Blessed Marcel Callo

Tomorrow is the feast of St Joseph the Worker, we remember French YCW leader, Blessed Marcel Callo, who died in a Nazi concentration camp on 19 March 1945.

Marcel had been sent to Germany under the forced labour regime during World War II. He was arrested for his role in organising workers and died in Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

Born on 6 December 1921 in Rennes, France, Marcel Callo became an apprentice printer at the age of 13.

Soon after he became a member of the Young Christian Workers movement after an inner struggle, because this meant he had to resign his position as scout troop leader, a role he had grown to love.

But he knew that he was being called to be an apostle in his workplace, and for this he needed a more solid Christian formation. And so, he spent his evenings studying Catholic social teaching and organizing meetings of the YCW, where he soon became a highly regarded leader

At the age of 20, he fell in love with Marguerite Derniaux.

“I am not one to amuse myself with the heart of a lady, since my love is pure and noble,” he said.

“If I have waited until 20 years old to go out with a young lady, it is because I knew that I wanted to find real love. One must master his heart before he can give it to the one that is chosen for him by Christ.”

It took him about one year to declare his love to Marguerite and an additional four months before they first kissed. After being engaged, they imposed a strict spiritual rule of life which included praying the same prayers and going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist as often as they could.

In 1943 his sister Madeleine was killed by a bomb falling on their house.

When the Germans occupied France, Marcel was ordered and deported to Zella-Mehlis, Germany to the S.T.O.,Service du Travail Obligatoire (Service of Obligatory Work).

“I am going there not as a worker but as a missionary,” he told his loved ones.

Despite the great pain that the prospect of parting with his dear Marguerite caused him, he found the courage to make the decision, for he knew that the forced labor centers in the Third Reich also needed his apostolic work. On bidding his fiancée good-bye at the Rennes railway station, he heard from her lips that he would die a martyr’s death.

“I could never deserve such an honor,” he replied in disbelief. But both felt they would never see each other again. Marguerite remained faithful to her fiancé. She continued to be active in the YCW. Later she would become a post office clerk. She died in 1997.

There he worked in a factory that produced bombs that would be used against his own countrymen. After three months or so of missing his family and missing Mass (there was no Catholic church in that town), Marcel became seriously depressed. He later found a room where Mass was offered on Sunday.

Marcel wrote to Marguerite: “One day Christ answered me. He told me I was not to give in to despair; that I should take care of my fellow workers—and I found joy again.” The barrack inmates soon became a closely-knit community. They ate their meager meals around a common table, prayed together, and participated in the Holy Mass every month. Once again Marcel became the leader, just as he had been at the YCW meetings in Rennes.

Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris even sent him a letter. “Thank you—he wrote—for the good that you are doing among your fellow workers. I bless your labors and pray for you.” The young men tried to conduct themselves prudently, so as not to draw attention to themselves. But you cannot hide your light under a bushel. On March 19, 1944, they arrested Marcel Callo for activities against the Third Reich. The Catholic witness of this frail young boy represented a danger to the powerful totalitarian regime.

With his morale and hope restored, he cared for his deported friends. He organized a group of Christian workers who did activities together like play sports or cards. He also organized a theatrical group. He galvanized his friends despite him suffering from painful boils, headaches and infected teeth. For his French friends, he arranged a Mass to be celebrated in their native tongue. Eventually, his religious activities attracted unwanted attention from the German officials. The Germans arrested Marcel on April 19, 1944 saying that, “Monsieur is too much of a Catholic.”

The Germans interrogated Marcel. He admitted his Catholic activities and was imprisoned in Gotha. He secretly received the Eucharist while in prison and continued to pray and help his companions. He was considered dangerous to the Germans and was moved to a different prison at Mathausen. He suffered from various ailments such as bronchitis, malnutrition, dysentery, fever, swelling, and generalized weakness. He never complained. Despite his suffering, he encouraged his companions by saying, “It is in prayer that we find our strength.”

He died on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1945, exactly two years from the day he left home.

Pope John Paul II beautified Marcel Callo on October 4, 1987.


Stefan Gigacz


Marcel Callo (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

A spirituality of the lay apostolate

Today, we continue our reflection with another passage from French Archbishop Emile Guerry’s 1946 article “Spirituality of Catholic Action.”

Archbishop Guerry speaks of “Catholic Action,” by which he clearly means “Specialised Catholic Action,” i.e. Catholic Action based on the jocist method. Although he does not say it explicitly, Guerry clearly envisages the role of Catholic Action leaders as being the promotion of what Cardijn came to call the “lay apostolate,” I.e. the specific apostolate of lay people lived out in the world, in the ordinary circumstances of work, family and community.

Let’s read Archbishop Guerry’s reflections with this in mind.

A sound spirituality is not only the first aim and prerequisite of Catholic Action, it must also be so thoroughly Christian as to further the aims of the apostolate.

We are endebted to Bro. Joseph Stefanelli, S.M., Catholic High School, Hamilton, Ohio, for this translation from the French.

Three general principles, it seems to us, should receive special emphasis in a spirituality of Catholic Action. Apostles of Catholic Action must tend toward perfection:

1. in and through their life in the midst of the world;

2. in and through their duties of state;

3. in and through their apostolic life.

FIRST PRINCIPLE: in and through their life in the midst of the world.

What, basically, is a layman?

We might answer: one who is neither a cleric nor a religious. And that answer, though apparently facetious, is nonetheless canonically exact. But it is purely negative. More positively, we can say: a layman is one who must live in the midst of the world.

