“I remember well my first meeting with Pope John a week after he was elected. A new Pope as part of traditional protocol meets with various government delegations which attended the enthronement ceremonies.
“Pope John insisted that he also meet with a delegation of lay leaders in the church as part of this protocol. As the international president of the Young Christian Workers, I was asked to be part of this small delegation.
“At that time, I was suffering from a serious attack of sciatica, literally, I was leaning like the Tower of Pisa. As was the custom of the day, one was called to genuflect when introduced to the pope. (This tradition was later abolished).
“Because of my back, I told the papal secretary that I could not kneel. When the pope entered, he gave his usual commentary on a gospel passage and then met and had a personal word with each person.
H”e came to me and moved back looking at my 250 lbs and said: “I suppose that you are the man that can not kneel down, you better not who would be able to pick you up.”
“Suddenly, the laughter brought the great virtue of humour into the Vatican,” Maione wrote.
But in addition to his humour, Pope John was already foreshadowing the importance that he would place on lay leadership and the lay apostolate.
On 5 November 1958, Jean-Pierre Dubois-Dumée, former editor of Témoignage Chrétien, writes to Marguerite Fiévez saying that he had just met the editor of the “Chrétienté Nouvelle” series published by Editions Universitaires and asking when he could expect the draft of the book Cardijn proposed to write.
Cardijn was deeply concerned following the death on 9 October 1958 of Pius XII, who had reigned as pope since 2 March 1939.
Indeed, the YCW founder had known him even before that as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Holy See Secretary of State, who had written an important letter of encouragement to the YCW on the occasion of its first International Congress in Brussels in August 1935.
Now Cardijn was nervous about whether the new pope would continue to support the YCW.
“I was in New Zealand when we learnt on the radio through the Archbishop of Christchurch of the death of Pius XII,” Cardijn later wrote.
“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!”
Pope Pius XI had memorably endorsed the YCW during Cardijn’s first audience with him in March 1925. And in 1935, he declared the YCW an “authentic” or “perfect” form of Catholic Action.
Pius XII had continued and extended that pontifical support. In 1956, the Holy See had approved the new statutes of the JOC Internationale (International YCW).
A year later on 25 August 1957, the pope had welcomed and hosted the 32,000 young workers from around the world who had joined the JOC pilgrimage to Rome.
Moreover, Pius XII had steadfastly continued to support the YCW despite the fact that he had severely limited the French worker priest experience while several theologians close to Cardijn and the JOC such as the Dominicans, Yves Congar and Marie-Dominique Chenu, had also been sanctioned.
What would the new pope do about the YCW? Cardijn, how 76, was understandably concerned about the future of his life’s work.
Pope John XXIII was elected on 28 October 1958. Therefore as soon as he returned to Brussels from Asia and the Pacific, Cardijn wasted no time in planning to visit Rome to meet the new pope.
Responding to a publisher’s request to write a book, Cardijn asked Marguerite Fiévez to select and compile a list of key articles that he had written over the years that could form the content.
She did so around April 1958 as follows:
The following texts have been reread and re-studied, to then be integrated into the volume, with some adaptations:
Articles in Notes de Pastoral Jociste 1935: THE LAITY and THE WORKER LAITY
PRIEST AND LAITY IN THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH: Lesson to the priests of the diocese of Breda 1951. Original in Dutch
THE LAY APOSTOLATE – Theological Research Note 1951
THE EARTHLY MISSION OF MAN AND HUMANITY : Theological research note 1951
THE WORLD TODAY AND THE LAY APOSTOLATE : Speech at the world congress of the lay apostolate, Rome 1951
THE FORMATION OF THE LAITY FOR THE APOSTOLATE: Note for the COPECIAL
THE FUTURE OF THE LAY APOSTOLATE: Note for the Secretary of State and the COPECIAL 1958
PRIESTHOOD AND LAY APOSTOLATE: Article Notes de Pastorale Jociste, December 1934
Cardijn responded approvingly:
Extract from a letter from Cardijn to Marguerite Fiévez, around March or April 1958.
The layout of the book is good. Perhaps add: “La JOC et la Paroisse” and the translation of a 1913 brochure. not the JOC. Perhaps communicate them also to the Dominican Father of the Holy Office in Rome. We will have time to talk about it.