Doctor Cardijn

Doctor Cardijn

It is more than a happy event that I have been Invited to speak to this assembly. I left the International YCW early in 1962 after the Rio Council and was replaced by my good friend Bartolo Perez. In those days, the cry of the movement was “of, for and by young workers” was the order of the day. It was a powerful message in a world of paternalism when young workers were managed by the educated elites. And this still revolutionary cry must remain.

A disintegrating world

In a world of a disintegrating cultures, there is no cohesive culture. The elites continue to write and speak of themselves and for themselves. And to themselves and the masses are controlled by the manipulation of these same elites.

If this new industrial universal world is to be humanized and civilized the starting point must be the masses. It is the ordinary people who hold the key to barbarism or civilization.

One must see this in the context of the billions of peoples who are still leaving the villages of our world and moving into the cities. Not because they do not like the villages rather they are forced to leave because of the great miracle of all ages, that infants do not die.

Too often the intellectuals read this sign as if it is the “lights of the city” that attract the villagers. This is the pull factor of history. The reality is more the push factor that has and is continuing to move them out of the past into the future.

The greatness of Cardijn

Te greatness of Cardijn which is still to be discovered by the world and even more by his Church to which his love was nearly infinite can be summed up with one of his famous lines “the yeast must be in the dough if one wants bread. If the yeast is but one centimeter away, the dough remains dough.”

He still remains the rare cleric whose search for the truth led him to the masses. He spent his life bringing the message of hope and love to the ordinary people. He intensely believed that a Church without workers was not the real Church. His belief was that the top down strategy was a waste of time. His was a “down up” strategy. He understood that the real task of a culture is to form all persons in the myth or truth that made it exist.

Yet what he discovered was that young workers were being formed by the new culture that was developing. Materialism and modern culture. A culture that is materialistic at its core must necessarily form workers in its image. And so was born the new materialistic culture that is presently sweeping the world. We have gone from the philosophical Marxist materialism to a much more pragmatic type of materialism. One only has to look at youth in Asia who are leaving the villages of their past into the cities and see how rapidly they are absorbed by the new culture.

His vast travels throughout the world showed his incredible belief in the masses. His struggle to get the Church to see the riches locked in ordinary people was an eternal struggle. Interestingly enough, the Church started to accept him not necessarily from the truth that he was spreading but more because the Church feared the spread of philosophical Marxism. With the demise of the latter, the Church now is relaxing sure that the institution is safe.

Yet the young workers are still growing in materialism. The non-philosophical materialism is a thousandfold more dangerous to the inner spaces of workers than Marxism ever was. The latter could monopolize the mind but it had difficulty to reach the very inner spaces which we call the soul.

Today the Church is safe as an institution but is in great danger of losing the battle to spread the message of Jesus in the new modern global world culture based on science and industry. Who will civilize this new barbaric culture which wants to control the very inner spaces of our youth?

What made Cardijn run?

Too often, we write on lives of important people from the point of those who influenced them. So they seek out the books that they read. Cardijn was an avid reader of all types of books. The last time that I saw him was in 1964 when I was working in the international department of the Canadian labor unions.

He was sitting at his desk and reading with a small pencil underlining points of interest. I remember well his last statement to me: “We are just starting.” It is important to know what a man reads to understand what makes him tick but maybe even more important may be the “food” that feeds his soul. One without the other produces cultural sterility.

One of the greatest YCW leader Jacques Meert still living at nearly hundred years old and another great leader Marguerite Fiévez wrote a book on Cardijn. In the early paragraphs, they recount the reaction of Cardijn when he came home from the seminary for the first time.

One is immediately struck not by the ideas that form a person but reality which is the scalpel that forms the soul.

Let me read to you a paragraph of this book that sums up the incredible drive of this incredible man.

“When the holidays came, young Cardijn found himself back again in his old surroundings. Seminarist or not, at fifteen he was still a boy and human nature does not change quickly. He was soon back to his old pranks, the familiar faces and the scuffles of the neighborhood.”

