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.

SEE

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.  

JUDGE

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?

ACT

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

Declining members in Christian organisations in Australia

If Christianity was a football club (say the Australian Christian Football Club – ACFC), and membership was the most critical indicator of the club’s viability, how would the ACFC fare?

Who is responsible for ensuring that the club continues to attract members?

Religious Affiliation in Australia, 1971 – 2021

Waves of migration have shaped Australia’s religious profile. Over the years, the growth of Christianity in Australia was a function of migration. One can conclude that domestic evangelisation in Australia was never a strong suit. The ability of the ACFC to retain existing members, and attract new ones domestically, has never been strong.

Christian affiliation by generation, 2021

As the number of Christians declined in the newer waves of migration, the inability to retain existing Christians, and attract new ones in Australia, has resulted in millennials having the highest proportion of No religion (46.5%) and Other religions (14.9 %).

Decline in Christian affiliation

The number of people affiliated with Christianity in Australia decreased from 12.2 million (52.1%) in 2016 to 11.1 million (43.9%) in 2021. This decrease occurred across most ages, with the most significant reduction for young adults (18 -25 years).

SEE

We ask ourselves, as Catholics in Australia, how is it that:

  • A club with over 3,000 organisations employing more than 220 000 people (in 2016) throughout Australia?
  • A club with over 1,759 Catholic schools reaching 793,897 young people throughout Australia?
  • A club with over 11,400 branches (local parishes) throughout Australia?
  • A club with an estimated national wealth of $30 billion (in 2018)?

is struggling to retain existing members, let alone find new ones?

JUDGE

Why is this club struggling?

  • Is it the brand?
  • Is it the strategy?
  • Is it the leaders?
  • Is it the existing members themselves?
  • Is it something else?

ACT

What can we, the members, do to stop and reverse this decline?

Author: Greg Lopez

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it!

Christ is washing the feet of a migrant. Image generated by DALL.E

Today’s Gospel is a big ask, especially if one does not have community spirit and/or a preferential option for the poor.  

Then to all he said:

If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?

(Luke 9:22-25)

Cardijn said the same.

Religion should not be outside of ordinary, daily life, but rather it should animate and transform it into a truly divine life.

(Joseph Cardijn, – La Croix, 13/06/1938)

It is important to note that Cardijn meant that a ‘truly divine life‘ integrates the interior and exterior.

This Lent, an important area where we can “lose our life for Jesus’ sake” and where religion can “animate and transform our daily life into a truly divine life” is in the area of volunteerism, if this is something we are not doing or not doing enough.

SEE

Volunteering contributes fundamentally to the functioning of society. Families, communities, and not-for-profit organisations rely on unpaid labour for essential and productive resources. However, volunteers are declining. A research paper by Rong Zhu (2022), “The Decline of Formal Volunteering in Australia (2001 – 2020): Insights from HILDA Survey“, highlights the following:

  • Volunteering participation in Australia generally declined from 2001 to 2020, corroborating analysis of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics General Social Survey by Volunteering Australia.
  • These declines in participation were most noticeable among Australians aged 45–60, women, and those without a university degree.
  • However, volunteer hours of unpaid work per week were either stable or increasing, with some fluctuations across the sample or sub-samples.
  • Quantitative evidence also suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected the provision of volunteer work in Australia.

Are the highlights above similar to my/our experience?

Do I/we volunteer?

Can I/we volunteer?

How can I/we volunteer?

Where can I/we volunteer?

JUDGE

Based on Jesus call today “to lose our lives for His sake” and Cardijn’s call that our faith “should not be outside our lives, but rather that it should animate and transform it“, what can I/we do about volunteerism in my/our life/lives?

ACT

Will I/we do something concrete about volunteering today?

NOTE: DALL.E is a new AI system than can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language.

Greg Lopez

A Christian Australia?

Yesterday, we read Stefan’s reflection celebrating the birth anniversary of the International Young Christian Workers’ (IYCW) first’s president, Patrick Keegan. 

Patrick Keagan, in a speech to Australia, concluded that, 

“A Christian Australia is a worthwhile target for all members of the YCW. A Christian Australia is vital for the whole Pacific world. 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. In this setting, Australia must take her responsibility as the torch bearer of Christian values – geographically set as she is the springboard for the Far East.”

Patrick Keegan, Australian Broadcast 26.6.51 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library/Pat Keegan)

In 1951, when Keegan made this speech, Australia was a very different country. He would be surprised at what has happened since. According to the 1954 census, the total number of Christians was almost 90% of the total population.

Catholics were 23%, Anglicans were 38%, and other Christians were 29%. The Australian Young Christian Workers (ACYW) and the Australian Young Christian Students (AYCS) were vibrant youth movements spread throughout Australia. 

Today, Christians are 44% of the Australian population (a minority for the first time since the invasion, but still a majority within the plurality of those who do not associate with any faith and other faiths).

Catholics are 20% of the Australian population, and the AYCW and the AYCS are a shadow of their former selves, limited to a few locations. 

Far from being vital for the Pacific world, Australian Christians (Catholics) cannot keep Australia Christian (Catholic). 

The declining number of Christians (Catholics) in Australia is concerning, and the causes are complex. What can we do about it?  

SEE 

Do I understand the causes of the declining number of Catholics in Australia? 

Which of these causes is within my spheres of influence? 

Would Cardijn and Vatican II’s teachings, particularly on the role of the lay apostolate, be a way to re-evangelise Australia again? 

JUDGE

If Australian Catholic laity would fulfil their baptismal role as priest, prophet and king – as captured in Stefan’s reflection: Lay People as Priest, Prophet and King – could that contribute to re-evangelising Australia, once again, and in an authentic way?

ACT

What can we do, as Australian Catholics, in the public sphere to fulfil our baptismal roles as priest, prophet and king? 

Greg Lopez

A witness for justice

The twelve Apostles, St Paul, St John the Baptist (the Gospel today is of his beheading), and St Maximilian Kolbe are examples of individuals who gave up their lives to witness their faith. 

The Young Christian Worker (YCW) movement has also produced its fair share of martyrs. The brothers Andre and Roger Vallee and Daniel Antero are among them. The Joseph Cardijn Digital Library lists individuals from the YCW or related to YCW who have died in witnessing their faith. 

There are martyrs, and there are those who live faithful lives every day without the need to be a martyr. We are all called to be a witness. And courage and bravery – witnessing for justice – can occur in ordinary life.

We witness the faith when:

  • We stand up for a family member, friend, colleague or community member who is being bullied or hurt.
  • We call out inappropriate behaviour by family, friends, colleagues, or community members. 
  • We hold ourselves and our leaders accountable.  

See

Injustice is a feature of human nature, primarily due to power imbalance. Powerful people often disregard the rights of those weaker than themselves.  

How do we respond to injustice? How do we strive for justice? How do we witness our faith?

Judge 

Today’s Gospel passage is about injustice. We read how St John the Baptist – who Jesus Himself said was a great man – was beheaded by King Herod because of an oath Herod had made to the daughter of Herodias, who hated John the Baptist because he was pointing out her and Herod’s wrongdoing.

This is St John the Baptist, who we read, baptising Jesus some days ago. St John the Baptist accepted this without a complaint. He had prepared himself for this time.  

The YCW members who were martyrs did not use violence. They were prepared.

Act 

Will I be prepared to peacefully stand up for what I believe in, like the Valle brothers? 

Will I be prepared to peacefully stand up for what I believe in, like Daniel Antero?

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. 

SEE

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. 

JUDGE

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.”

ACT

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?

Lay people as priests, prophets and kings

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, the feast of the arrival of the three kings, the three wise men of tradition, who became known to history as Gaspar (or Caspar), Melchior, and Balthasar.

They are also known for having brought Mary, Joseph and Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Moreover, as Philip Kosloski has written, these gifts had a very important symbolic meaning:

The gold represents Christ’s kingship; frankincense, a sweet-smelling resin used in worship, his priesthood; and myrrh, an ointment used in burial, foreshadows his death.

The three gifts can thus be seen as symbolising Jesus’ three roles (tria munera) as king, priest and prophet, an idea that became very important for Cardijn and the YCW.

In his pioneering 1953 book, Jalons pour une théologie du laïcat (Lay People In the Church: A Study for a Theology of the Laity), French Dominican theologian, Yves Congar, who had preached retreats for YCW leaders during the 1930s and worked closely with many YCW chaplains and leaders, developed this idea, emphasising that lay people as well as priests shared in this triple ministry of Jesus.

And in 1961, in preparing for the Second Vatican Council, Belgian Bishop Emile-Joseph De Smedt, another prominent promoter of the YCW and a close collaborator of Cardijn, made the same point in a pastoral letter later published in English as The Priesthood of the Faithful.

Bishop De Smedt, whose sister Livine was a fulltimer for the Flemish VKAJ (Girls YCW) explained it as follows:

The priestly work of the faithful consists of:

Life in union with Christ offering sacrifice in the midst of his people;

Life in union with Christ teaching in the midst of his people;

Life in union with Christ ruling in the midst of his people.

The apostolic work of pastors stands:

In the service of Christ offering sacrifice in the midst of his people;

In the service of Christ teaching in the midst of his people;

In the service of Christ ruling in the midst of his people.

Congar, De Smedt and other theologians worked hard and successfully to introduce this concept into the Vatican II documents. As a result, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium stated that the whole Church, including all lay people share in this kingship, priesthood;

31. The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.

And §2 the Decree on the Lay Apostolate, Apostolicam Actuositatem, makes this even more clear:

The laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.

They exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelisation and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardour of the spirit of Christ.

Serve, educate and represent

But, practically, however, how can lay people act as prophets, kings and priests in their ordinary, daily lives?

Cardijn himself provided the answer to this. The YCW, he wrote, “is at once and inseparably a school, a service, a representative body.”

It is thus:

A school of lay apostolate in their life, their environment, within the mass of their comrades.

A service of lay apostolate in their life, their environment, within the mass of their comrades.

A representative body of lay apostolate in their life, their environment, within the mass of their comrades. A practical school, a school of training, in which they learn to see, to judge, and to achieve the apostolic value of their whole life, in all its aspects, its details, the most humble and daily ones, at home, in their district, in their street, in the factory, in the office, on the way to work, in meal-times and breaks, in their leisure, always and everywhere, in their courtship, their engagement, their marriage; not a theoretical school, or a purely doctrinal school, but a school in which they exercise themselves, and work out and perfect their own training; an essentially active and acting school, with its enquiries and activities imparting a social sense, a social spirit, a social conduct, in a much more gripping way than any lessons and lectures which leave the listeners passive and inactive; a school which reveals to them the beauty and the grandeur of their humble life as young workers, which exalts them and creates in them and in the whole of their life that indispensable unity which gives them with strength of conviction and character, pride in their Christian, apostolic and radiating life; a school which transforms their life of young workers into a lay priesthood and a lay apostolate, whose fruitfulness astonishes and delights those who witness it.

In other words, for Cardijn, lay people participate in Christ’s triple ministry by

a) educating others (a prophetic role),

b) serving their peers (kingship or leadership as service) and

c) representing them (acting as priestly intermediaries).

And the YCW teaches young workers how to achieve this through the see-judge-act.

Let’s try it ourselves.

See

How do I serve my peers in my daily life?

How do I help educate them?

How do I advocate on their behalf or represent them?

Judge

Do you see any ways of doing this better?

Act

Decide on a concrete action this week in which you will endeavour to educate, serve and advocate for your friends, peers and colleagues.

Author

Stefan Gigacz

READ MORE

The Epiphany of the Lord, Readings (USCCB)

Philip Kosloski, Why did the Magi bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? (Aleteia)

Lumen Gentium (Vatican)

Apostolicam Actuositatem (Vatican)

Peter De Mey, “Sharing in the threefold office of Christ, a different matter for laity and priests? The tria munera in Lumen Gentium, Presbyterorum Ordinis, Apostolicam Actuositatem and Ad Gentes,” in The Letter and the Spirit: On the Forgotten Documents of Vatican II, ed. Annemarie Mayer, Peeters, 2018, 155-179. (Academia)