Brothers André and Roger Vallée died in Nazi concentration camps

Today we remember the sacrifice of two French jocist leaders, who both died in Nazi concentrations during World War.

Here is their story:

André Vallée was a JOC leader from the Orne region in France, who volunteered to replace another man who was being sent to Germany for forced labour. Arrested for his working organising Catholic Action study circles, he was sent to Flossenburg Concentration Camp. He died while being transferred to another camp.

André Vallée was born at Mortagne au Perche in the Orne region on 9 November 1919. After completing his studies he became a machine operator at the Oeuvre de La Chapelle-Montligeon in 1934. Simultaneously, he joined the JOC, becoming a federal (regional) leader in the Orne region from 1941.

In June 1940 he was mobilised for military service then made a prisoner of war at Poitiers. Freed later, he was sent to a youth camp in Auvergne. In November 1942, he took the place of a family man who had been called for compulstory labour and was sent to Gotha in Thuringia.

Immediately after his arrival, he identified three other Catholic Action leaders with whom he launched an initial reflection group. The JOC groups that he launched with his brother, Roger, a seminarian, grew to 60 members. Group members shared out the solidarity work among them with André taking on the task of visiting the sick in hospital.

He also became particularly involved in the library that they founded despite the fact that the sending of books from France was prohibited. He also organised singing practice, masses of support for the French with contacts every two months among JOC leadersin other regions, all of which was done clandestinely since all religious groups were prohibited.

Roger Vallée, André’s brother, was born in Mortagne on 13 December 1920. Following his primary school studies, he joined the minor seminary in 1933 and entered the major seminary in 1940, taking minor orders in June 1943.

Called up for compulsory labour service in August 1943, he joined his brother at Gotha to assist him in his apostolate. He became involved in developing weekly study circles, local recollections to support jocist leaders and also took part in regional meetings.

On 22 December 1943, police ordered them to no longer celebrate mass for foreigners.

They were arrested at Gotha on 1 April 1944, interrogated by experts in religious matters before being imprisoned at Gotha along with ten other companions arrested for the same reason.

The reason for conviction was the same in each case: “A danger to the state and the German people by his Catholic Action among his French comrades during his Compulsory Labour Service.”

André arrived at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on 12 October 1944 where he was given the number 28910. He was transferred to the Leitmeritz commando, dying en route on 31 January 1945 according to eye witnesses. His death was registered at the Flossenburg camp on 15 February 1945.

Roger arrived at Flossenburg on 12 October 1945, was given the number 28909 then transferred to Mauthausen, given number 108,811 where he died on 29 October 1944.

We remember their sacrifice and that of so many more jocist martyrs, who died during World War II, including Fernand Tonnet and Paul Garcet, both members of the “founder trio” in Belgium.


André Vallée (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Reflection author

Stefan Gigacz

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Fernand Tonnet (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Paul Garcet (Paul Garcet (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library

Brothers and Sisters All in Transforming the World

Emotions can be powerful forces of destruction. Our news media is filled with stories of people who wreak havoc on society when emotions are not directed appropriately. St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), whose feast was celebrated on January 28, highlighted the impact of the emotion of desire when it dominates a person’s life. The saint identified wealth, power, pleasure and honour as categories of addictive desire. Those whose lives are ruled by their addiction to power, wealth, pleasure and honour, create injustice in our society. 

Fr Joseph Cardijn was well aware of the impact of addictive desires on society. He identified the development of technology as transformative, but drew attention to the negative effects of such development on society. In his keynote address to the delegates gathered in Rome for the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, in October, 1951, Cardijn outlined the positive and negative effects of the transformation of society because of technology. The unequal distribution of technological advances globally “pose problems of responsibility, of equity, of social justice, and, above all, problems of education and formation.” 

