Today I’d like to share a 1943, speech on behalf of the Australian bishops by Melbourne Co-adjutor Archbishop Justin D. Simonds.
As Archbishop Simonds notes, he had first encountered the early YCW movement while studying at Louvain (Leuven) during the late 1920s. He had thus witnessed the astronomical rise of the movement and the development of its Specialised Catholic Action counterparts, including the YCS, following the YCW’s official endorsement by Pope Pius XI in March 1925.
Given his evident enthusiasm for Cardijn’s movement, I’ve often wondered what the young Fr Simonds did once he returned to Australia, where he became a lecturer at the Springwood seminary before being appointed as archbishop of Hobart in 1937.
No doubt he promoted the movement among the seminarians of NSW as did Jesuit Fr Charlie Mayne at the Corpus Christi seminary in Victoria.
And what did he do in Tasmania once he arrived there?
One indication perhaps is the endorsement of Catholic Action by the Australian Plenary Council of 1937:
89. They are also to make every effort according to the norms established by the Holy See itself, to promote the Catholic Action recommended by the Supreme Pontiffs as the primary means for establishing and defending the Catholic religion in society.
643. It is absolutely desirable that young people in colleges or middle schools be diligently informed by the principles of Catholic action. Accordingly, we want to ensure that during the year special instructions are given, in which, in a clear sense of the Catholic action being proposed, students are taught the necessity of such an action and practical means to cooperate with the clergy for the salvation of souls.
Other indications appear in the Catholic paper of the Hobart Archdiocese, which records that Simonds had introduced a policy of promoting Catholic Action in the diocese on 8 September 1938, the birthday of Our Lady.
In any event, Simonds personal commitment to the Cardijn vision is clear from the beginning and even more so in this speech making the YCW the Church’s official movement for young workers in Australia. Which also raises another question: Has the Australian Church ever withdrawn that status?
Young Christian Workers
Episcopal Chairman, Most Rev. J. Simonds, D.D.
on the Policy of the Movement in Australia
His Grace Archbishop Simonds, who was lately appointed episcopal chairman of the Young Christian Workers’ Movement, made an address recently to nearly fifty YC.W. chaplains and other clergy interested in this branch of Catholic Action. He spoke of the movement and its problems, and the Papal desires in its regard, from an intimate knowledge, since he had had an opportunity of observing the beginning of the J.O.C. in Belgium under the auspices of the famous Canon Cardijn.
After thanking Fr. Lombard for organising such an impressive gathering of priests interested in the Apostolate of Youth, Archbishop Simonds said that it was not his original intention to make a formal address. However, the presence of so many enthusiastic young priests gave him an opportunity, as the newly-appointed Episcopal Chairman, to outline some points of policy which he wished the movement to follow.
LOYALTY TO THE HOLY SEE
“The guiding principle of the Y.C.W.,” said his Grace, “must be an unswerving determination to follow loyally and enthusiastically the directions and advice on Catholic Action that have been given by the Holy See. In the particular form of Catholic Action in which we are engaged, it is fortunate that we have the Belgian and French J.O.C. as a guide, for it is admittedly the finest example of the Church’s apostolate amongst the workers that has yet been evolved. It was pronounced by the late Holy Father a ‘model of Catholic Action.’
In reality, it is more than that; it embodies an ideal which stamps it as the most essentially Christian movement amongst the social organisations of the Church. In Belgium and France, where it readied its highest degree of success with 400,000 members, it has, unhappily, been emasculated or driven underground by Nazi tyranny. But we feel sure that its eclipse is only temporary, and it is gratifying to know that a very vigorous branch of the parent tree flourishes in Canada with a membership already amounting to 40,000 active Young Christian Workers.
It is my sincere hope, and it shall be my ideal, to produce in Australia a movement of Young Christian Workers, organised on similar lines and inspired by the same ideals.
THE CHALLENGE OF INDUSTRIALISM
“I happened to be in Belgium during some of the period when the J.O.C. was being organised by its founder, Canon Cardijn, and know something of the problem it was created to solve and the methods it employed with such success. It has been stated on reliable authority that nine-tenths of the Belgian boys and girls, who began their industrial life at the age of fourteen in factories and workshops, abandoned all religious practice, and were lost to the Church within a few months.
The figures seem incredible, but it is admitted by those in close touch with the industrial youth of Belgium that they are not exaggerated. Since most of these children spent from six to eight years in the Catholic schools, the strength of materialistic socialism in Belgian industrial life was recognised as the greatest challenge to the Catholic life of Belgium.
Though the problem in Australia may not be so appalling, yet everyone in touch with youth knows very well that the defections of our Catholic youth in the post-school age reach depressing proportions. The number of boys who have never been to the Sacraments since they left school is far too large, and it is our special apostolate to spiritualise the lives of these spiritual defectives as well as the great mass of unbelieving youth.
“The founder of the J.O.C. was determined that its work should be thorough; that it should cover the whole person of the adolescent with an entire formation— religious, intellectual, social, vocational and moral. The organisation is based on local groups, united into regional federations, which are, in turn, grouped into national federations.