Mr Meert and Ms Fiévez continue to describe this encounter with his old friends.

“But the shock of meeting up again with his companions of primary school was terrible, they had taken the road to the factory and workshop and as far as they were concerned, he had become a ‘little priest,’ someone who had no understanding of workers, a traitor to the hard life and the long fight against injustice.”

There is no more forcible event that forces one to face reality than when one’s friends tells you that you are a traitor. Anyone that wants to live a life different than the culture of every day is open to the charge of treason. This was so powerful in the life of Cardijn that when he was really tired he would go out on a speaking tour to young workers. He would return tired but at the same time refreshed and full of life. He had once again made contact with those who had called him a traitor.

His search for ways and methods to reach the inner spaces of young workers led him to the boy scouts, the labor unions and all types of organizations where young workers were present. He wrote extensive notes on each one of these encounters. Always seeking new ways to reach the inner spaces of young people.

He was very much like the great inventor Edison who when he was asked are you not tired after a thousand failures, “not at all, now I know that those failures will lead me to others more successful.”

The beginnings

Cardijn started with young maids. He tried the liturgical road, opening the tabernacle and urging the young maids to adore Jesus. Then he tried to organize young workers around the pole of the trade unions. Here again he was faced with the unions insisting that he was stepping on their ground. Yet every failure led him ever closer to small groups and the famous see, judge, and act method.

How many others lay claim to the method? Some still claim that it is a Marxist method of education, others like the Dominican priest that I went to confession in St Peter’s Rome who asked me what I was doing in Rome.

When I told him that I was in Rome for the 32000 young worker rally of 1957. He spurted out “you are using the see, judge and act method of St Thomas.” I will let history judge who was the inventor but it is as natural as seeing a truck coming at you on the road and you judge it is going to hit you. You act very quickly and get out of the way. All education without action is really a waste of time.

Cardijn had an incredible memory to taking and applying it to his central love of young workers. His whole formation method was based on educating through action and not removing the young worker from the reality of his work. Too often education forces or allows the young worker to be promoted out of the workers into the more acceptable and successful middle class. They form young workers as engines to pull young workers out of work and so promote them out of the workers.

It is like developing a locomotive which is to pull the cars only to be decoupled from the cars and run alone down the tracks. Too often Christian formation leads young workers out of the community of workers and into a so-called superior class. No! We must remain as the yeast in the dough.

A great organizer

He was an incredible organizer. I was part of the team that was called to help organize the 32000 young workers rally in Rome in 1957.

I am rather sad to say that I had spoke strongly against such a great expenditure of money and effort. Cardijn quietly explained to me the reason and end of this rally. He told me how he had organized, this type of meetings in the past and the whys of such meetings.

Again he explained that workers do not grow just through ideas but through action. The actual organization of rallies by young workers allowed them to develop their organizational skills.

Every five years which was about a youth generation, Cardijn would organize a rally or pilgrimage to Lourdes. Rome etc. The young workers who in my day did little travelling would save their money to pay for the rally. The train travel was designed as a travel education operation.

National solidarity was strengthened along with their faith in the YCW and Church. And above all, the travel costs included a percentage that went to finance the next five years of the movement. As you can guess, I went along with the plan to organize a YCW international rally in Rome in 1957.

It would take too long to recite all the incredible breakthroughs of the rally. The following are but a few. The first is that the curia learned the lesson that workers also have holidays. As their holidays conflicted with the holidays of the Curia, we were made to feel that we were heretics.

When we told them that we were planning to hold a rally on St Peter’s square and we would want to greet the pope. The cry of mission impossible was shouted out when we asked that the pope come back from his holiday. Impossible, it is holiday time for the pope and we said but it is also holiday time for 32000 young workers. Suffice it to say that Pius XII came to St Peter’s square led by the Vatican band in to the hot sun of August.

The second victory was a liturgical victory. We had told the Vatican authorities that 32,000 young workers would be coming in a years time. It was agreed that the Eucharist celebrations would be in St Peter’s.

