“This is the Christian Democratic program presented by Fr Cardijn to the readers of the new daily, Le Démocrate,” wrote Marc Walckiers in his 1981 doctoral thesis on Young Cardijn.
He was referring to the following article published in 1919 just after end of World War I.
In it, Cardijn sets out its aims under three points — doctrine, organisation and program.
We have just finished reading the first edition of Le Démocrate (The Democrat). Every friend of Christian democracy will rejoice that we have our own newspaper at last. In it, we loyally and passionately defend our doctrine, our organisation and our program.
OUR DOCTRINE is based on the notion that democracy is fundamentally a question of education and organisation. As long as the great principles of justice, fraternity, responsibility, competence, discipline and authority fail to penetrate our customs and morals, and fail to inspire our institutions and the exercise of power, democracy will exist only in name.
Auction-style acrobatics will lead to a battle of wills. General well-being needs to take priority over individual interest. Free and cordial cooperation must become the basis of all activity.
Only in this way will we manage to avoid demagogic decline and succeed in promoting “social uplifting.”
For us as Christians, truth is found in the Gospel and the doctrine of the Church. This means making it known and adapting it in increasingly concrete terms to the current economic and social conditions that we aim to achieve.
Our trade union, economic, social and educational ORGANISATIONS are like the apple of our eye.
The Right of Association is the best antidote to statism, bureaucracy, incompetency and political exclusivity. Any kind of attack on the right of association, whether practised by violence or through legal means, amounts to a betrayal of democracy.
Trade union freedom, freedom of opinion, conscience and teaching are the only guarantees of a healthy and life-giving public atmosphere. Without this, we will languish in oppression and slavery.
OUR PROGRAM. In our ruined country, the first thing we are aiming for is “reconstruction.” In line with this, we are prepared to make every possible concession to promote collaboration and unity among all patriots.
Tolerance and confidence are democratic virtues. To intensify reconstruction, it will be necessary for the working masses to become more directly involved in production.
While working for the transformation of our economic and political regime, we urgently desire to correct employee abuse by gaining recognition for the vital rights of employees, including minimum salary, maximum working hours and freedom of association.
The housing issue is as urgent as the need for a labour contract.”
It is 52 years to the day since Cardinal Joseph Cardijn delivered his first speech on the Council floor at Vatican II. His theme was religious freedom, an issue that is perhaps even more on the world’s agenda today than it was during the 1960s.
As always, Cardijn refuses to adopt a “defensive” approach to religious freedom where the Church seeks to defend its own freedoms or status. On the contrary, Cardijn sees religious freedom as the whole basis of his approach to the Gospel message. Indeed, for Cardijn religious freedom lies at the very heart of his see-judge-act method.
Intervention by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, 20 September 1965
The schema on liberty pleases me greatly. Allow me to humbly share with you the experience of nearly 60 years of priestly apostolate exercised in every country at the service of young workers today.
It seems to me that a solemn and clear proclamation of the juridical religious freedom of all people in every country of the world is an urgent need.
First Reason: Peaceful unification of a pluralist world
The world today is tending increasingly towards unity and conflicts between nations and cultures must disappear progressively.
As John XXIII stated so admirably in Pacem in Terris, our great task is to unite ourselves with all men of good will to build a more human world together based on “truth, justice, liberty and love”. And the fundamental condition for people to live together peacefully and to collaborate fruitfully is sincere respect for religious freedom.
The fact of not respecting the philosophical and religious convictions of others is increasingly felt by them as a sign of mistrust in a matter considered as sacred and personal to the highest degree. Such an attitude makes mutual confidence impossible and without this there can be no true community life and no effective collaboration.
On the other hand, if mutual confidence reigns, it creates an opportunity for very joyful collaboration, not only on the scientific and technical planes but also on the social, cultural, pedagogical and moral levels.
If the Church can pronounce itself unambiguously in favour of religious freedom, people everywhere will gain confidence and recognise that the Church wishes to participate in building a more human and more united world. If on the other hand, this declaration should be rejected, great hopes will disappear, particularly among young people.
Second Reason: Efficacity of apostolic, missionary and ecumenical action
In a world heading towards unification, the presence of the Church among the people must necessarily take a new form, which could be compared to the dispersion of the people of Israel after the captivity of Babylon.
In the greater part of the world Christians are a small minority. In order to fulfil its mission, the Church cannot base itself on temporal, political, economic or cultural power as it did in the Middle Ages or under colonial regimes. It can only count on the power of the word of God, evangelical poverty, the purity of its witness, manifested in the authentically Christian life of lay people, and also on the esteem of the peoples among whom the Church wishes to live and witness to its faith. And this esteem of the people is nothing other than what we have described as religious liberty. But how can the Church hope to benefit from religious liberty in countries where it is a minority if the Church itself fails to loudly proclaim or to practise religious liberty in the countries where it is in the majority?
This proclamation of religious liberty is important not only for the efficacity of apostolic and missionary action in general but it is also the condition sine qua non of the ecumenical movement.