A spirituality of Catholic Action should therefore draw its inspiration from Our Lord’s prayer to His Father: “I do not ask you to take them from the world, but to guard them from evil…, sanctify them in truth.” (John, 17:17)

Such a spirituality should form souls which are strong, virile, joyously militant, desirous to gain their environment for Christ, souls able to understand and to love their milieu (as opposed to the spirit of seeking to avoid contact with it), combatting that pessimistic tendency which leads one to shirk human tasks and the obligation of a life in one’s milieu, and to withdraw into an ivory tower or isolate oneself on a mountain, meanwhile casting anathemas of contempt upon a wicked world or, like the sons of Zebedee, asking God to cause fire from Heaven to fall upon the accursed city.

Of course, it is clear that such a spirituality demands a solid asceticism, but it places it where it should be and not in means of perfection which are foreign to the state of life. This spirituality will not conceal the difficulties, the temptations, the obstacles which the soul will find facing it and surrounding it in its attempt to reach perfection. It is indeed important that there be no illusions in this regard and that all things be seen “in truth”; dangers do exist in the midst of the world. There is, moreover, the question of loyalty to souls which are seeking their vocation; it is well understood, too, that we preserve in its fullness the doctrinal tenet of the superiority in itself of a state of life entirely consecrated to God, and not give way at all to the present tendency which minimizes religious life to glorify the lay life. But this spirituality of Catholic Action would teach the laymen who wish to be faithful to their vocation in the world, how to make use of difficulties, how to use temptations as occasions of merit by transforming these obstacles into means of sanctification.

Also, one of the characteristics of this spirituality should be the emphasis on the sanctifying realism of life such as it is in the midst of a materialistic world which wants no more of Christ and in which one must live by the spirit of Christ.1

SECOND PRINCIPLE: In and through their duties of state

The spirituality of Catholic Action puts into the limelight and focuses our attention upon the sanctification of the duties of state considered as the surest manifestation of the will of God.

Once a soul has freely made its decision concerning a state of life, after it has prayed, sought advice, and made use of reason, faith and the virtue of prudence to know the will of God in its regard, all the duties which its state requires are the certain expression of the Divine will: family duties, professional duties and those relating to daily work, and civic duties.

THIRD PRINCIPLE: Sanctification of laymen in and through their apostolic life

Some years ago we had the great pleasure of thanking Dom Chautard, at the Trappist monastery of Sept-Fonds, for the good his little book, SOUL OF THE APOSTOLATE, had done for us, as for so many other young men of our generation.

“Very reverend Father,” we said to him, “you have shown that the interior life is the life of all apostolic work, that without it the apostolate is vain and even runs the risk of being dangerous. We respectfully express the desire that you now write another book recalling the great duty of the apostolate and the development of Catholic Action. “How to reach the perfect life in and through the apostolate.” And the great contemplative answered: “Yes, I believe that today there are in the world mystics of action.”

The spirituality of Catholic Action must in fact define the sanctifying value of this apostolic life. There, too, it is no longer simply a matter of showing how it is possible for souls to perfect themselves by means of the apostolate in the sense that apostolic action implies the exercise of numerous moral virtues which purify self and prepare it for union with God: abnegation, patience, obedience to the Church: nor even in the sense that the apostolic life, causing the apostle to realise his powerlessness when confronted with souls, obliges him to cast himself upon God, placing his trust only in the grace of Christ.

It is there, it seems to us, that the spirituality, distinguishing clearly from the exterior means of the apostolate the very essence of Catholic Action as defined by the Pope (participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy) will seek to produce in souls a fundamental disposition of the virtue of charity: turning souls from all that is dependence on self and egoism – though it be covered by pretexts of spiritual advancement – it will lead them to the most generous gift of themselves to Christ and to the Church by the love of God and of souls; it will urge them to maintain themselves constantly in an interior state of oblation for the extension of the reign of God, the growth of the Mystical Body, the conquest of souls.

Thus the spirituality of Catholic Action should develop in souls the mind of Christ and of the Church through a joyful and constant submission – springing from the spirit and the heart – to the hierarchy of that Church of which Bossuet says that she was “the permanent incarnation of the Son of God.” Not a servile submission, but one of loving children who, conscious of their heavy responsibility to be in virtue of an authentic mandate the witnesses of Christ, the messengers of the Church in their providential milieu of life, are entitled to count on very special graces, in the development in themselves of the divine life which will intensify their intimate union with the Church, their participation in its own apostolic life, to the degree to which they are effectively faithful to their interior oblation each time that service of others presents itself to then and that Christ calls them to give themselves to Him in souls. Will not Christ intensify His life in the souls which thus give themselves to Him? Will not God give Himself to those who give themselves to Him in others? A most sure sanctification is this charity which associates them in the “activity of the hierarchic apostolate,” as Pius XI says, In this service of devotedness to souls to which the Bishop has vowed himself till death and which is the precise element which makes him the “perfector,” i.e., the one who has the mission and the power to lead souls to perfection.

In summary:

It is among human beings, human things, human institutions, acts of human life, that the apostle of Catholic Action seeks the kingdom of God and labors for its extension. Moreover, he seeks it in giving himself to his brothers, in cooperating for the common good of the entire Body, in giving to others what he receives, enriching himself with divine life, filling Himself with Christ and giving glory to the Holy Trinity.

In his article, Archbishop Guerry goes on to specify further those various “duties of state” to which he refers in this extract.

Despite the differences in language from Cardijn, his thinking is clearly very close.

And it also anticipates the teaching of the Second Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium in Chapter IV on The laity.


Stefan Gigacz

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Emile Guerry, Spirituality of Catholic Action (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Lumen Gentium (

The spirit of God himself

This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Marc Sangnier, founder of the French democratic movement, Le Sillon (The Furrow), which so inspired Cardijn and the early YCW.

Today, we have a remarkable testimony to that influence of “Marc” as he was universally known and the wonderful movement he created.

It was written by Georges Montaron, a French YCW leader, who published the Catholic resistance newspaper “Témoignage chrétien” or Christian Witness during World War II.