Two weeks before the trains from all over Europe started to arrive, I got an urgent message from the Vatican authorities that the liturgy in St Peter’s would be impossible as the Church could only hold 8000 persons. So they very creatively came up with the idea to have a simultaneous liturgy in St Peter’s, and three other great churches of Rome.

We refused as we wanted to show international solidarity. So finally, it was agreed to celebrate in St Peter’s and on an alter specially built just outside the doors of St Peter’s. So it was done.

Then another “impossible” task came forward when we asked that the Eucharist must be made available to all young workers. We were treated as if we were retarded. So we met with a Dutch Monsignor Van Lierde who was in charge of the liturgy in St Peter’s and we explained the problem. In a day he came up with a solution, which was to place a priest at all the side altars inside St Peter’s and a couple of dozens priests around the outside altar and all the 32,000 received our Lord. The impossible was made possible.

And this breakthrough has become the norm since then. What was more important personally for me was that inbuilt in the solidarity price, every young worker paid the same price no matter from where he or she came from. Built into that solidarity price was a little stipend that went to a budget for the international. My four years at the helm was never disturbed by any financial problem.

Bringing the Good News

Besides being a great educator and organizer, Cardijn was a great evangelist A real evangelist must always start with reality. The problem is that it is one thing to preach god in a world that is expecting god today if we are expecting, we are expecting the worst.

Our Jewish brothers were very much like a pregnant mother expecting the arrival of the messiah. In some ways, St Paul had it rather easy he preached that the messiah had already arrived in the person of Jesus. The total joy of those that believed that who they had been looking forward to for centuries had arrived. Their joy was total. Then the question was how to reach the non-Jewish people of the roman empire who were not expecting.

The small groups of believers by their very example of living attracted those who were not expecting. And so the faith started to grow.

St Patrick in evangelizing the Celts spent years trying to convince the Celtic religious leaders of the power of the message of Jesus that love is the supreme virtue. And finally, the Irish authorities embraced the faith and the masses followed.

In a cohesive culture, one had to convert the leaders before coming close to the ordinary people. For in an established culture all comes down from the top. In the long history of the Church and in fact in all the history of all major religions of the post nomadic world one started with the elites hoping to win them to the faith.

The modern world is very much akin to what happened to the nomadic civilizations when they became settlers and agriculturists. One must note that all the major religions of our day are on this side of the nomadic-agricultural side.

A better expert than I would have to study what part of the faith of the nomads that was able to cross this incredible frontier.

The move from village to city

We are at a new frontier. The masses are still being forced out villages of the world. Too many still believe that villagers flee their villages. The opposite is true. They are forced out of them.

The greatest gift that God can give to his people is, for parents to see their children live and not die. The villages were sufficient to give life to families of ten to twelve children when the infantile mortality rate took eight or nine of these infants in early death.

With the pasteurization of milk thanks to Pasteur and other health breakthroughs like outside toilets. Suddenly, the infantile mortality rate was lowered to the point that overpopulation was killing the village.

The only solution was emigration to far away cities, this emigration fueled the process of industrialization of our great cities. This has happened and is still happening today.

The death of village culture

The new must nearly always slay the old. The wonderful village culture of my parents was destroyed by my good teachers in grade school. How was it destroyed by demeaning it. Making fun that my mother would put a garland of garlic around my throat to deflect the germs that brought sickness. After destroying this village trait, now the city folk have come to believe in the power of garlic. One must have to admit that city folks are slow learners.

What we did not realize is that when one makes fun of one’s culture, the yeast (religion) that raises the dough, this literally destroys the faith. Get rid of the dough and the yeast also disappears. And so the modern masses are lost to the Church.

The fatal disease of alienation

The masses without religion must develop some faith. So their new faith became hard work and success. And a new culture based on success and materialism was constructed.

