Today is the anniversary of Cardijn receiving his red cardinal’s hat from Pope Paul VI on 22 February 1965.
In their biography of Cardijn, Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert recorded his doubts and anguish over the appointment:
Two weeks after Mgr Cardijn wrote, asking to be allowed to resign as international chaplain of the YCW. Paul VI made him a Cardinal. His first reaction: “This is impossible. I can’t go against my vow to give my whole life to the working class!” And to some of his close friends: “The scarlet soutane and all those other Cardinal’s things go with a certain mentality and are tied up with the honours people are expected to give you. You are the one who is always right. In the end you think you are God because you are dressed in red! ..”
In personal notes he tries to bring his faith and charity to bear on his hesitations:
“Is it the devil who torments me or the Holy Spirit rousing me? The further I go, the more I believe that grace and personal promotion are incompatible. I am in a queer state of mind, not of self doubt, but doubt about the state or function to which I am being called. Me, Archbishop and Cardinal? And this quite suddenly and against all probability? May the Holy Spirit enlighten and strengthen me! I am just Cardijn in my own inner being, ideas, feelings, words and actions. I can’t be otherwise. That would by my destruction… and at the same time Archbishop and Cardinal? Other people’s astonishment will be nothing compared with my own. Is it possible to go beyond all this and say: It is God’s will? .. .”1
And just as at times of tension with authority in the old days, he would say: “I am going to Malines” so now it was: “I must go and talk to the Holy Father about it!”
So he put his worry to Paul VI: he wanted to remain Cardijn and could he please not be obliged to go and live in Rome; how could he survive in all these offices and in an atmosphere to which he was not accustomed?
He would like to die at home, in his room in the Rue de Palais, where he could meanwhile take his meals with the YCW leaders who lived in the house, and from where he could easily do some world travelling!
“You are not going to be a Cardinal to die, but to live,” the Pope replied with a smile. “You will continue talking on the YCW all over the world and with a great deal more weight. ..”
This anguish lasted till the very morning of the red hat ceremony as John Maguire, an Australian priest who was then studying in Rome, recorded in this video:
With the support and encouragement of his friends and collaborators, Cardijn overcame those fears and he was ordained as titular bishop of Tusuros on 15 February 1965. And a week later he received his red hat.
At the reception that followed, Pope Paul explained his reasons for making Cardijn a cardinal to the YCW leaders and chaplains who had accompanied Cardijn to Rome:
Your presence here today is extremely significant for us, evoking moving memories and joyful hopes.
It is not just the family of the new Cardinal or a group of his friends: it all his spiritual descendance, the Young Christian Workers, who come in your persons to thank us for having raised him to the Sacred College, who have surrounded him with your affection and testify to your esteem and joy at this solemn moment.
We not only understand these feelings but we make them our own and we want to be the first, if you will allow us, to express them here in your name.
Yes, it was a great joy, a very great joy for Us, to be in a position to recompense as he deserves one of the men in this century who has worked the most for the Church and for souls.
It is a long time that we have known, admired and loved him, and we have followed him with emotion over the course of the years the magnificent rise of this great movement which has emerged, if one could use those words, from his heart of a priest and apostle and that God has so visibly blessed.
We should not forget the welcome given by our predecessor Pius XI to the first openings of he was then the young Fr Cardijn; and you know as we do the immediate encouragement that this great Pontiff granted to the formula of the apostolate of like to like: a formula which served as the basis for all the forms of specialised Catholic Action, with the success that you all know.
The honour that is given today to Cardinal Cardinal thus also reflects in a certain way on the whole of Catholic Action. It also reflects more particularly on the YCW, and on you above all, dear Belgian jocists, and we also greet you in Flemish.
Wij groeten met blijdschap de Kajotters en Kajotsters, de Leiders en Leidsters van de verschillende Takken van het A. C. W.
We greet with joy the YCW members, Chiefs and Leaders of the various branches of the ACW (Christian Workers Movement)
All of you, you will appreciate in our gesture a testimony of the Pope’s love for young workers. We love to think that you will draw from it an ever increasing love for the Church, which has just honoured your founder and father in such a striking way. We also would like that his elevation to the cardinal’s red marks fro all the young Christian workers of the world a sort of new beginning for an even more generous apostolic action than in the past; that it be a stimulus for them also to give witness to Christ among their brothers and to make the Church present and active in all the milieux of work.
It is our dearest wish to leave you with our paternal Apostolic Blessing, a sign of our affection for your new cardinal and of our goodwill towards all of you, to your families and to all the Young Christian Workers of the whole world.
It’s clear from Paul VI’s words and from his action in making Cardijn an archbishop that this was not simply a personal honour. Rather it heralded a new mission for Cardijn with the YCW and among the Specialised Catholic Action movements.
Paul VI, Reception for Cardijn and the YCW (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)
Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert, Cardijn, Chapter 14, The workers’ cardinal (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)
John Maguire – Cardijn becomes a cardinal (Stefan Gigacz/YouTube)