I didn’t meet Marc SANGNIER until after the war when he was campaigning in Paris’s 3rd District. That was in October 1945. He was seeking election to the National Assembly under the banner of the M.R.P.. But many years before, I had heard of Sangnier of the Sillon (Furrow Movement), of the Auberges (Youth hostels) and the Jeune République (Young Republic). At that time, I was a national YCW leaders and our chaplain, Father Guérin, loved to recall certain episodes which had had a strong impact on his life.

Georges Guérin was still a young worker – around 1907-08, before the First World War – who was involved with an association linked to the Brothers of the Christian Schools when he met several leaders of the Sillon. They included Marcel Poimbœuf, Paul Pariant and Eugène Bernou. By their presence, more than by what they said, those young men were a revelation for Georges Guérin.

“Their faces,” he said, “shone with the presence of He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

The Christianity that he had learned in catechism was thus not simply an abstract idea but a life capable of transforming other lives. The “formal” Christianity of Georges Guérin was completely overturned. And in 1913 he decided to become a priest.

Concern for the poorest

But the Sillon had conveyed another message to him. Religion and everyday life were not two different worlds. Religion could only be lived in the midst of life. And it was the life of each person, in every aspect, that needed to make known the testimony of the Gospel. Just as he had witnessed Christ in the eyes and in the manner of Marcel Poimboeuf and his friends.

What’s more Marc spoke of the people, the masses, the workers. Whereas the Church seemed primarily concerned with the elites. It preferred to maintain good relations with prominent people. Marc on the other hand cared about the poorest. And he reminded those who came to listen to him that “the emancipation of the proletariat must be the work of the proletariat itself.”

“One of the great architects of this marvel”

Thus, as a seminarian, Georges Guérin, who had been a young worker in a precious metals foundry near Parmentier Square, Paris, declared that he would live out his priesthood at the service of the working class. Inspired by Cardijn, in 1927 he launched the YCW at St Vincent de Paul parish in Clichy where he had been appointed as a curate. This did not please everyone. The parish priest of the neighbouring parish, Notre Dame Auxliatrice, did not want the YCW to spread to his parish

“It’s the Sillon all over again,” he lamented. But the YCW took off nevertheless. Many chaplains had been leaders of the Sillon assisted the new jocist leaders. The triumphal congress of the YCW at the Parc des Princes gathered 70,000 young workers, who were genuine sons and daughters of the proletariat as well as authentic sons and daughters of the Gospel. In their midst, a young jocist who had become a priest celebrated his first mass. Marc Sangnier was there. At his side, Cardinal Gerlier, archbishop of Lyon, leaned towards him and said “Marc, rejoice this evening because you are one of the great architects of this marvel that we have just witnessed.”

It was the YCW that transformed the young worker that I was in a rough area of Paris and who grew up among the workers of Porte de Vanves into the person that I have become.

“I owe him everything”

Fr Guérin believed in the eminent dignity of ordinary workers. He adopted Marc Sangnier’s formula that “there’s something greater in a man than the man himself.” So we sang about our pride in being workers. We dreamed of freeing our brothers from the oppression they suffered. We discovered that the Gospel was primarily Good News for the poor. And without false modesty, we presented the face of Christ to our comrades.

We had to look for Marc Sangnier during the war. I was one of those national YCW leaders forced to go into hiding. I took part in the Young Christian Combatants of the Resistance. I was publishing the clandestine newspaper, Témoignage chrétien (Christian Witness).” When it reached to Paris, it was only natural that Marc made the printing press of the Démocratie in Boulevard Raspail available to us.

Alas! Charles Geeraert and his friends were soon arrested by the Gestapo. They were to meet death in a concentration camp, as did our first printer from Lyon, Eugène Pons, who had also been a Sillonist.

Once Témoignage chrétien was finally able to be published openly, many former leaders of the Sillon, the Young Republic and Friends of the Youth Hostel Movement subscribed to our journal. Témoignage chrétien regards itself as in the direct line of the Sillon.

Faithful to the Gospel and to the Church

We have always sought to be fully faithful to the Gospel and to the Church. We have always believed in the merits of democracy. We understand that labour, victim of capital, must become the master of capital. We constantly say that there can be no real and profound social and economic liberation without a growing participation of everyone in the management of public affairs. We fight, with the weapons of the spirit, because we first appeal to the conscience of men and what we want with them is to go beyond ourselves together.

On 11 November 1930, Maurice Schumann, who then belonged to the Socialist Party, made a speech to the members of La Jeune République gathered in congress to explain the similarities between Sangnier and Léon Blum.

We are continuing this research. There are countless Christians formed in the spirit of the Sillon, which has not ceased to bear fruit since that evening of 25 August 1910 when some people believed that it had closed its doors forever, who are present in the vast popular current of 10 May that is profoundly renewing France.

The struggles and hopes of the poor

I couldn’t be anywhere but on the left. My working-class past, my action in the YCW, my culture, family and roots mean that I can only flourish on the left. But the Sillon previously, the YCW and the Church of Vatican II have all showed us that we can continue to be Christian while belonging to the left.

And I even think that we are better Christians on the left, with the fights and the hopes of the poor, than in the ranks of the conservatives. Those conservatives on the right, who never ceased to attack Marc Sangnier each time he stood for election. Those conservatives of the right, who have tried to monopolise the Church by hiding the message of the Gospel under a bushel.

The spirit that makes apostles

Not everyone who lives by the spirit of the “Sillon” has the same beliefs. It has even happened that these beliefs are contradictory. Thus, Emilien Amaury had very different political ideas from mine. I was active in La Jeune République. But in 1956, at the time of the Republican Front, the issue of Algeria separated us. And yet, I bear witness to it, our friendship remained strong and deep. And it wasn’t just a romantic friendship. More than once it was very concrete. Thus Emilien Amaury, who was one of our supporters during the war, always found a way to help Témoignage Chrétien when the existence of our newspaper was threatened.

