Coming down from Mount Tabor

This is Cardijn’s closing address to the delegates of the First IYCW World Council in Rome in 1957.

After ten glorious days of sharing which he likens to what the apostles experienced with Jesus on Mount Tabor, it’s time to come down and return to work!


For ten days we have lived with the Lord on Tabor and with the Holy Spirit in the Cenacle.

We have seen the Y.C.W. transfigured—its apotheosis. This is not the true Y.C.W. We could say like the apostles on Tabor: “Let us build three tabernacles.” No, we must leave here, go down from Tabor, go out from the Cenacle to the masses who suffer, who have not the means of human livelihood, who cannot read or write, who know not their human dignity nor their Christian destiny. That is the only true Y.C.W. It begins today.

We believe in the possibility of saving the last of the young workers and working girls, whatever their colour or race, civilisation or continent. They are the sons of God and we must save them.

When I was a student nearly sixty years ago, we loved to declare the verses of l’Aiglon, Edmond Rostand’s new piece which had just appeared. There was a particular scene in the second act at the castle of Schoenbrun where Aiglon, guarded by the old marshals of Napoleon’s army, asked them why they had betrayed the emperor. And one of them, not knowing what to answer, made the excuse: “In the end we were too tired!” Then suddenly, a lacqey, an old soldier of the emperor’s guard, dressed up as a servant to wait on Aiglon, unable to restrain himself cried with a voice of thunder: “And what of us! we small ones, the unknown ones of the ranks, we who marched foot-rotten, wounded, dirty and sick” (there follows a long tirade on the ills suffered by the simple soldiers of Napoleon). “Maybe we were not tired?” And the scene finishes with these words of Aiglon:

“Dans le livre aux sublimes chapitres,

Majescules, c’est vous qui composez les titres,

Et c’est sur vous toujours que

s’arretent les yeux. Mais les mille petites lettres . . .

ce sont eux. Et vous ne seriez rien sans l’armee humble et noire,

Qui faut pour composer une page d’histoire!”

In the Y.C.W. army, which has just written this beautiful page in the Church’s history, there are thousands of unknown humble leaders and members who are the real, the only Y.C.W., the movement which is transforming the working youth of the world, the movement to which we must remain faithful.

Go into the field of the Lord where millions of young workers arc waiting for you. Let none of them be able to say like the workers in the parable:

“No man has hired us.” Let there be no Y.C.W. unemployment! No missionary unemployment! We must take the good news to all and that will be the proof of our love for the Church, for the Pope and for working youth. We shall say to them all: “We bring you good news; we bring you Joy, Security, Confidence. The Lord is born, the new working youth in whom the Lord lives, is born; do you see it coming to birth in all the countries of the world?”

I thank all those who have contributed to this joy in this Domus Mariae. I thank Patrick Keegan and Margaret Fievez who for twelve years have prepared this day. I thank Romeo Maione and Maria Meersmans and look forward to their work with still more confidence than in the past. I thank Rene Salanne and all the old leaders of the International Bureau.

Go forward! The Church sends you, the Pope sends you, the working youth of the world awaits you.

Joseph Cardijn


Joseph Cardijn, Closing Address, in New Life, 1957, Vol. 13 N° 6, November – December 1957, p. 230 – 231.