The mission of young workers

In this talk from 1959, Cardijn summarises the work of the YCW drawing once again on his famous Three Truths trilogy.

The Mission of Working Youth

Speech of Monsignor Cardijn to the Teenager Boys Study Week (British) at Dunkerque, Monday, 27th July, 1959.


I regret keeping you waiting—I lost my way. I have just addressed 450 school leavers (girls) in one district of Belgium. Yesterday, I spoke to an International Camp for working youth, representing Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Holland, Peruvia and Portugal; all these young people are spending a fortnight in tents, studying the problem of working youth. In September, I set off on a visit to all the countries of South America and next year will see me in Africa. Monsignor Cardijn, at 76, addressed three meetings this day, travelling about 250km by car to do it.


You, young workers, must save the world; no Priest, no Bishop, no Pope, not Christ himself will save the world without you. You are the essential collaborators. When you are in the office, the workshop, the factory, you have there a mission. This is the revolution—the answer to communism. Workers may live for the dance, the cigarette, the girl, the drink but, they are not machines, they are not animals, they are the image of God. If I go to Mass every day and do not understand this first truth —I am not a Catholic—I cannot save the world. If you do not realise your vocation, Christ cannot take your place. You are mandated by the Pope, by the Bishops, to help all the working boys of the world, for they are the Sons of God.

The second truth presents the reality—most of them living to satisfy their instincts. They do not believe in their dignity. They are not to blame because their conditions are in contradiction with the truth.


Sixty-four years ago I discovered the reality. I am now 76. At fourteen I was to go into the factory, but I went into the Seminary. When I came back I found those lads and they had been more intelligent and more pious than I—corrupted. They had all lost their faith, I did not because I was in the Seminary. They said now: “The Priest is the friend of capitalists, the rich—we do not speak with Priests.”

I said to myself, “this cannot go on, I will consecrate my life to change this, I will destroy this contradiction. We must educate these working lads and girls to be the missionaries of their fellows.”

First, I made my own investigations in Belgium and England. I visited the factory; I had a look at Manchester, Liverpool, London. Forty years ago, what did I see? Unemployment, low wages, no holidays, Sunday work, no unemployment benefit—like Asia to-day.

We must see the real situation—we must begin where we are. I began in my parish with one boy: “Are you alone?” I said. “No, I have my mates.” “Then bring some of them.” Slowly we spread. I had my first team.

Everyone said: “It is impossible to unite young workers in a movement; they are not intelligent enough —they haven’t enough faith.” I replied, “We shall make more sections and then we shall have a movement to unite and sustain them. We will form a regional movement and then a national movement. We shall unite the nations; the workers are united because they are brothers. They must be respected in mind and body. They must share in the greatest mission of the Church.

Now I am glad to see you here, devoting your holiday to studying the problem of the workers. Every day, you must become better leaders. You are mandated to help all the working boys of the world. You must not only be pre-occupied with good conditions in Great Britain. So much of the world speaks English, you have a responsibility—a thousand million young workers. I have seen boys and girls who live, eat and sleep in the streets— unrespected in body (no Doctor, nurse or hospital), where most of the children were still-born because their mothers were undernourished. How can they believe? The young workers prefer to dance and to satisfy their desires.

This is the great mission of the Y.C.W.—a movement of the Church, mandated by the Pope to help all the working boys and girls of the world—all. We cannot do it alone—we must recruit. We must more and more seek others, attract others; we are not allowed to be selfish. We shall save millions. We can save the Church—we can fail the Church.

If you do not realise your mission, you will be unhappy, you will not be a Christian—you must make your own resolutions.



Joseph Cardijn, The mission of working youth, in New Life, 1959 Vol. 15 N° 5, September – October 1959, p. 158 – 160.