Since the Bishops have appointed me National Chairman of the movement, I propose to carry out their wishes by following the successful plan of Canon Cardijn, aiming at the organisation of parochial, diocesan, regional and national federations of the Australian Y.C.W. The movement must embrace young boys and men from school-leaving age to about twenty-five, for it would be impossible to get the best leaders if the movement were confined to those between fourteen and eighteen years of age.
It will be organised on a parish basis, with small cells for training under a ‘militant’ lay leader or chaplain. For some time in Australia the chief burden of the formation of leaders will be the responsibility of the chaplains, but in due time we shall have an army of militant lay leaders who will be the dynamic force of the movement.
A QUESTION OF TRAINING
“You have already been given a technique for training the leaders, and have been working on it with a great measure of success hitherto. Some of the chaplains are inclined to question the value of the ‘Gospel Enquiry,’ and think that the leaders could be more effectively trained if the work of their formation were entrusted to the Legion of Mary. I feel bound to make it clear that the Y.C.W. of Australia must follow loyally and with enthusiasm the directions that have been given by the Holy See in the matter of Catholic Action at work. The constitution of Catholic Action has been given to the Church by the Holy Father, and in following out that constitution loyally we may be sure of doing the work of God.
It is fundamental to Catholic Action that it must be controlled by the Bishop, for Catholic Action is a share which the laity receives in the Apostolate of the Bishops. It is the Bishop who is charged with the responsibility of giving an apostolic mandate to a particular lay movement, and of directing the formation of its leaders and its activities. The technique by which the J.O.C. militants have been formed has been so eminently successful, and has been so enthusiastically commended by the Holy Father, that I should be afraid of frustrating the will of the Holy See by allowing any Auxiliary Body, however estimable, to divert its spirit and inspiration into other channels.
In his Encyclical Letters, and also in his private letters to Bishops, Pius XI laid down the constitution and the spirit of Catholic Action; but he gave what was perhaps his most compelling teaching on the matter when he instituted the Liturgical Feast of Christ the King. By the institution of this great Festival he wished to impress on all Catholics their mysterious incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ, and to recall them to a new loyalty and enthusiasm for Christ their Leader and King. This is precisely the driving force and inspiration of the Y.C.W. movement —an intense loyalty for Christ, their Leader in a pagan world.
“In the spiritual formation of the Y.C.W. leaders we shall not confine ourselves to the ‘Gospel Enquiry,’ which is only a first step towards enthusing the leaders with loyalty to Christ It is a disappointing fact that so few of the Y.CW. members are to be found at Holy Mass during the week days. Perhaps the present disorganisation of family life may largely account for their absence, but our Catholic youth must be deeply impressed with their membership in the Mystical Body of Christ and be taught to realise their active participation in the sacramental life of the Church and its worship.
Pope Pius X once said that the source of a truly Christian spirit is to be found in active participation in the Holy Mysteries and the Church’s prayers.’ Pope Pius XI repeated his predecessor’s words with even greater insistence. In obedience to these directions from the Popes, the J.O.C. devoted several years to an attempt to bring the workers into ultimate contact with the great mysteries of Christ as they are lived each year in the cycle of the Church’s feasts.
Beginning with Baptism, the militants set out with the determination of impressing on etch member, and prospective member, the great truth that by baptism man is born to a life that is divine, and incorporated into membership of the Mystical Body of Christ and the communion of saints. Mass renewal of baptismal vows, sometimes made in the presence of socialist workers, created a deep impression of their solidarity in Christ.
It was no uncommon sight to see a group of socialist workers standing round a baptismal font, whilst a J.O.C. enthusiaist explained to them the significance of the incomparable rite which was being enacted there, and the nature of the citizenship conferred. A whole year was devoted to an intensive campaign on behalf of the sacramental life conferred by each sacrament, and the year devoted to Christian marriage made a most profound impression upon the members.
ENQUIRY AND CONTACT
“Side by side with the spiritual formation, proceeds the technique of enquiry and contact. The method used is the old scholastic one of ‘observation, judgment, and action,’ and hence it would be rash to desire to substitute any other. The leader questions the young workers to draw out their observations on the moral and material conditions in their homes, places of work, and general environment. With the help of the chaplain all then try to reach a sound, conclusive judgment on these conditions, and, whenever it is found necessary, a constructive course of action is decided upon and carried out.
“I hope that in the near future we shall have a National Conference of priests interested in the Y.C.W., and that we shall be able to organise in Australia a National Movement of Young Christian Workers with a spirit and a technique similar to the parent body. I appeal to you for loyal co-operation in carrying out this plan, no matter what may be your predilection for a particular ideal of training. With the enthusiastic and loyal co-operation of the priests there is no reason why the grace of the Holy Spirit should not succeed in developing in Australia a Y.C.W. like the parent body, which merited from Pope Pius XI these stirring words:—
“’You are the glory of Jesus Christ! Your action is the highest form of Catholic Action in the Church!’”
National Headquarters, Y.CW.: 379 Collins St., Melbourne.
The Advocate Press, 143-151 a’Beckett St., Melb.
Justin Simonds, To Y.C.W. Chaplains on the Policy of the Movement in Australia (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)
Justin Simonds (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)