The injustices that Cardijn identified in society in the first half of the twentieth century can be found in our world today, despite the further advances in technology. In his letter Fratelli Tutti (2020), Pope Francis tells us that the struggle for justice and peace has to be taken up by each generation and renewed each day. The proactive attitude of the apostles, of Joseph Cardijn, of Pope Francis and of all the saints is what Jesus expects of his disciples. 

The Gospel for the Mass of today recounts the story from Mark’s Gospel (5:1-20) about the man possessed by evil spirits and banished from his community. The evil spirits felt at home in the district in which the man lived. Jesus provides a creative solution. He drives the spirits out of the man and into a herd of pigs tended by Jews living in the area. The pigs drown in the lake and the townspeople ask Jesus to leave the territory. When Jesus’ disciples work together to restore justice, Jesus stands in solidarity with them, even when they experience failure. 

There is within each one of us the desire for peace and justice, the desire for unity, the desire to love one another and to be loved. Pope Francis calls us to action, but not to individualism. Cardijn worked with young lay people to found a movement to work for the coming of God’s kingdom. Who works today to counter the work of those who seek to consolidate their power and wealth at the expense of those who are powerless? What can we do to help them in their work? 


Pat Branson


Keynote Address, World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, 1951

Pope Francis (2020). Fratelli Tutti 

Readings for Mass for Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1

Ben Tillett: Christian, socialist, unionist

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the death of the English Dockers Union leader, Ben Tillett (11 September 1860 – 27 January 1943), whose example inspired young Cardijn on his visit to London in the summer of 1911.

On of the points that most impressed him was Tillett’s emphasis on “self-help” and education for workers, point that would both become features of the formation offered by the future YCW.

On his return to Brussels, Cardijn wrote a long article for the Belgian magazine, La Revue Sociale Catholique, in which he extolled the work being done by Tillett and his comrades:

I must confess that it was with some emotion that I called at No.425, Mile End Road, the General Secretariat of the D.W.R. and G.W.U.. Mr. Appleton, the Secretary of the General Trades Union Federation, to whom I had spoken about this interview, feared that I might be shown the door: Ben Tillett was no friend of Roman collars. A young lady opened the door. ” Is Mr. Tillett in ?. “No, he’s away at the moment.” And as I stood hesitating at the half-open door a man came down the stairs to us, drawn by the foreign accent. “What can we do for you, sir?”. “Mr Appleton sent me here to speak to Mr. Tillett.” ” Come up, please” he said, leading the way.

Could this be him, a well-built man with a working-class accent and a rough small moustache? No, I found out later that it was Mr. Harry Orbell, Ben Tillett’s old and loyal companion. He showed me into a small room where a girl was leafing through a big ledger. In the next room, larger and more crowded, several men and women employees were busy with usual secretarial work. The telephone was in continual use bringing news of the world of workers, at that time in real uproar. Mr. Tillett was absent but I just had to return in two hours; this pleasant man would arrange a meeting for me.

I was on time; he had not yet returned but would not be long; he had promised to see me. I was given the “Morning Post” to pass the time. Suddenly the bell rang, quick steps made the stairs creak, and a shortish man came in and held out both hands. “Hello, sorry to have kept you waiting”. He made me resume my chair, exchanged his woollen coat for a light white jacket, sat in front of the typewriter and stared at me….

Was I having an illusion? No, no, it was indeed Napoleon’s face, oval, deep, full and severe, the face of a leader of soldiers, the face which at that moment was to be seen in every London street on great coloured placards advertising a popular play ” A Royal Divorce”. And the longer I watched, the more I observed his attitudes, his gestures, his look, the stronger grew the persistent and indelible comparison.

He asked me challengingly for my name, my profession, the reason for my stay in London, and ended the examination with the words, “The Catholic Church is a clever church. The Church of England would never send its priests to study worker organisations.”

The ice was broken, we had become friends. I put question after question, he gave me answer after answer; he looked out for me all the documentation about the movement to which he had dedicated his life and was leading with astonishing mastery.

Finally he sent me away ( he had so much work to get through, the story of the strike to finish ) setting another meeting for 11.0 on Friday, then :” You’re Belgian, aren’t you? I don’t like Belgium – I was put in the cells in Antwerp – no, I don’t like Belgium!” with a grimace, a gesture of spitting out something distasteful….. and again the picture came to mind of the capricious brutal tyrant. I looked at him…”

One last question, sir. “Are you English?” “I am Irish and I have French blood in my veins. But I have always lived in England. ” I understood then that extraordinary mix of the extravagant enthusiasm of the French with the jovial bonhomie of the Irish and the unconquerable tenacity of the English. I answered, “Just as I thought. You are not at all like an Englishman”

He smiled, and I thought I could guess the reason – “Would you allow me to say who I think you resemble ?” “Certainly.” “No flattery, but you have Napoleon’s face.” He smiled, charmed by this remark which must often have flattered him, and shook hands; ” Goodbye till Friday”.

I have just finished reading the short history of the Dockers’ Union, its style so breathless and agitated that Ben Tillett seems to have written it with his body rather than with his hand. The exuberant enthusiast, the impassioned lover who serenades his mistress, the sighted mystic who pushes at the door of his dreams and aspirations for the future, the revolutionary who with a bloody joy throws himself into agitation and, if necessary, into slaughter.

In it you hear bursts of joy and sobs of suffering. He speaks of the “Sweet Little Cherub”, who inspires him like a poet and delights him like a saint, opening in his heart inexhaustible springs of emotion, idealism and enthusiasm. Hardly has he glimpsed his vocation when it becomes a charm that fascinates, a force that transports him above himself, a sort of religion that sanctifies him.

When he appeals to the workers, he prays like the Poverello of Assisi, exhorts like a fiery Savanarola, or issues orders like an Italian condottiere. His enthusiastic words conjure up a delighted throng of speaking images, realistic like those of Meunier, far-seeing like those of Laermans.

He covers the entire gamut of popular tricks – picturesque comparisons, biting mockery, satirical absurdity. But first and foremost he wants to appear as an idealist and is proud to repeat “They call me a dreamer! But people are glad to be around such men to get their ideas; only men and women with imagination know how to live life to the full “.


Stefan Gigacz


Joseph Cardijn, Worker Organisation in England (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Reflection chosen by Stefan Gigacz


BBC Hulton Picture Library

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Ben Tillett (Wikipedia)

Ben Tillett (Spartacus Education)

Benjamin Tillett, British Labour Leader (Britannica)

London Dock Strike 1889 (Wikipedia)

Stefan Gigacz, Was Cardijn a Christian Socialist? (Cardijn Research)

Information and interfaith relations

Today the Church celebrates St Thomas Aquinas, a priest and doctor of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas lived at the time (1225 – 1274) when the writing of Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE, now considered one of the greatest philosophers) had been rediscovered and became available to people in Europe for the first time in a thousand years. This knowledge of Aristotle came back to Europe through the work of Muslim scholars, who translated Aristotle’s work. 

In engaging with the works of the atheist Aristotle and trusting the works of Muslim scholars (European Catholics were fighting the various Crusade wars between 1096 – 1270), St. Thomas Aquinas showed, in a most significant way, that the truth can come from the most surprising sources.   

Those who follow the See-Judge-Act method (this includes Pope Francis) must thank St. Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle and Muslim scholars (particularly Ibn Rushd or Averroes). Through them (and several others), we have this method of seeking the truth and making decisions.

In his article, “Cardijn’s trinomials: a vision and method of lay apostolate formation“, Stefan Gigacz draws the philosophical lineage of the See-Judge-Act method from Aristotle to Cardijn. 

French Archbishop Emile Guerry also acknowledged the link between the See-Judge-Act and the philosophy of St Thomas:

All chaplains and leaders of Catholic Action should make a profound study of the marvelous tract of St Thomas on Prudence. Prudence is essentially the virtue of action. With his keen psychology, St. Thomas analyses the three acts which make up the exercise of prudence: to deliberate (the small inquiry, the interior counsel which one holds within himself); to judge; to act. Here we easily recognize practically the same three acts of the method of specialized Catholic Action: observe, judge, act.


There is so much information available today that it becomes difficult to determine what is true and what is not. The facts (truth) are no longer clear. There appear to be multiple truths. Society and information are increasingly becoming polarised as they hold on to, defend and promote different truths.  


St. Thomas Aquinas lived in a time of chaos. He did not reject information and truth from sources that could be construed as adversaries to the Church. Instead, he investigated the information through a systematic process. His investigations led to much important work that he became a Doctor of the Church.  


Do we have a systematic approach to seeking the truth to make good decisions? One that allows investigating information without bias or prejudice? One that seeks the truth? 

Let us learn more about the See-Judge-Act method today and practice using it. 


Greg Lopez


Stefan Gigacz, ‘See, judge, act’ more than truth by consensus (Eureka Street)

Joseph Cardijn, The Study Circle and its methods, (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Emile Guerry, Spirituality of Catholic Action (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Design drawing for stained glass window with St Thomas Aquinas, heavy-set, with his Summa Theologica (Picryl)

A model jocist president

Today is the birth anniversary of the early Belgian and international jocist leader, Emilie Arnould, born on 27 January 1906.

Cardijn himself recognised her leadership capacities early on, recruiting her as a full-time worker for the Belgian JOCF. After World War II, Cardijn called on her again to assist in developing the YCW international secretariat in Brussels.

Later, she played a key role in establishing Pax Christi International as its secretary general before becoming deputy secretary of the International Federation of Christian Labour Movements.

Sadly, however, I cannot find a photo of her! The above photo is taken from the cover of Joie et Travail (Joy and Work), the magazine of the Belgian JOCF (Girls YCW).

In any event, it seems appropriate to take a text from Emilie herself for our reflection today.

This is a short obituary she wrote in 1932 to mourn the passing of another young worker leader, Marie-Thérèse Joos:


It seems like only yesterday that I met her for the first time. She had come to us, spontaneously, to offer herself completely to Workers’ Catholic Action… Very young,… was she 18, barely 19? She offered herself all vibrant and enthusiastic, desiring to devote all her youth to the raising up of young women workers.

And as she began to better understand our technique of modern apostolate among the working masses, our work literally transported her.

She was not one of those who fears the masses,… on the contrary,… the more a young worker was morally isolated, the further she came, the weaker she was and the more she loved her, understood her, supported her.. She didn’t just help her, she became a genuine friend.

And people say that the more she herself lived through the YCW, the more she formed herself and the more her heart and her aspirations led her entirely towards the understanding of the young workers of the great masses.

Remarkably intelligent, she was not satisfied with having a simple personal influence which she knew how to exert admirably,… but she also understood the great importance of our collective achievements in working-class neighbourhoods and workplaces.

She also had to organise her apostolate well, while giving herself to it without measure, in order to succeed in a few years in completely transforming a YCW section that previously comprises only a few members into an ardent and valiant section of 62 members and this in an extremely difficult environment.

Although she was still very young, she had a very strong character: she knew how to be young and lively, but lively as well as serious, and welcoming and understanding when necessary.

Her family background, which was a modest Christian background, where people were generally favourable to workers’ organisations, had indirectly prepared her to come to us.

How many times, in the evening, very late after the meetings, when I was still her “regional secretary” did we talk together of the most beautiful dreams and built the most beautiful projects that sooner or later would bring the working masses back to the Church in the very difficult Centre region.

And already now, I’m sure that up there, she’s in the process of realising these dreams. She prays for us asking Our Lord to give us that ardent faith which moves mountains.

Just a month before her death, I received a letter in which she told me of all her plans for the formation of six sisters. And she thanked God profusely for having allowed her to be born in the 20th century and for having chosen her to be a militant in the JOCF.