For him as for me, our strength is our friendship and the spirit that brings us together and makes us brothers, largely transcends our temporal options.

And yet this spirit must be embodied since it is what animates each moment of our lives.

For me, the Sillon is first of all a spirit. And what a spirit. The spirit of God himself. The spirit that makes the apostles. This is perhaps why Marc Sangnier died on Pentecost Sunday. So that no one would forget his message. A spirit that needs to be transmitted to all people, whatever their race, nationality or social condition. A spirit that helps them to go beyond themselves.                                                                                      

Georges Montaron

A remarkable article on a remarkable man and movement.

Stefan Gigacz

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Women and development

In today’s Cardijn Reflection, we recall the life and work of American YCW leader, Caroline Pezzullo, who represented the movement at the United Nations in New York and later became a noted expert in the field of women and development.

Caroline’s biography on the Joseph Cardijn Digital Library tells her story as follows:

Caroline was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Her interest in social justice led her to join the Young Christian Workers in her youth. Her experience working in development transformed into a commitment to empowering grassroots women globally.

In the mid-1980s she became leader and board member of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW), where she co-designed the Annual Institute on Women and Community Development. Caroline’s vision of a network of grassroots women’s organizations that would act and speak on their own behalf in global development arenas became Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS).

Her experience allowed her to effectively support GROOTS member’s efforts to gain access and recognition in important venues, culminating in the first grassroots Women’s Tent at the 1996 NGO Forum in Huairou, China, where more than 1000 grassroots women socialized, led workshops on their development approaches, and met key decision-makers. Caroline was a founding member of Women’s World Banking and chaired for several years the NGO committee on Human Settlements at the UN.

She pressed for and won the creation of a Women and Habitat Program within UNHABITAT, and helped found the Huairou Commission. In 2000 UNHABITAT honored these efforts by awarding her with the Habitat Scroll of Honor.

This kitchen at the Neighborhood Women House, Living and Learning Center, is named after Caroline Pezzullo for her lifetime commitment to helping poor and working class women gain political, social and economic equality.

She also wrote a set of guidelines on project planning and development entitled simply “Women and Development” for the UN.

Caroline writes:

Women at all levels of responsibility have always been involved in activities for the improvement of the quality of life of their families and communities. Women have not, however, been integrally involved in the national development processes of most countries.

There is increasing recognition that “any measures for women isolated from the major priorities, strategies and sectors of development cannot result in any substantial progress towards the goals of the Decade” i.e, Equality, Development and Peace, with particular emphasis on employment, health and education.

At the same time, it should be stressed, that “because of women’s long historical disadvantaged position in society, there is need for specific transitional strategies, policies, measures and actions, if they are to actively participate in the execution of the objectives set forth by the countries of the region… The specificity of women’s situation and the need for special programmes by and for them should not isolate them from the national process of social/economic and political development… It is not only urgent for them to acquire the skills and tools for designing and implementing women’s programmes/projects; it is also a necessary condition for their further development, to know how those programmes/projects must become a part of the national development plan of each country.”

The purpose of these GUIDELINES is to assist women in planning programmes and projects that advance the status of women and at the same time, provide the links necessary to ensure their participation in the development process at the community, national, regional and international levels.

An essential part of this strategy is to involve rural and urban women, particularly from low-income areas, in the decision-making process which affects their opportunities and the quality of their lives.

Professional women with organizational responsibilities have valuable information which must be shared with community women. At the same time planning and decision-making must include the much-needed practical information which community women have to contribute. The institutional framework should be created or improved to permit this kind of participation on a broad basis. In the process, appropriate links must be made between the community and national policy and programme levels.

See judge act for development

But how does she propose to achieve this? By following the see-judge-act process, which she explains as follows:

Underscored in the GUIDELINES as essential elements for women to become involved in the development process as free and equal partners are three interrelated steps:

a) awareness of the facts of a ‘situation’;

b) assessment of their causes and desired changes;

c) action (individual and group) to close the gap between the two.

We remember Caroline for her dedication to the cause of women, particularly from the poorest countries of the world.


Stefan Gigacz


Caroline Pezzullo (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Caroline Pezzullo, Women and Development, Guidelines for project planning and development (United Nations)

The family: A divine institution

For today’s reflection, I propose to look at the second part of Cardijn’s talk on “The workman and his family” delivered at the Catholic Social Week in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, in February 1966.

Headed “The family – A divine institution,”Cardijn’s talk outlines his vision of the importance of families and family life as the foundation of society, civilisation and even the Church:

We come now to the second theme which is really the first — The Family — the family of the worker and all the families. It is not a human institution. It is a divine institution. We cannot change the foundations of the family. God founded the family. And without the family there can be no society and no civilisation. It is the same as with work. Without work, no family. Without the family, no development of work, and no civilisation. The two are so united that we cannot separate them.

And we must respect all families — all, rich and poor, because all are founded by God. Christ made marriage a sacrament so that all married people would have the divine power, divine courage, divine perseverance to love each other, to respect each other, to remain united with each other. But, once you do not accept the divine character and the divine essence of the family, the family is broken. How many divorces! How many so unhappy families! The victims are always the children, orphans with no parents. Yes, we must have pity and we must he preoccupied also with those who have father and mother separated from each other. They are worse than orphans and are the most miserable on earth. We must see the dignity of the family, the divinity of the family, and we must he brought up with the Christian conception of family and family life.

We must also respect the human and social aspect of the family. The public authority in all the countries of the world must be preoccupied with the welfare of families. We must know about the families and how they exist, and we must come to the government and to the authority and say: “We want a good deal for the family.”

