World War II and the invasion of Belgium by Hitler’s army caused immense problems and great suffering for the YCW and its leaders.
In these quotes from a 1942 speech, cited by English YCW chaplain, Fr Vince Rochford, Cardijn compares the role of YCW leaders to that of early Christians.
Fr Rochford writes: “Our second National Secretary, a Poplar lad, was on leave from Belgium lately, and brought me Jocist publications. It amazed me how they kept going. and kept up their flow of publications. May I quote from a speech of Cardijn’s in 1942?
“To exalt and save the dignity of the human person among the young workers it isn’t a matter of waiting for the war to end, or the occupation to finish, or for social or political changes. The Christians of the early Church, facing the paganism of their day, didn’t wait for the legal suppression of State-worship, worship of the Emperor, of slavery and barbarism.
“No, but forthwith, at Rome and to every Roman province, the early Christians bore witness in their own life and own environment, to the essential and eternal dignity of the human person, redeemed by their Leader, Christ.
“They grouped,themselves into small cells, united among themselves by a movement and under leaders appointed by Christ Himself ; and they spread among the army. in the world of, slaves and tradesmen, in the world of officialdom, among the nobility, at the imperial Court itself. For three centuries they offered’ up their lives to convert the world of their time, and bring about the triumph of Christianity.
“To-day, the misfortunes and trials of the war ought to offer God-sent opportunities of bearing unshakeable witness to our faith in the personal dignity and personal destiny of the young working lads and working girls.
“Early Christians of to-day, we must be in every spot where suffering and distress allow us to show our temporal and spiritual charity. our beneficent influence amid the physical and moral dangers threatening the youth of the working class.’
“What unconquerable courage and optimism! Thank God for Cardijn and the J.O.C.”
Joseph Cardijn, Early Christians of today in Catholic Herald, 20 April 1945, p. 4.
Joseph Cardijn, Early Christians of today (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)