Although he did not react publicly to Pope John’s announcement there’s little doubt that it must have intrigued and even excited Cardijn’s imagination.
It was therefore with a growing sense of anticipation and even trepidation that he journeyed to Rome with International YCW leaders, Romeo Maione (president) and Maria Meersman (vice-president) in February 1959.
Once again, Maione recorded the colourful story.
“Cardijn always prepared well. This time he was even more meticulous in his preparation.
“The next day, we arrived at the Vatican in time for a 12:30 pm audience with John XXIII,” Maione recalled. But the pope kept them waiting until 1.15pm.
Finally, the pope himself emerged to welcome the YCW delegation, saying: “You are sure an important man, a man must be elected Pope before he is allowed to meet you.”
Here, Cardijn adds a crucial detail of this first meeting, citing the pope’s welcome to him:
“I have known you for such a long time! I have been following you and your work,” Pope John told Cardijn, adding a significant promise. “I will support the YCW as Pius XI and Pius XII, indeed even more than they did!”
The ice broken, Cardijn did not hesitate to outline his own proposals and requests, including “a new papal letter for young workers, a new social encyclical,” and “training of priests for the lay apostolate.”
Official business over, the two men continued to chat freely, Maione noted.
“John started to talk about his hopes for the council. His central hope was the unity of the churches. He talked about the scandal of division then he added: ‘We must shake hands and make up, and we Catholics must be the first to offer our hand in peace. After all, we keep proclaiming that we have the whole truth and this truth is charity, so we should be the first to offer our hand in peace.’
Cardijn himself was greatly impressed.