Act to end the great scandal

Concerning the role of the YCW in the world, Fr Joseph Cardijn stated in 1945: “Our task is to put an end to the great scandal of the nineteenth century – the loss of the masses by the Church.” Why did the Church lose  “the masses”? The Industrial Revolution brought with it the introduction of the factory system. The guild system collapsed and people moved from the countryside to the cities. All the masses had to sell was their labour; they became easy victims of exploitation, which Pope Leo XIII described as “a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.” in his encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891, n.3).

The Industrial Revolution was accompanied by developments in philosophy and science, most with little acknowledgement of debt to religion, particularly Catholicism. In 1950, Fr Joseph Cardijn made the following observations in his explanation of the truth of experience:

– the powerlessness of the young worker in the face of the system which rules the economic life and even the thought of the modem world: capitalism, “liberal economics”.

– the irresistible influence of the great ideological talents which are at present moving the masses; materialism, naturalism, existentialism, nationalism, communism, etc.

Standing against the truth of experience is the truth of faith, which Cardijn had described in 1945 in the following way: “Young workers must always be faced with the great truth of the eternal destiny of the mass of young workers.” He presented the YCW with a vision of its members as apostles and missionaries who modelled their lives on Jesus. In his talk in 1950, he stated: “It gives to each young worker a vocation, a personal mission, which transforms his life into a collaboration with God, with all men, for the achievement of the divine plan in the work of creation and redemption.”

Cardijn’s theology finds a reference in the Gospel reading for today’s Mass,  Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent (John 4:43-54). The Gospel story presents a man (a royal official) who is powerless to prevent his son from dying. He appeals to Jesus to come and save him. Jesus tells him his son will live and the man believes him. In teaching the leaders in the YCW about the truth of faith, Cardijn was urging them to have faith in Christ, just as the royal official in the Gospel story. Their faith in Jesus will contribute to the transformation

Mahatma Gandhi has been credited with saying that if we want to change the world, we first must change ourselves. So acknowledging the Word of God in the way St John does in the beginning of his Gospel, must start with ourselves. What are some ways of doing this, of being a disciple of Jesus who promotes the place of the Master in people’s daily lives? 

The starting point has to be with ourselves. A simple action would be reading from the Gospels each day. To read the scriptures prayerfully is an act of worship. Pope Francis has stated that worship of God is the first action of every apostle and we are called to be apostles. The action that follows from this is an act of love for those who form the community to which we belong. How might social media be used to share the fruits of our worship of God? How might we place ourselves in the service of others because of our love for God?


Pat Branson


Pope Leo XIII (1891), Rerum Novarum.

A YCW of the masses to the scale of the world September, 1945 

The YCW: its doctrinal foundation and essential characteristics – a talk given by Fr Joseph Cardijn at the JOC International Congress in 1950

Readings for Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent 

What does it mean to be an apostle? Pope Francis: General Audience, St Peter’s Square, Wednesday, 15 March, 2023: 

The art of accompaniment with fellow workers

Pope St John Paul II published his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), on the ninetieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum (1891). He defined work as “any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances.” Work, then, has two dimensions: the subjective dimension, that is, those who engage in work; and the objective dimension, which is the type of work in which people engage. Pope St John Paul II outlines in his letter the principles by which the dignity of the worker is celebrated. One key principle is “the concrete reality of the worker, takes precedence over the objective dimension” (LE, 10). One aspect of the reality of the worker is the dominance of the objective dimension of work, thereby “depriving man of his dignity and inalienable rights or reducing them”.

Fr Joseph Cardijn was a priest and a sociologist. He gathered evidence of the imbalance between the subjective and objective dimensions of work. The romantic in me wants to create an image of Cardijn and Wojtyla swapping notes on this aspect of the mission of the Church in the shadows of Vatican II. Cardijn gave a series of lectures in 1948 around the theme of “the hour of the working class” and in his second lecture, he gives the theological justification for the development of a movement to promote the dignity and rights of all workers. He said: “We cannot respect God, if we do not respect the working men and women who are made in His image, because they are sacred like God Himself. Woe to those who misuse a working man or woman: They are misusing God.” So from his perspective, and also from St John Paul II’s perspective, the Church needs people working together – the Pope called them “movements of solidarity” (LE, 8) – to help workers recognise, accept and celebrate their reality as children of God. 

It is clear from the problems in society that there is an imbalance between the first and second dimensions of work. It is as if people no longer believe in the divine mission of all workers. The movement founded by Cardijn, which many refer to as the YCW, existed to lead workers to a realisation of their divine mission. The Gospel reading for Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time is pertinent to this reflection. Mark gives an account of Jesus summoning those he wanted to help him with his mission to preach and to heal (Mark 3:13-19). Mark tells us that “he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions …” We know these twelve as the apostles, the ones who were sent out into the world (with the exception of Judas who betrayed Jesus). In the twentieth century, Cardijn referred to the leaders in the movement he founded for young workers as “working-class apostles.” What is there to stop us from thinking of young workers today as potentially apostles to those who work.

The work of preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom, involves restoring the balance between the subjective dimension and the objective dimension of work. There are so many areas of work in society where the imbalance exists, that choosing an action towards bringing about change seems overwhelming. But God does not accept that the change is impossible, because the change represents the triumph of good over evil. Therefore, to ensure that even the smallest action towards restoring the balance needs to be carried out with the support of others.


Greg Lopez and Pat Branson

Read more

Joseph Cardijn, The hour of the working class – Lecture 2 – The Church and the workers. Joseph Cardijn Digital Library.

Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) Poverty in Australia (2022)

Mass Readings 20 January 2023 (USCCB)


Source: Wikipedia