We know that all our non-Catholic brothers consider this declaration as a step which must be taken in order to arrive at a sincere and effective ecumenism.
Third Reason: The educational and pedagogic value of religious freedom
The schema speaks of the right of the person and of communities to religious freedom. This juridical freedom is not an end in itself. It is a necessary means for education in liberty in its fullest sense, which leads to interior liberty, or liberty of the soul by which a man becomes an autonomous being, responsible before society and God, ready if necessary to obey God rather than men.
This interior freedom, even if it exists in germ as a natural gift in every human creature, requires a long education which can be summarised in three words: see, judge and act.
If, thanks be to God, my sixty years of apostolate have not been in vain, it is because I have never wanted young people to live in shelter from dangers, cut off from the milieu of their life and work.
Rather I have shown confidence in their freedom in order to better educate that freedom. I helped them to see, judge and act by themselves, by undertaking social and cultural action themselves, freely obeying authorities in order to become adult witnesses of Christ and the Gospel, conscious of being responsible for their sisters and brothers in the whole world.
In our world moving towards unification, it is not possible to educate young people in glass houses, cutting them off from the real world. Many people lose the faith because they have been given a childish education.
It is only by means of a sound education in interior freedom that our young people will be able to become adult Christians.
Some will object that freedom involves a number of dangers: indifferentism, diffusion of errors, abuse of the ignorance of the masses and of the passions.
Here is my answer:
I am conscious of these dangers. Some certainly will abuse religious freedom; but these risks are less serious that those which arise from the suppression or the oppression of religious freedom. “Absolutist regimes” – even those which claim to serve the Church – where social pressure is substituted for personal formation, favour anti-clericalism and in fact incite the masses to revolt against the faith and the Church.
The dangers inherent in a regime of freedom must be faced in a positive manner, for example by a frank and sincere international agreement between civil and religious authorities; but above all by the formation and human, moral and religious education thanks to which young people and adults become conscious of their own responsibilities.
To conclude, I would like to propose the following:
This Vatican Council must conclude with a solemn and magnificent act by Pope Paul VI in union with all the Fathers.
This act should solemnly proclaim religious freedom. It should request all confessions, all ideologies, all authorities and institutions to unanimously maintain and protect religious freedom, defining the requirements of public order in a correct and honest manner as well as seeking to implement the means for effectively protecting religious freedom.
At the First International Congress of the YCW in 1935, Cardijn delivered his classical “Three truths” talk setting out the “Truth of faith,” the “Truth of reality,” and the “Truth of method” on which the movement was based.
He went further in 1950 at the International Congress held in Brussels, where he delivered a series of in depth talks, including “The doctrinal foundations of the YCW,” which further developed his “three truths” concept, which we present here.
I. A Truth of Faith
The Mission of the Young Workers in the Working Class
1. Each young worker and working girl has an eternal destiny. They are human persons. Not machines, not slaves or beasts of burden; they are the sons, the collaborators, the heirs of God. They are made to the image of God. This personal characteristic is sacred and inviolable; it gives to each young worker a personal dignity: the young worker is an end, an absolute in himself. One cannot respect God if one does not respect the human person.
2. This truth is universal and applies to every race, every people, every country, every age. is the lever, the motor, the stimulus of every civilisation and all human progress.
3. This eternal destiny does not begin after death. It becomes incarnate in time to flower out in eternity. From the very moment of his conception in his mother’s womb, the future young worker finds in this destiny the source of his rights to life, to education, to protection, to health, to justice. Far from being a philosophic justification or an opium, a cause or a pretext for escape, for resignation, it is the foundation of all deproletarisation, the guarantee against all violence, the inspiration of all liberation.
It gives to each young worker a vocation, a personal mission, which transforms his life into a collaboration with God, with all men, for the achievement of the divine plan in the work of creation and redemption, Created by God, redeemed by Christ, the young worker is their necessary collaborator, but freely, wilfully, through love. Not a starveling of the earth, but a responsible citizen of the City of God and of the city of men.
4. This vocation, this mission of the young worker, gives to his work, to his profession, a human and divine value. Work is not a shameful thing, a “come down”, a punishment, but a service, a ministering to his personal fulfilment and that of humanity. Without work there can be nothing: no humanity, no civilisation, no religion. This vocation demands a regime of work which excludes the exploitation and proletarisation, and which guarantees a collaboration in justice and equity.
5. This personal vocation is expressed in the family vocation and mission of each young worker. This vocation is fulfilled in the working class family which ensures the complementary vocation of the spouses and of the parents of the young worker and young working girl, with a view to the procreation and education of children. Without families, there can be no children, no citizens, no priests, no apostles.
6. This personal vocation makes clear the communal vocation and mission of each young worker, which is incarnate in every working class community, professional and local. The young worker is the first and immediate apostle and collaborator of his comrades, his companions, his neighbours. This implies a community of life, of destiny, of mutual aid, of friendship, of brotherhood. The young worker must not be an escapist, but an internal ferment, inseparable from the community in which he lives.