Without the family, there is no social order. There cannot be any progress if the father is a drunkard, and every night lie comes into the family and there is trouble and there is dispute. The boys and girls go away from the family. They arc ashamed of their family. The family should help them. In time we can save them. In time we can reconstitute the family. But first, we must have the right conception of the family.


When the boys and girls have sexual relations, today with one, tomorrow with another, no society it possible. And therefore it is the same as for work. Greater importance must be given to preparation. Bad preparation, bad family. I have had contact with thousands and thousands of families. It is always the same. Bad preparation, bad family, unhappy family, unhappy children, ashamed about their parents. And therefore let us see the importance of preparation.

Boys and girls, 14, 15, 16, 20 years must discover for themselves the importance of the family, the importance of the preparation for marriage and the family life. If the engaged do not respect themselves when they are engaged, they cannot respect themselves when they are married. It is impossible. Boys are often corrupted before marriage because they have no respect for the girl, no respect for conjugal life, no respect for the love between married people. It is not something accessory. It is essential for society and for the Church.

Without Christian families, there is no Church. The priest must come from Christian families — even poor families. My father was poor and he worked so hard that he died aged 53 years. And when l saw the body of my dead father, I said: “Father, you died so that I could become a priest. I will become a priest, and I will give all my life for the voting working people.”

When we understand the dignity of the human person, we will give ourselves not for one year, not for two or three years, but for our whole life. Yes, during our youth we will be in an apostolic movement to prepare ourselves and spread our conception of life in the factories. We are not animals. As we become more and more friendly and gain confidence in each other, there are more and more possibilities in the factories, in the workshops and during leisure.


What are the problems of family life that Cardijn identified? Do families now face the same problems or issues?

Are there new issues that people face today?


Why does Cardijn place so much importance on family and family life?

How does he relate this to Jesus’ teaching?


Is there a small practical action that you could take this week or month to improve life for your family or that of others?


Stefan Gigacz


Joseph Cardijn, The workman and his family (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Cardinal Joseph Cardijn speaks at Catholic Social Week in Ballarat in 1966 in the John Molony collection



The dignity of work and the worker

Cardijn made his second visit to Australia in February 1966. In a speech for the Catholic Social Week event in Ballarat, Victoria, he addressed the theme “The workman and his family.”

The recording is available on the website of Australia’s National Library. Listen to it here in, his inimitable Flemish-accented English beginning from the 12 minute mark.

I believe the introduction is by the late Professor John Molony, at that time a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat.

In his talk Cardijn presents both a philosophy and theology of work epitomises in his famous epigram “Without work, no mass.”

Here is the full text of the first part of his talk:

We do not reflect enough on the dignity, on the value, on the honour of work and of the worker. The cleaner of the street must be respected because without cleaners there will he accidents. There will be more and more disorder. The cleaner of the street helps society and so does each worker.

Each man must be a worker. The holy Apostle St. Paul says: “Who does not work must not eat”. Work is of the essence of humanity. We live by work. People must work.

We must not separate scientific work, professional work, office work, and manual work. There is no scientific work without manual work. When we look at the history of mankind from the beginning, we see all man’s work and the development of work, and more and more we see the development of mankind. We can only know the dignity and development of man if we know of the development of work. That is the difference between an animal and a human being. By his work a human being discovers more and more the means of progress in all aspects of life. First, we have manual work for thousands and thousands of years. Only manual work — some done with wood, some with fire, some also with water. Then the tools of mankind are discovered by men to develop themselves and to do more and more creative work. Men think. They discover more human knowledge for the development of mankind and humanity.

Today, there are three thousand million people on earth. Without work, they have no possibilities. No food without work! No housing without work! No Church without work! No Mass without work! Yesterday the Melbourne YCW organised an open-air rally. The Auxiliary Bishop was there to celebrate Mass. But there was no table. And then, before thousands and thousands of young people and adult people, two carpenters came with wood and made the table; and then two girls came with the linen and covered the table with linen; and then other workers with candles; and then the printers with the Mass book; and then some farm-workers came with the wine and bread; and then some workers with ornaments for the Bishop. All workers! And without that work, no Mass!

And then the Bishop put on his vestments, and Mass began. And then during the offertory, with all the you no workers, he offered, with the bread and with the wine, the work of humanity. And that work of humanity was consecrated by Christ to become more and more the food of humanity, the spiritual food, the intellectual food, the material food. Without work, no food, no intellectual food, no university.

Today as we are flying around the world in planes, we feel there is no more distance. It is by work we hear the radio and see the television. We see the Pope speaking in the United Nations about peace. None of these things could happen without work. And therefore I say, and I repeat everywhere, in the schools, in the colleges, that the students should become more and more aware of the value of work, the dignity of work, and even of manual work, the poorest of work here on earth.


Today all workers are associated. Nobody works for himself. He works for others. Work binds together all the peoples of the world. The work done by the workers of Australia is going to help those of Asia, those of Africa, those of other continents. The work of Australia and the fruits of Australia and all the different problems of Australia are seen in all the continents of the world. It is the same everywhere. Solidarity by work. We are one by work. We are united with each other by work.

Today, the economy and the organisation of work and the techniques of today are more and more international. That is the great problem of the poor people, the two thirds of humanity who have no work, who are unemployed, who have no techniques, who have no possibility to give help to their people. They need food. they need housing. They need schools. They need hospitals. They have needs in all aspects of life in order to live as human beings. We call them underdeveloped people. But they must be respected, they must be honoured, they must he helped. Otherwise humanity will be destroyed.

