Although they were sometimes perceived by priests as “Young Christian Wreckers”, the YCW in Australia was “a powerhouse for energising needed and effective Christian activities in those parishes” where it was adopted, writes, Jim Madden in his 2012 book “Eucharistic Blues: Reviewing the Mass Exodus,” published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
“Through the YCW many young people developed a genuine Christian mentality by internalising the beliefs and values of their faith,” Madden writes. “They developed their acceptance of what the Church believed and practiced because it really became what they had convinced themselves that it was what they believed and practiced.
“Their living faith and their association with the clergy made them valuable assets to have around parishes, not just for when they were members of the YCW but for the rest of their lives. Some members tried to further their apostolic endeavours through entering a seminary, monastery or convent and others became faithful spouses and caring parents in loving and fruitful Christian marriages.”
Madden also credits YCW pioneers of the implementation of the decrees and decisions of Vatican II.
YCW leaders “were conspicuous among the people who were willing to undertake many of the new ministries these decrees implied,” he says.
The movement’s doctrine was based on an image of the Church “as the Mystical Body of Christ.”
“This doctrine emphasised the communitarian nature of the Church and the responsibility of everyone to actively engage in the work of spreading the gospel message.
“It carried the message that all members were part of the crew of the good ship ‘Church’ and had a vital role to fulfil”
In particular, “the Church was not like a big bus being driven to heaven by the bishops and priests on which lay people were passengers simply paying their way.”
On the contrary, via Cardijn’s YCW method “young people would be trained to see, judge and act in a Christian manner.”
Nevertheless, a perceived “similarity to Marxist methods” made some bishops and priests “suspicious of the movement and its aims”
Other critics of the movement felt that “by considering the meaning of the gospels and their application to life, (YCW leaders) were making their own religion.”
“This implied that they were forsaking the authority of the Church in religious matters and replacing it with their own authority,” Madden notes.
“Perhaps there was even a sneaking fear that if the movement became widespread and captured the hearts and minds of the majority of young people of the day that the clergy and the hierarchy could become redundant,” he notes.
Nevertheless, “in parishes where the movement was adopted and fostered by clergy, especially younger priests, it became a powerhouse for energising needed and effective Christian activities in those parishes.”
“The primary value of the movement was in the formation of its members,” Madden concludes.
It is an excellent historical account of the role of Catholic social teaching and social activists in general, and of the YCW, in particular, in the development of the cooperative movement in the Australian state of Victoria.
Moreover, it’s not just history. Race Mathews, who was once chief of staff to Australian prime minister, Gough Whitlam, as well as a parliamentarian and government minister in his own right, also sets out some important pointers for the future development of Mondragon style worker cooperatives.
The key, Mathews finds, is the need for formation – formation based on that given by the YCW itself but also carried further as it was by Fr Jose Maria Arizmendiarrietta, the founder of the Mondragon cooperatives.
Read more about the new book in the review that I wrote for the Catholic Weekly: