Today is the birth anniversary of Patrick Keegan, the English YCW leader who became the first president of the International YCW.
Later he became Secretary General of World Movement of Christian Workers, a post he held during the period of the Second Vatican Council where he became a lay auditor and was the first lay person to address an Ecumenical Council.
For today’s reflection, I’ve chosen a radio message that he broadcast to Australia in June 1951 for the tenth anniversary of the movement.
He began by expressing his appreciation for the Australian YCW leaders and chaplains he had met, including Fr Frank Lombard, Terry Barber, Frank McCann and Ted Long.
“Our Headquarters without an Australian just doesn’t seem to be complete,” he commented. “All of us ever here remember with a deep and profound gratitude the comradeship of those Australians who shared with us the difficulties of war.”
He noted the spread of the YCW around the world, particularly the English-speaking world and he recalled the 1950 International Congress of the YCW in Brussels, which demonstrated the belief and conviction of YCW leaders “in that fundamental and universal truth, that lies at the very heart of our work and effort in the YCW – the dignity of the young worker.”
We believe with our heart and soul that every working fellow and girl without a single exception, irrespective of their colour or country is called to an eternal destiny and vocation as a son or daughter of God – not an animal – not a machine, but a person possessing a magnificent vocation. We further believe that anything in his life of home, work or neighbourhood that hinders him from discovering or attaining this tremendous vocation constitutes the problem that he must solve.
This truth is a universal truth to which there cannot be the slightest exception. It is true for the Negro, the Chinese, the Hindu, the Japanese just as it is for the whites. It is the truth least understood or apparently only understood as a principle to be applied in a selective way. At this hour of history, it is the truth which if practically applied to men and institutions can change and transform the world.
He saw Australia as having a chance to avoid the mistakes of Europe and to build something genuinely new:
For those engaged in the apostolate in Europe, everything points to Australia, being an unrivalled land of apostolic opportunity. Australia is seen as a nation where men are still free to build institutions and public life on Christian principles, untrammelled by the relics or backwash of the barbarian that accompanied the rise of industrialism in the countries of Europe
Seeing the results of industrialism in Europe – the black spots of its inhuman production, unjust distribution and exhausting labour, one must believe that in a country like yours free to choose the pattern of future construction, that the mistakes of Europe can be avoided.
And he set out his vision of the role the YCW could play:
Our task in the YCW is to produce through home, neighbourhood, school and work, men and women capable of building a Christian society – men and women willing to accept as a great privilege all the personal sacrifice entailed by this most practical work.
We know this will only be possible by following working youth at this very moment into the heart of their real life – giving them the means to discover not only their own place and responsibility in Christ’s plan, hut the place of their factory, neighbourhood, mine and office.
Our movement is the university for working youth, where we can discover the meaning and purpose of our life – where we can discover more and more the Christian conception of work, leisure and community – a conception lived and made real and not remaining in the realm of theory. Through our work in the movement we must discover the Christian “ideal of life”. An ideal when grasped will never allow a flinching at difficulties.
In Europe the YCW has faced an industrial set up based on the conception of men as a commodity – a means of production. Far too much of our work has been spent in bringing remedies to the effects of a system basically wrong in conception.
Fortunately, in your country you now stand at the threshold of great industrial development. You can plan it in the way that you wish. It must be planned on the basis of the Christian (conception) of the human person. In order that this may be done, Australia needs at this very moment men and women with profound Christian convictions willing to give themselves to this task, willing to share in the making and execution of these plans on which so much will depend for the future.
A Christian Australia is a worthwhile target for all members of the YCW. A Christian Australia is vital for the whole Pacific world. One knows that millions of people in the Far East are hungrily looking for an ideal of life pressed down as they are by an economic and social misery unknown in such intensity in Europe, it is in this setting that Australia must take her responsibility as the torch bearer of Christian values – geographically set as she is the spring board for the Far East.
Strangely enough and sadly, Pat never visited Australia.
Nevertheless, on this anniversary of his birth, let us remember him and his challenge to become conscious of our responsibilities as Australians in the world.
Patrick Keegan, Australian Broadcast 26.6.51 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library/Pat Keegan)
Patrick Keegan (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)