Cardijn had not yet returned from Asia and the Pacific, when International YCW president, Romeo Maione, had his first encounter with the incoming pope.
He later recalled that meeting as follows:
“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.