But even more than that, she was truly a model president while remaining 100% jocist even in following the most humble and most modest requests. During her last illness, she kept repeating: “I want to be 100% jocist in everything.”

She died abruptly just 2 1/2 months after her mother. For her too, her last gesture was a forgetfulness of herself.

It was Easter Sunday and just a few hours before she died, she did not want her daughter to stay with her, but sent her out to preside over the big Easter lunch at the JOCF.

Marie-Thérèse has gone: her life completely “offered” just as she had lived… In her delirium, she often repeated this sentence which sums it all up: “I am given, totally given.”

She had loved Our Lord so simply, so naively and so spontaneously that it seemed so natural.

Like a luminous ray of vibrant youth, she will long appear as a model to all our leaders.

There are leaders of our local sections who are a wonder to us, national leaders, who find in them a comfort, a stimulus and a consolation that surpasses all human rewards.

Emilie Arnould


Joie et Travail (Joy and Work), N° 8, August 1934

In this beautiful appreciation of the life of young Marie-Thérèse Joos, we can see the essentials of what makes a great YCW leader.

And we can perhaps also see a reflection of Emilie Arnould and what she taught Marie-Thérèse.


Stefan Gigacz

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Emilie Arnould (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Emilie Arnould, Marie-Therese Joos (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library/Jocist Women’s Biographical Dictionary)

Australia’s young Catholics

Young Australians.

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saints Timothy and Titus. Timothy and Titus were converted to Christianity by St. Paul and became his friend and helpers. Timothy took care of Christians in Ephesus and Titus of Christians in Crete. 

Yesterday, Pat reflected on the relationship between the mission of the Church and that of the young people in the Church. The day before, on making the love of God visible in Catholic schools.

How do we form Australia’s young Catholics? 

In general, we could say that they are formed through their family life, school life, Church life, and life in the broader community. 


How strong is the influence of Catholics and Catholic institutions on young Australian Catholics? 

Twenty per cent of Australians are Catholics. In other words, one in five Australians is Catholic. 

1,755 Catholic schools are educating more than 785,000 students in Australia. In other words, one in five Australian students go to a Catholic school. 

There are 1388 Catholic Churches in Australia, including 93 Eastern Catholic Churches. 


In the first reading today, Paul reminds Timothy to “fan into a flame, the gift that God gave you….”

Returning, to Cardijn’s keynote address to the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, in 1951, he demanded that, 

“Each Christian, each Catholic, by his or her baptism, must be an apostle and a missionary – he has an apostolic and missionary vocation. Each one is called by God to Existence, to life, and to a collaboration in His creative and redemptive work. The earthly vocation is an apostolic and missionary vocation.”


As Catholic parents, are we forming our children to be apostles and missionaries as a way of living their lives? 

As Catholic educators, are we forming our students to be apostles and missionaries as a way of living their lives?

As Catholic adults, do we fulfil our apostolic and missionary duties in our daily lives? 

What could we, as lay apostles, do today to form our young to be apostles and missionaries as a way of living their lives?

The Church, the Young and Mission

Why is it that in my seventies I am still playing guitar and singing at Mass, whereas young people a fifth of my age give up, throw in the towel, and retreat from the commitment? Is this a feature of teenagers down under: afraid of commitment to something that most of their peers reject? If they stop singing, will they stop coming to Mass? There is every likelihood that they will. Our Catholic faith is lived partly through our participation in rituals that keep us connected with God. 

The situation I am experiencing is not new. When he was a young teenager, Cardinal Joseph Cardijn experienced the trauma of his peers’ rejection of the Church and of him because he was being faithful to the Church. Biographers Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert described the experience in their account of Cardijn’s life and work: “He knew they had been good boys and keen pupils and see them now: rebellious, anti-clerical, morally vicious, sometimes they themselves corrupters of others. “It was like a knife in my heart,” he used to say later. Seventy years after those holidays, we can see in that experience the source of all Joseph Cardijn’s work.”

It is certainly my hope that all young people be actively involved in the Church. Cardijn’s vision of that involvement focuses on its apostolic character. In his keynote address to the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, in Rome, 1951, he said, “Each Christian, each Catholic, by his or her Baptism, must be an apostle and a missionary – he has an apostolic and missionary vocation. Each one is called by God to Existence, to life, and to a collaboration in His creative and redemptive work. The earthly vocation is an apostolic and missionary vocation.”

Young people are called to be apostles, not in the way St Paul was called – today is the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul – but called like him to “go out to the whole world: proclaim the Good News to all creation” (Mark 16:15). When young people make use of the symbols the Church has used from the first Pentecost, their relationship with God will grow and develop. They will find themselves inspired to use their gifts and talents to fulfil their part in the mission given them in Baptism. 

The change was described by Cardijn in the following way: “an incarnate apostolate, adapted to the needs and the problems of this new world.” Even though Cardijn was referring to the world in the middle of the last century, our world today could be referred to as “new,” just as the Church refers today to evangelisation as “new”. What can be done to draw young people into the life of the Church? How can others be involved in carrying out the action? 


Pat Branson

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Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert with the collaboration of Roger Aubert, (Preface Dom Helder Camara) (English Translation Edward Mitchinson), Cardijn. – JCDL Library 

The world today and the apostolate of the laity – JCDL Library 



Making the love of God visible in Catholic schools 

“Our school’s mission? Well, to turn out well-rounded responsible citizens who will help to make the world a better place for others.” He was a teacher in a Catholic secondary school. He was also a participant in a study of the perceptions of school staff of their school’s mission. His view of his school’s mission did not differ substantially from the views of others who were interviewed. Their perceptions of the mission of a Catholic school focused entirely on the temporal work of the school. If they had ever thought of the divine destiny of everyone associated with their school, they did not allude to it. Clearly, it was not a priority. Yet, their dedication to the well-being of the young people in their care, their acceptance of the importance of celebrating Mass with their students, and their commitment to developing their students’ abilities to think for themselves and to be generous with their time and talents was both humbling and inspiring. 

Cardijn was not satisfied with the good that people did. He dedicated his whole life to educating young workers as leaders in the workplace. He focused on helping them deepen their understanding of the purpose of life as both a temporal and eternal reality. He spells out the relationship between the temporal and eternal destiny of each person in his teaching about the three truths: “The eternal destiny of each human being is incarnate, develops, and is achieved in temporal life always and everywhere – on earth as it is in heaven.” Surely such teaching would distinguish Catholic schools from those established by the State … if it is an integral part of the stated mission of the Catholic school. 

When I was about six years old, I was given a small catechism. I still remember learning that “God made me to know him, love him and serve him here on earth and to be happy with him forever in heaven.” The belief that the eternal is incarnated in the temporal is not part of the perception of the mission of the Catholic school shared with the interviewer in the research project. Yet it was clear to the interviewer that understanding of the purpose of education the staff members shared was more than the secular mission of a school. Theirs was focused on relationships, on modelling loving service of those in need, like the Good Samaritan, without making much of the analysis of why they did things and gave so much of themselves. 

Today is the feast of St Francis de Sales, a French bishop and doctor of the Church, who focused on the spiritual needs of lay people. The Gospel reading chosen to celebrate his feast day, has been taken from John’s Gospel (15:9-17). Jesus tells his disciples: “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.” He commissioned his followers to “go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” The staff members who were interviewed placed great store on meeting up with ex-students who reported on the value they placed in the care taken of them while they were at school and their hope that what they had achieved would reflect their gratitude. Surely in this there are the seeds of the incarnation of the eternal destiny of all people. 

Cardijn’s belief that the eternal is incarnated in the temporal destiny of every person was shared with YCW leaders in a lecture he gave about eleven years before I was born. It is a blessing that I was given the opportunity to embrace this belief as a child with a child’s understanding of the temporal and the eternal. Surely, this should be the same for everyone. And to make it a reality, those who lead in Catholic schools need to recognise the belief in their own lives and articulate the mission of their school in ways that acknowledge the belief. Then they will know that they have acted on Jesus’ command “to love one another.”


Pat Branson




The Three Truths (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Lunar New Year in Vietnam

Vietnam is another country that celebrates the Lunar New Year. And this year also marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of the founder of the YCW in Vietnam, Nguyen Manh Ha, who was born in the town of Quy Suu in Hung Yen province in 1913.

His father was a doctor who took part in World War I and stayed on in France. As a result, Manh Ha also lived much of his life in France as well as in Switzerland.

After completing his baccalaureat, he studied law and politics at the University of Paris. He followed this by graduating from the Institute of Political Science (Sciences Po) and also obtained a doctorate in law.

In 1939-40, he founded the YCW in the Hai Phong region.

In 1943, he became economic director and labor inspector for Tonkin as the northern part of Vietnam was then known.

In this role, he helped resolve a 1945 famine in Hai Phong leading to his recognition as a “saviour” of the people.

As a result of this, in August 1945, he was called upon to collaborate with the first national government under Ho Chi Minh following Vietnam’s declaration of independence from France.

On 2 September 1945, he was appointed Minister of National Economy in the Viet Minh Provisional Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

In 1946, he was elected to the Vietnamese National Assembly to represent Hung Yen.

During this period, he was given the mission of conducting negotiations with France regarding Vietnamese independence.

On May 28, 1946, he joined a goodwill delegation of the Vietnamese National Assembly to visit France. And he took part in the Fontainebleau Conference in July 1946 as a member of the Vietnamese delegation.

He then returned to Hanoi where he joined the National Resistance. Because his wife was French, the colonial government did not dare to arrest him. But, in 1951, since he was regarded as siding with the Viet Minh, he was deported to France on the orders of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, the commander of French troops in Vietnam until 1951. He spent the rest of his life in Europe.

In 1947, he issued an Appeal to French Catholics published in the magazine, Témoignage Chrétien.

We hope that French Catholics, by common agreement, will raise their voices to defend justice, charity and peace. In the wake of shootings and killings, peace is necessary. Genuine peace based on the spirit of Christianity.

The essential condition is that Vietnam should be treated with the respect that the Gospel counsels in relation to nations as well as persons. It is France, which since it has the arms of war, also has the great responsibility of building peace. Peace with Vietnam and not peace based on the requirements of the French nation.

May French Catholics not back away from their responsibilities.

Once he returned to France, Manh Ha continued to work for the Vietnamese cause, championing the notion of a “Third Force” to bring peace to Vietnam.

He died in Switzerland in 1992 at the age of 79.


Stefan Gigacz

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Nguyen Manh Ha (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Cardijn’s China dream

Today the world celebrates Lunar or Chinese New Year! So it’s interesting to reflect on Cardijn’s own appreciation of the Middle Kingdom, which seems to have captured his imagination as it did for many of his contemporaries.

In fact, Cardijn was just five years younger than one of Belgium’s most famous missionaries to China, the Lazarist priest, Frédéric-Vincent Lebbe, whose advocacy eventually led Pope Pius XI to appoint the first Chinese-born bishops. Lebbe eventually died in China in 1940 soon after he was captured by Communist forces.

Perhaps it was Lebbe’s example which inspired Cardijn. Indeed, as Cardijn wrote in 1939, contacts with China had been made as early as 1929:

The Belgian YCW has been in contact with China for more than ten years by means of valiant missionaries who have started the movement in several centres The (Sinojapanese) war failed to interrupt these links. Bishop Yu Pin wanted to come to the Jocist Central to express his gratitude for all the worldwide YCW had done for China.

