Transforming the Australian milieu – a culturally diverse and ageing population

In the “Three touchstones of the genuine YCW,” Fr. Joseph Cardijn stated that:

The real YCW (Young Christian Workers) can be recognised by three inseparable objectives or three touchstones, which allow it to be distinguished from any fake or caricature.

  1. 1. The YCW aims to transform the mass of working youth.
  2. 2. The YCW aims to re-Christianise the real life of working-class youth.
  3. 3. The YCW aims to reclaim the milieu or environment in which the mass of young workers work and live.


What does the Australian milieu look like today?

How do we engage it? Is it in need of transformation?

If it is, how would we do it?

  • Australia and Australian Christians are ageing.  
  • Australia is undergoing a significant generational shift.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • 1 in 6 Australians are aged 65 and over (16%)
  • Around half (53%) of Australians over 65 are women
Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  • Australia continues to be culturally and linguistically diverse
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

NOTE: The image includes a map of the world with the top five countries of birth with the growth of >20,000 persons and growth of >16 per cent between 2016 and 2021. Nepal 124 per cent, India 48 per cent, Pakistan 45 per cent, Iraq 38 per cent, Philippines 26 per cent.  


Applying the three touchstones of the YCW, what should I (or together with my friends) do today to engage and, if needed, transform the milieu?


What must my friends and I do to engage older Australians, both Christians and non-Christians? 

All that He created was good, and all those who touched Him were cured

In yesterday’s reflection, Stefan explained how Cardinal Cardijn saw the role of the Young Christian Workers (YCW) and the parish. The foundation of the YCW was the parish, and the social action that the YCW undertook was part of parish life. 

Pope Francis, in 2022, would develop further what Cardinal Cardijn said in 1925 when speaking to the French social organisation, “Village de Francois (Village of Francis).” 

“Jesus Christ alone fills our thirsty hearts,” Pope Francis stressed to members of the Village of Francis.

The Village of Francis develops and runs innovative shared living spaces, i.e. the Village. It brings together vulnerable people and those who care for them, focusing on three areas: living together, economic activity and integral ecology. 

The Village of Francis, the Pope said, “is an ecclesial place that goes out of the usual framework to propose something else.” 

“It is the Church as a ‘field hospital,’ concerned more with those who suffer than defending its interests, taking the risk of novelty to be more faithful to the Gospel.”

“I hope that the Village of Francis will contribute to rediscovering what a true village is: a fabric of concrete human relations, in mutual support, in attention to those in need, in the coexistence of generations and the concern to respect the Creation that surrounds us.”  

After reading Cardinal Cardijn’s and Pope Francis’s views on the role of the Church (parishes and parishioners), can we conceive parish life as reduced to only going to mass and receiving sacraments? 


Why do I go to Church? 

Why do the people I know go to Church? 

Is my parish actively involved in the life of the community where my parish is located? 

Is my parish “a fabric of concrete human relations, in mutual support, in attention to those in need – within and outside the parish?”


God saw that it was good. The first reading (Genesis 1:1-19) is the creation story. What God created was good, and more importantly, He created the universe, the world, and everything in it in abundance and for everyone. 

All those who touched Him were cured. Today’s Gospel (Mark 6:53-56) shows a broken world filled with suffering, and Jesus is the healer. Those who touched Him were cured. 


How can my parish – followers of Jesus Christ – help restore God’s creation? 

How can my parish – followers of Jesus Christ – be an instrument of His healing?


Greg Lopez

The art of accompaniment with priests and religious

Have you ever sung “Companions on the Journey,” which was written by Carey Landry? It’s one song I dread singing at Mass. The only redeeming feature of the song is the message it conveys, albeit, poorly. As a lay person, I break bread and share life with other lay people and with priests and religious … and I am blessed. Yes, blessed by the presence of many beautiful men and women, priests, brothers and nuns, who have accompanied me in my journey through life. It is the still fresh memory of one priest’s sharing with me on the phone the other day that illustrates for me the importance of lay people sharing their lives with priests and religious who are lifted up and inspired to keep serving God through serving God’s people. Listening is a critical skill in the art of accompaniment. Active listening, yes, but really, it is listening with the heart for the sound of the Holy Spirit at work. And as I listened to him, we both recognised the signs of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of people he served in his parish. Without knowing it, they accompanied us, priest and lay person, in our desire for union with God. 

In his reflection on the role of the priest in YCW, Cardijn noted: “It is a difficult, slow task which demands patience and perseverance in facing disappointment and failure and a readiness to give up a great deal. The chaplain must be the youngest among the working youth; the youngest in faith, hope and charity; the youngest in enthusiasm and optimism.” The priest is not a lay person. The work of the lay apostolate remains the work of the laity. The priest, however, places himself at the service of the lay apostles and is there to give the Church’s guidance and blessing. In the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis), which was promulgated prior to the close of Vatican II, we are told that priests “would be powerless to serve men if they remained aloof from their life and circumstances” (PO, 3).

The Gospel reading for today is short (Mark 3:20-21) yet relevant to the issue of the accompaniment of priests and religious by the laity, which is reciprocated. Mark tells us that Jesus went home, and so many people gathered at his home, hungering for his presence in their lives, and he made room for them in his life and his home. Jesus’ relatives thought that he was crazy. Clearly, they had no understanding or appreciation of his mission. In one sense, the Gospel scene is so unlike our Australian society, which was once predominantly Christian, but is now marked by a lack of commitment to Jesus. Across Australia, about 11% of Catholics go to Mass regularly. If they meet Jesus in their daily lives, it is likely that they do not recognise him in the Eucharist. In this country alone, there is a real need for the Emmaus Walk to be lived out millions of times in people’s lives.

For those of us who attempt to “practise” our faith in ways that include priests and religious, what is there that we can do to grow in faith through accompanying others, particularly those who are priests, or members of religious orders or congregations? One starting point might be one’s examination of conscience: What have I done today or recently to show my appreciation for the presence of my parish priest in my life? When was the last time I shared with him my hopes for a world united in faith at home with Jesus? How do I show the religious I know that I appreciate the part they play in my life and the part I play in their lives? And when was the last time I expressed my appreciation for them sharing their lives with me? It will be by small steps and sharing the experience with others that change will happen. 

By Greg Lopez and Pat Branson

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Joseph Cardijn, The priest in the YCW (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

The art of accompaniment

A young priest, Fr Karol Wojtyla, was appointed to the position of assistant parish priest in the city of Krakow, Poland in 1949. He served as a chaplain to university students in the city and formed strong bonds with some of them. They became members of his informal community, which he named “Srodowisko” a Polish word which means “accompaniment.” They joined him for Mass each week, and he took them hiking and kayaking. He organised conferences for them to learn more about living their faith in the modern world. They shared their lives with him and they became lifelong friends. One of his last acts before he died was to write to his friends. 

Almost four decades before Fr Wojtyla began to practise the art of accompaniment in Krakow, another young priest, a Belgian named Joseph Cardijn was accompanying young men and women as they learned how to live their faith in a world that was turning its back on God and on the Christian faith. He encouraged them to see themselves as apostles of the workplace. He reminded his friends to see themselves as leaders of an apostolic movement. In one of his lectures, given in Godinne in 1951, he told them: “An apostolic movement must have as its first concern the eternal destiny of the working class, its divine origin, the divine value of the life of each worker, and of each worker’s family”.

The commitment to the other shown by both men is staggering when you stop and think about it. Their faith in God is inspiring. Their love for those to whom they committed themselves to journey through life models the love of God they experienced. 

The Gospel reading for Mass today (Mark 3:7-12) shows how focused Jesus was as he accompanied the people he had been sent to save. Their hunger for knowledge of God’s love in their lives was unrelenting. He committed himself to providing food for their souls and, when necessary, also food for their bodies also. His art of accompaniment is evident in the prayer he taught his apostles to pray not just in words, but especially in action. 

About the art of accompaniment, Pope Francis says it “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (Exodus 3:5). An accompaniment that is steady and reassuring, “reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life” (Evangelii Gaudium, 169). Pope Francis sees the practice of this art as something all Christians do as part of living their faith in the world. 

Both Cardinal Joseph Cardijn and Pope St John Paul II would have prayed to God each day “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the change they sought in the lives of the people they accompanied through life. I have no doubt that they would have also prayed each day for direction from the Holy Spirit and the gifts they needed to serve those whom they loved as God loves them. 

May reading this reflection be the realisation that Jesus is accompanying you. And may it lead you to reflect on how you are being called to  carry out God’s will today in love.


Pat Branson


Levan Ramishvili / Flickr

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Daily Mass Readings 19 January 2023 (USCCB)

With just five loaves and two fish – and Jesus – we can ….

“The world will not be finally beautiful, nor healthy, till it finds God.” So wrote Fr Bob Wilkinson in his book New Visions of Priesting (ATF Press, 2022). One has only to consider for a moment the state of our world at present to recognise the absence of beauty and health across the globe: the impact of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine; the support the Australian government gives to overseas powers to destroy communities and kill innocent people; the impact of the pandemic globally; and the effects of global warming. While technology makes rapid advances to counter the evil present in the world, there is a lack of solidarity between nations to restore order, rebuild communities, render loving assistance to the poor and usher in lasting peace. 

In Rome, in October, 1951, Fr Joseph Cardijn gave the keynote address to the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate. He began his address with an analysis of the technological progress of society and he drew attention to the inequality of the distribution and effects of technological progress. He also spoke of the “the impassable distances between the classes of a population itself, between the small minority of the privileged, and the immense mass of the extremely poor who continue to live in subhuman conditions.” More than seventy years later, nothing seems to have changed. 

The world was created by God for all people to share equally not only in the present but also in the future. From the first moment of creation God has been present loving, blessing, forgiving and transforming those who seek and find God in their world. We can learn from Jesus how God intends us to respond to the mission he gave to all people to look after all of creation. When his disciples had returned from their mission to preach and to heal, he took them away to a quiet place (Mark 6:30-44). Their rest was disrupted by the presence of thousands of people seeking Jesus. To him they were like sheep without a shepherd, so he gave himself entirely to meeting their needs. His disciples soon learned that without him leading them, they could achieve very little. He brought order to the chaos before him and demonstrated how to look after those in need. Today, there are millions of people who follow his method and draw on his power … but without any faith in him, without belief in God. God’s commitment to creation extends beyond the Church. 

We know what has to change. Pope Francis has said that we need a Church filled with people smelling like sheep (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). Let’s extend that to the whole world smelling like sheep. What are some actions that can be taken to contribute to the efforts of the many who are working to bring about justice and peace in the world? Cardijn was particularly thorough at gathering the data he needed to understand the situations in which many young workers found themselves. I once read that to know something one must be able to tell others about it in all sorts of ways, like navigating your way around and through it blindfolded. This is a good place to start. 

Our federal government contributes to the atrocities committed in Myanmar by the military junta. I say this with some knowledge of how the Australian taxpayer supports the military regime and its criminal activity, however, I have to be completely on top of this issue so that any action I take and that I encourage others to take will be loving and just and be focused on empowering the people of Myanmar to restore order and peace in their country. And the action I take must be carried out like Jesus, who took the five loaves and two fish and offered them to God in thanksgiving before giving them to his disciples to distribute to the gathering.

What is there in our world that you would like to change? And what action will you take to bring about change to help people find God and help to restore beauty and health to God’s creation?


Pat Branson


Joseph Cardijn, The world today and the lay apostolate (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Mosaic in the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves und the Fishes at Tabgha near the Sea of Galilee (Yam Kinneret), Israel. According to the pious legend, in this place Jesus fed 5000 pilgrims with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14,13).

Photo taken by Grauesel / Wikipedia