God needs the work of human beings. God will not replace one worker. Pope Pius XI said to me when I came to him for the first time in 1925: “I, the Pope, come into the Church, but I do not replace one worker in his factory, in his office, in his workshop. He is needed in the Church to spread the redemption of Christ who was a worker, who became a worker to show the divinity and the value of work. He was a carpenter until he was 30 years old. The Son of God, himself, worked to show to all humanity the value, the dignity, and the divinity of work.”


We must reflect on our lives. Without work there can be no religion. Without work our religion becomes separated from our life and we live by the work of others. We are sometimes proud we need not work. We should be ashamed! We must work! Every human being must work, not as an animal, but as a human being. And therefore we have the social doctrine of the Church. We may not separate the social doctrine of the Church from the spiritual doctrine of the Church. We must not say: “Ah, if I go to Mass, if I go to Communion, all is right.” No! Nothing is right! Christ gave himself to you. Therefore you must he another Christ and give yourself to others by your apostolic work, by your missionary work.

And even in the factory, you must be the missionary of Christ by your work, because you know the divine dignity and the divine value of work. Many think that work is a punishment. No! Punishment is the bad result of the selfishness, of the impatience and of the ignorance of men. It is the result of sin. But, the Creator, who makes all, needs all our work to achieve the fulfilment and completion of creation, to put all created things into the service of his people.


Tomorrow we will be six thousand million. You can understand how today workers must be more and more associated. We can no longer work alone. There are some who work for themselves, but not many. But most of humanity today and tomorrow will become an associated people, associated with all the workers, the totality of mankind. We must study this. Without that association, without that solidarity, we cannot solve the problems of today and tomorrow. That is so for all the peoples of the world.

I was in Bangkok four months ago. My trip will he finished next week. But I was in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Ceylon. I was in many countries of Asia, always to see the problems of work. And I had more than an hour of conversation with the Patriarch of the Buddhists of Thailand who is the head of 35 million Buddhists and 250 thousand monks. He said: “We must collaborate together more and more. We must help each other more and more. I admire your international movement (YCW) which proclaims that as people we must he united.” Even if we are not Catholics, even if we are not Christians, we all must help each other because we all have a divine origin. We all have a divine destiny. We all have here on earth, a divine mission. And so we will know each other better. We will become more and more friendly with each other. We will more and more have confidence in each other. And then, and then alone, we can have peace, not by violence, not by killing each other, not by destroying the houses of each other, but by loving each other, and serving each other, by helping each other by work.


We should speak and think for hours and hours about the value and importance of work and the importance of education for work. Today young workers must he educated not from six till fourteen years, but from fourteen till twenty-five years when they are becoming more mature workers. They must learn more and more to do better work everywhere because work is more and more becoming work for society.

I was nominated Assistant Priest in a parish of Brussels with 25,000 baptised. I came on to the street the first day I was there. I did not know anybody. I met a young boy and I said: You are a young worker?” “Yes, Father, I am a young worker, he said. “Ah, I see, you have a problem about your work. Where are you working?” “In a factory,” he said. “Where is your factory. Are you there alone?” He laughed and said: “Ah, Father, in my factory there are more than 200 boys and 200 girls.” “Not boys and girls of the parish?” I said. “No!

They come from the villages, and from the other parishes every morning — 500 boys and girls.” “Are you satisfied with things? Are there good boys and girls and others? Listen! Will you come to my parish house? I live there, near the Church. Have you a friend?” I asked. “Yes, I have a good friend.” “Then come with him. We will smoke cigarettes and then we will speak about your work and what you can do.” And so I began the International YCW which today is in more than 100 countries of the world, with this one boy that I met in the street.

We must educate them. We must speak with them. We must know and discover their problems in their daily life, in their work and environment, in the factory, in the workshop, in the office — everywhere! Millions and millions! Can we help them? Can we educate them? Yes, we can today.


How has the situation of work and workers changed over the sixty years since Cardijn presented h is talk?

What aspects have remained the same? What aspects have changed?


Are these changes for the better or worse?

Why is work so important to Cardijn?

What is the Christian significance of work?


How can we continue Cardijn’s work today?

Try to identify a specific action that you could take this week or month.


Stefan Gigacz


Joseph Cardijn, The workman and his family (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)


Cardinal Joseph Cardijn speaks at Catholic Social Week in Ballarat in 1966 in the John Molony collection

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John Molony (Wikipedia)

Being Christian in our time

One more reflection with Léon Ollé-Laprune, this one from a series of personal notes that he wrote for himself, some of which were published after his death by his disciple and friend, Georges Goyau.

The French title of this reflection is “Le Chrétien vis-à-vis de son temps,” which translates as “The Christian vis-à-vis his or her time.”

Here Ollé-Laprune reflects on the problem of opposition or perhaps apparent opposition between Christian teaching and the ideas of a particular era.

What attitude should one take?

In a note dated 7 November, 1890, Ollé-Laprune offered his response:

I am a Christian, and I am of my time.

Being Christian, and fully Christian, by which I mean Catholic, – living in the nineteenth century, I can see or feel that there is an opposition between Christian doctrine, to which I adhere with my whole being, and many ideas or trends of my time, from which I do not want to remain estranged and of which I am not the enemy.

I would like to examine in what this opposition consists. By studying it closely, I will better understand what Christian doctrine is and what my era is.

I shall have a more exact and profound notion of the Christian idea and of the Christian life.

I will unravel what our time has that is new, and among these novelties discern the genuine spirit of this century.

Comparing it with the true spirit of Christianity, I will seek to identify that which is in radical and definitive opposition to this spirit and that which, deviating from it only in appearance, will allow itself to be brought closer and which may even secretly aspire to be brought closer. “

In other words, the role of the Christian and Christianity is not an attitude of radical opposition to current trends.

Rather our role is to enter into dialogue with, to work with and identify the truth within those trends, while seeking to reorient them in line with Christian teaching.

