim that it really carries out the mission of its founder: ‘Evangelizare pauperibus misit une’,” he concluded.
Les prêtres et la doctrine sociale de l’Eglise (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)
Priests and the social doctrine of the Church (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)