After the Chinese Revolution, however, Bishop Yu Pin, later a cardinal, found himself in Taiwan, where the YCW continued to develop, although it disappeared in China itself.

As Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert later recorded in their biography of him, Cardijn always dreamed of the movement returning to the mainland and indeed visiting himself.

They wrote:

On February 24th 1967, Cardijn set off on his fourth voyage into the North Pacific, bound for Hong Kong, Japan and Formosa. 

The stay in Hong Kong impressed him more than any other. He could see the fruits of the rapid growth of the YCW since the birth of the first group in 1957; and now the biggest hall of the free town, City Hall, was too small to hold the YCW and their comrades celebrating the tenth anniversary of their movement. He was full of admiration for the work of a girl extension worker. Daughter of a former leader in the Belgian YCW she had been there for three years, had become thoroughly Chinese, was working in a big textile factory, learning the language from her workmates and sleeping on a mat in a dormitory with sixty other girls. 

Just as Tokyo had been, Hong-Kong was for Cardijn a renewed discovery of the crucial needs of the working population in the great urban concentrations and the need of a special ministry of priests. In this town of some four millions, at the very doors of communist China, there was not a single priest freed for the evangelisation of working youth. As he had often done in the course of his work, Cardijn made again the comparison between this lack and the fact that thousands of priests were occupied full time, all over the world, in the education of middle class youth. 

Hong-Kong was above all the vital link between the three Chinas: that of the Diaspora, counting millions of its sons in all the big cities of every continent; that of the islands, holding a sizable minority hoping for a return to the land of their ancestors and then, continental China, the China of Mao, dynamic and impenetrable. Before he left for Europe, friends took Cardijn to the frontier and there, up on a hill with binoculars, like Moses looking at the promised land, he could see something of the vast plain that lay south of Canton. 

During the twenty-four hour non-stop flight back as far as Zurich, he was quite unable to keep his reflections to himself. He knew something, right enough, of the United States, Africa, India and Australia; but what was the real life of people in those two great human reservoirs, the Soviet Union and the People’s China? He had to recognise that this was a big gap in his experience. It was not, of course, the first time he had such thoughts. He had been building up this last dream over the past year or so: to make a journey of study through two great lands which claimed to be the champions of proletarian liberation and which put such an emphasis, too, on youth. He was convinced there was something to be learned there and he had spoken about it to Paul VI. 

A former YCW working with the United Nations and with some experience of the USSR was ready to help arrange a visit for the spring of 1968. But the Cardinal was not satisfied; afraid that his age might raise further obstacles later, he wanted to get ready at the same time for a journey to China. 

“Once in Moscow, one is halfway to Peking”, he said, “I don’t see why we can’t go right through.” “But, Monsignor, the moment is not opportune … they are in the middle of a full cultural revolution! Don’t you read the papers?” 

Just as obstinate as he had been at thirty, he said nothing but thought all the more. Then, one day, without saying anything, off he went to a former cabinet minister who knew something of the matter and asked for his intervention in the business of getting into “the real China” as he called it. It was wasted effort; he met with the same arguments and obstacle. He still was not convinced. He started preparing as if he was soon to leave, looked for other contacts, plunged into reading ‘Dans trente ans, la Chine,’ of Robert Guillain, Mao’s little red book and others, making a study of this type of communism implanted in a country of more than seven hundred million. Later on, in the summer of 1967, among the last pages of rough draft there was a letter to the minister of State, the socialist Kamiel Huysmans: “ You are perhaps the only one, he insisted, who can open up for me the way into China.” 

Will and determination like that is remarkable in a man of that age, who had every reason and excuse to rest after a lifetime’s mission carried out untiringly. But his energy took still other forms, as we shall see. 

Just five months later on 24 July 1967, Cardijn died without fulfilling this dream.

As we celebrate this Chinese New Year, let’s resolve to make his work known in the Middle Kingdom.


Stefan Gigacz

Read more

Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert, Cardijn, Chapter XV, The last call (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)