This was the method that Cardijn himself would adopt. As he insisted so often, being anti-communist was “not enough to save the working class.” Rather, it was necessary to understand “the element of truth in Communism,” he wrote, because that is where “it draws its strength.”

We still have much to learn from Léon Ollé-Laprune and Joseph Cardijn!


Stefan Gigacz


Young Léon Ollé-Laprune (top left) as a student at the Ecole Normale Supérieure


Léon Ollé-Laprune, The Christian vis-à-vis his time (Léon Ollé-Laprune/Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Joseph Cardijn, The hour of the working class, Lecture 2 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

See clearly, judge and decide with Léon Ollé-Laprune

In today’s Cardijn Reflection, we continue to read from Léon Ollé-Laprune, this time from the Preface to the Third Edition of his classic work, Le Prix de la Vie (The Prize/Price of Life).

In this extract, we see how importantly Ollé-Laprune views the method of seeing, judging and deciding as a way to rebuild social unity and peace in the face of division and conflict.

When, almost two years ago, I published these studies on what I would call the philosophy of life, or to borrow a fine phrase from Aristotle, the philosophy of human matters, I wrote: “I am convinced, and I would like to convince others, that life is singularly precious if we understand how to see the purpose for which it is given to us and what we can and must do with it.”

That is the central idea of this book, and that is why it is entitled The Prize or Price of Life. I have nothing to add to this statement, except, perhaps, that of the double concern present throughout these pages, first of not distorting man and secondly that of proclaiming the duty to act, the urgency of which, if I may say so, is increasingly visible and growing.

It is true that in the intellectual and philosophical order we can observe a certain aspiration for an increasingly comprehensive synthesis, a more serious attention being given to facts of various kinds that have long been neglected, as well as a certain broadening of the frameworks of thought and even of thought itself.

However, it is also true that the too general persistence of old prejudices hinders this return to best practices and these welcome new approaches, and it also dooms these desires, efforts and attempts to remain too often sterile.

Moreover, is also true that with regard to the sciences there persists in many places a regrettable misunderstanding of their true spirit, their just scope and, consequently, an ill-advised use of their method and results. Finally, it is also true that great mistrust exists in many regions of the world with regard to what is Christian, including among those who think, or who claim to think, and there is also great intolerance among others that is very blind, hateful and active.

Thus humanity divides itself from itself, and rejects or neglects something of itself and the resources placed at its disposal. 

On the other hand, “intellectual anarchy,” which as Jouffroy already noted  in 1834, leads to  “the most exaggerated and complete individualism,” is invading all areas of thought, including moral matters where it has become extreme.

Thus, we find various powerful tendencies competing for people’s minds, while no school prevails, no influence is decidedly dominant, and amid this  universal disarray it is left to  individual efforts to undertake the restoration of that authority of the truth which commands and rallies people’s minds.

Thus each person must apply him or herself more than ever, better than ever, to courageously and faithfully looking at the principles and the facts in order to make him or herself more than ever, better than ever, capable of seeing clearly, judging and deciding, precisely because it is hardly fashionable to do so any longer

By a sustained application of this process, people will be able to protect themselves from falling into prejudice and error. By means of this process, they will also be able to regain consistency and find ways to become closer and unite

In the social and political order there are likewise many noble and generous aspirations, but the old spirit of division, rancour, mistrust and hatred still remains

Despite many fine words and dreams, a frighttful egoism continues to divide people and prepares to arm them against one other.

In the face of these perils which threaten society, individual initiative and individual energy is even more necessary than ever to defend genuine social interests, to foster new groups and thereby gradually to restore social peace and political consistency.

For Léon Ollé-Laprune, who lived at a time of significant social conflict and anti-clericalism, learning to see together, to judge together and to arrive at conclusions together was a way of overcoming division and building social peace.

What a great vision for the see-judge-act method that we can still apply fruitfully today for promoting unity among people of various faiths or none and even amid ideological conflict,

Stefan Gigacz


Léon Ollé-Laprune, Preface, Le Prix de la Vie (3rd edition)

Léon Ollé-Laprune: Philosopher of the see-judge-act

In a note dated 1955, Cardijn made a list of the key reading he had done at various stages of his life.

Among the authors he read between 1902 and 1904 when he was aged 18-20 studying philosophy and theology at the Malines major seminary, he cites the French philosopher, Léon Ollé-Laprune (1839-1898), a promoter of the lay apostolate and disciple of Society of St Vincent de Paul founder, Frédéric Ozanam.

And today marks the 125th anniversary of Ollé-Laprune’s premature death at the age of 58 on 13 February 1898.

But why was Cardijn interested in his writings and what did he learn?

One answer, perhaps, lies in Ollé-Laprune’s deep influence on the development of Marc Sangnier’s democratic lay movement, Le Sillon (The Furrow), which also had such a great influence on Cardijn.

“He understood our plans almost as soon as we did, and approved them from the beginning,” wrote the Sillon leader and seminarian, Albert Lamy in an obituary for Ollé-Laprune. “One of his books provided us with our motto, his friendship stayed with us constantly.”

That motto, borrowed by Ollé-Laprune from Plato, was “il faut aller au vrai avec toute son âme” – “we have to seek the truth with our whole soul.”

Lamy explained this with a quote from Ollé-Laprune’s most famous book, Le Prix de la vie, which translates into English as either “The price or the prize of life,” a double meaning that expresses both the cost and value of a fully-lived life:

I will philosophise with my whole self, in an atmosphere completely impregnated with Christianity. I philosophise as a thinking man, a living man, a complete man, and a Christian.

In other words, no division between faith and life, a fully lived Christianity that closely resembles Cardijn’s understanding and even foreshadows Pope Francis’ key concept of “integral human development.” (Laudato Si’)

But how to achieve this integral human and Christian development?