7. This personal vocation makes clear the mission, the vocation of the working class, which comprises all working class families and communities, in which all are united together and feel their responsibility for the transformation of all environments of life and regime of work, bearing the aspirations toward a full emancipation of the working masses of the world.
8. This vocation, this mission of working youth and of the whole working class, is their own irreplaceable vocation which inspires a conception of life, a spirit of life, a manner of life. This conception, this spirit, this manner of life must be acquired, especially between the ages of 14 and 25, between school and marriage, through a properly adapted education.
9. This vocation, this mission is essentially religious, apostolic, and missionary, and gives to each young worker, to each working class family, to all working class communities, to the whole* working class an apostolic responsibility which demands a training, graces, union with God, with Christ, with the Church.
10. The Church spreads throughout the world this essential truth concerning the destiny of each young worker and of the whole working class. By its doctrine and its grace, by its apostolate and its organisation, it enables this truth to become a living reality in the world and in history.
The State, national and international institutions, working class and employers’ organisations and the economic regimes must place this truth at the basis of their achievements, with a view to the progress of national and international communities.
11. This vocation, this mission of the young worker and of the working class will decide the future of humanity and of the Church.
II. A Truth of Experience:
A Flagrant Contradiction,
N.B. – This point of the lesson must be presented in a much more concrete form than point 1; in particular, it will be necessary to recall in all that follows, some of the facts and problems noted in the preceding lesson; “The Situation of Working Youth in the World”, in order to give a factual basis to the remarks that follow.
The various enquiries made at the occasion of the International Conference show once again the flagrant contradiction in 19$0 which exists between the plan of God and the tragic situation of the young workers and of the working class in the world.
These enquiries show:
– the ignorance of the young workers concerning their eternal destiny and their temporal mission.
– the contradiction between this mission and their conditions of housing, work, and life.
– the lack of preparation of the young workers before their entry in work.
– the abandonment in which all young workers find themselves on entering work, when they are lonely, isolated, far from their family and their teachers.
– the disastrous influence of this ignorance, this opposition and this isolation.
– the powerlessness of the young worker in the face of the system which rules the economic life and even the thought of the modem world: capitalism, “liberal economics”.
– the disastrous consequences for the young workers, for working class families, for the working class, for humanity for the Church; proletarisation, general indifference, despair, revolt, war.
– the irresistible influence of the great idealogical talents which are at present moving the masses; materialism, naturalism, existentialism, nationalism, communism, etc.
On the other hand, those enquiries have also shown something of the great living riches of working youth today in many countries: generosity, thirst for liberty, for justice, sincerity, sense of international brotherhood, etc.
These positive characteristics need further careful study, and will serve as starting points for the building of the true solution to the problem: the YCW.
III. A Truth of Method:
An Internal Solution
1. The achievement of the personal, communal, and family destiny of each young worker is conditioned by a number of efforts which must be made by the young workers themselves, so that they may train themselves, unite themselves, and support themselves in order to discover and to achieve together their own proper personal and collective mission in the uplifting and deproletarisation of the working class of the world. This personal and collective effort is especially necessary from 14-25 years, from school to marriage; before that time it is impossible; afterwards it is too late. It must coincide with the age at which human beings become persons.
2. This effort of the young workers in the discovery and achievement of their mission and the development of their personality, instead of being directed toward an individual trend, must be done from the inside, for the transformation of the environments of life, by those who belong to those environments of life, efforts of the young workers, to establish justice and charity in their environment of life; efforts to animate and develop the workers movement; efforts to create a human and Christian atmosphere in these environments of life, and thus make them more suited to their providential destiny.
3. This effort of working youth for its personal education and the transformation of the environments of life, demands and creates the reforms in social, economic, political, and cultural institutions; it is the condition and the guarantee of the success of those reforms. The latter are most urgent and necessary in a society which needs to learn how to respect the dignity of human personality in each young worker, without distinction of class, nationality, religion or race, and which has to seek to create a real and efficacious collaboration within the world of work, on the national and international plane.
These “external” reforms will be all the more efficacious if they are based at the same time on the efforts at self-education of the young workers themselves, who are trying to assume their own responsibilities toward their environment. Without that realisation by youth and the working class of their dignity and responsibility, all external reforms will be insufficient to solve the working class problems.
b. The YCW aims at achieving this organised effort of the young workers themselves who “between themselves, by themselves, and for themselves” are trained and exercised with a view to a permanent apostolate in the working class movement and in view of the uplifting of the working class which will remove proletarian conditions from the world.
5. The Church must inspire, guide and sustain the organised effort of the young workers, which must teach them and help them to achieve not only their personal vocation, but also their apostolate within the working class and the working class movement, for the total rechristianisation of their life, their environment of life, and their institutions of life.
The State, public institutions, and private organisations must support the organised effort of the young workers and assist an effective collaboration for the training and protection of working youth.