Ollé-Laprune also provided an answer to this in a talk entitled La virilité intellectuelle that he presented to students in Lyon in 1896:

Gentlemen, it remains for us to consider what our era demands of us in particular, and what a young man who thinks like a man needs to do at the present time.

In order to think in a virile manner, I believe we need to possess three qualities: we must be able to see clearly, we must be able to judge, and we must be able to decide.

As Ollé-Laprune also recognised, this was a challenge:

To see clearly is not easy; to judge, that is to say, as Bossuet said, “to pronounce within oneself with respect to what is true and what is false,” is perhaps even more difficult; to decide, it seems, is the most difficult thing in the world for some people: even when the premises are there, which call, which claim, which impose a conclusion, they cannot decide or conclude.

But, Gentlemen, one must know how to dare what so many men do not have the courage to do: to see clearly, to judge and to conclude.

And by conclude or decide he meant taking action. To quote Albert Lamy again:

His latest books never end without immediately practical considerations and advice as well as encouragement to continual, daily action.

As we can see then, Ollé-Laprune was foreshadowing the see-judge-act that Cardijn himself would soon make famous and that Pope Francis would also adopt as a way of achieving integral human and Christian development.

It’s also why I believe that Léon Ollé-Laprune can also be justly called “the philosopher of the see-judge-act.”


Stefan Gigacz


Léon Ollé-Laprune ( /Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Stefan Gigacz, Léon Ollé-Laprune, Philosopher and Lay Apostle

Joseph Cardijn, My reading (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Le Sillon (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

Australia: An unrivalled land of apostolic opportunity

Today is the birth anniversary of Patrick Keegan, the English YCW leader who became the first president of the International YCW.

Later he became Secretary General of World Movement of Christian Workers, a post he held during the period of the Second Vatican Council where he became a lay auditor and was the first lay person to address an Ecumenical Council.

For today’s reflection, I’ve chosen a radio message that he broadcast to Australia in June 1951 for the tenth anniversary of the movement.

He began by expressing his appreciation for the Australian YCW leaders and chaplains he had met, including Fr Frank Lombard, Terry Barber, Frank McCann and Ted Long.

“Our Headquarters without an Australian just doesn’t seem to be complete,” he commented. “All of us ever here remember with a deep and profound gratitude the comradeship of those Australians who shared with us the difficulties of war.”

He noted the spread of the YCW around the world, particularly the English-speaking world and he recalled the 1950 International Congress of the YCW in Brussels, which demonstrated the belief and conviction of YCW leaders “in that fundamental and universal truth, that lies at the very heart of our work and effort in the YCW – the dignity of the young worker.”

He continued:

We believe with our heart and soul that every working fellow and girl without a single exception, irrespective of their colour or country is called to an eternal destiny and vocation as a son or daughter of God – not an animal – not a machine, but a person possessing a magnificent vocation. We further believe that anything in his life of home, work or neighbourhood that hinders him from discovering or attaining this tremendous vocation constitutes the problem that he must solve.

This truth is a universal truth to which there cannot be the slightest exception. It is true for the Negro, the Chinese, the Hindu, the Japanese just as it is for the whites. It is the truth least understood or apparently only understood as a principle to be applied in a selective way. At this hour of history, it is the truth which if practically applied to men and institutions can change and transform the world.

He saw Australia as having a chance to avoid the mistakes of Europe and to build something genuinely new:

For those engaged in the apostolate in Europe, everything points to Australia, being an unrivalled land of apostolic opportunity. Australia is seen as a nation where men are still free to build institutions and public life on Christian principles, untrammelled by the relics or backwash of the barbarian that accompanied the rise of industrialism in the countries of Europe

Seeing the results of industrialism in Europe – the black spots of its inhuman production, unjust distribution and exhausting labour, one must believe that in a country like yours free to choose the pattern of future construction, that the mistakes of Europe can be avoided.

And he set out his vision of the role the YCW could play:

Our task in the YCW is to produce through home, neighbourhood, school and work, men and women capable of building a Christian society – men and women willing to accept as a great privilege all the personal sacrifice entailed by this most practical work.

We know this will only be possible by following working youth at this very moment into the heart of their real life – giving them the means to discover not only their own place and responsibility in Christ’s plan, hut the place of their factory, neighbourhood, mine and office.

Our movement is the university for working youth, where we can discover the meaning and purpose of our life – where we can discover more and more the Christian conception of work, leisure and community – a conception lived and made real and not remaining in the realm of theory. Through our work in the movement we must discover the Christian “ideal of life”. An ideal when grasped will never allow a flinching at difficulties.

In Europe the YCW has faced an industrial set up based on the conception of men as a commodity – a means of production. Far too much of our work has been spent in bringing remedies to the effects of a system basically wrong in conception.

Fortunately, in your country you now stand at the threshold of great industrial development. You can plan it in the way that you wish. It must be planned on the basis of the Christian (conception) of the human person. In order that this may be done, Australia needs at this very moment men and women with profound Christian convictions willing to give themselves to this task, willing to share in the making and execution of these plans on which so much will depend for the future.

A Christian Australia is a worthwhile target for all members of the YCW. A Christian Australia is vital for the whole Pacific world. One knows that millions of people in the Far East are hungrily looking for an ideal of life pressed down as they are by an economic and social misery unknown in such intensity in Europe, it is in this setting that Australia must take her responsibility as the torch bearer of Christian values – geographically set as she is the spring board for the Far East.

Strangely enough and sadly, Pat never visited Australia.

Nevertheless, on this anniversary of his birth, let us remember him and his challenge to become conscious of our responsibilities as Australians in the world.

Stefan Gigacz


Patrick Keegan, Australian Broadcast 26.6.51 (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library/Pat Keegan)


Patrick Keegan (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)