Yet at the very center of this new growing global culture is nothingness. Professor Michael Hooker writes in his book “agenda for the 21st century” on the problem of alienation and modern youth.
I’m kind of a student of the suburban shopping mall. They fascinate me when I go to a strange city on business, if I have an evening free, sometimes I go to shopping malls just to absorb the flavor. What worries me, especially among the youth is an emptiness in their eyes.

An emptiness that reflects an emptiness in their lives. The shopping mall is a contemporary opium den, half of the kids are stoned on drugs while the other half of the kids are stoned by the very mall. The mall provides a kind of transfixing environment that takes their mind off of whatever their issues are.

They walk around, you look in their eyes and there is nobody home. The higher is the consciousness of one’s nothingness, the stronger must be the drug for some even drugs cannot dull the pain and the only way out is suicide. This exit is growing among modern youth.

Life is in danger when “there is no one home.” Universities call this near to fatal disease alienation. We have become aliens to ourselves. Before we can come to faith in god, one must make an act of faith in oneself.

This is Cardijn at his best: “A young worker is worth more than all the gold in the world.” The very power of this statement has made it the international pass word of all YCW members.

As soon as you mention Cardijn, an echo comes back young workers are worth more than all the gold on the earth.

The cure to this cancer

The task of any doctor is to examine the patient and try to discover what ails him. Only when he discovers the illness only then does he proscribe a cure.

Cardijn was a great doctor. He took a long time to discover the illness of modern youth, the nothingness of nothingness. The upper echelons of society so busy chasing knowledge that it was a type of opiate to keep them away from the real questions of life.

Who am i? What am i? What’s the meaning of life? These are the most essential religious questions of our day there is no hand me down solution to this critical religious problem.

There is only the road of discovery. It needs an act of faith in one’s life. It must start with discovery of the power of action. Thought is not sufficient to discover love. It is only an active love that brings the person in contact with the source of the all loving god.

We cannot fool around with nothingness this is the most dreadful of diseases. Unless cured, it will destroy the globe and we are well on our way to destroying planet earth.

Cardijn is the true doctor who not only discovered the nothingness that is at the center of the modern world but also discovered how to transform this same nothingness, living not hidden but openly in young workers.

A Church that is still locked in the top-down strategy is on the wrong track for it cannot ever understand the sickness unto death of nothingness. The elites are no longer in contact with the masses. They think different. Their music is different.

In a holistic society the music of the elites will find their way to the masses. Today the music comes out of the nothingness of the masses and finds its way into the salons of those “who have made it.”

Bringing the cure

The Church is still in the elite stage of culture. She has to come to realize that she is no longer in the Jewish-Christian era of St Paul or even in the roman era when the father really knew best.

These were the starting points of evangelizing. The Church is till in the cohesive culture type of evangelization convert the king and whole kingdom is converted. If this strategy would work today, we should spend all of our time with the stars of Hollywood, the jazz musicians of our time, etc. For they are the kings and queens of popular culture.

As money is the center of our modern culture, these are the heroes and heroines of our world. Finally, I want to speak to you like an old man of 75 years who has seen and been in many parts of the world.

The saddest event in my life was to see the overnight destruction of not only the YCW, the YCS and all the other organizations of Specialized Catholic Action groups in Canada.

The most progressive bishops who just returned from the Vatican council in one meeting of a few hours closed down all these movements. The reason that was given was that the council had renewed the Church and they had not only done wonderful work but it was their ideas that were at the heart of the council. I remember telling the bishop “tell me that the world has been changed by the council and I will go back to sleep.”

We have still to discover Cardijn’s bottom up strategy. A strategy that was based on discovery not imposition. A young worker finally comes to ask questions about his or her life. To love oneself and the other and hopefully will come to discover the message of Jesus and the other great prophets who preached the message of love and service above all else. Then and only then will Cardijn become fully alive and the message of Jesus will once again be at the center of the universe.

Love is an energy that must be discovered, nurtured and ripened. When we have discovered this message, we will have gained the pearl of great price. Its very infinity will allow giving it to other and still have it increase in the giver.

Cardijn a Doctor of the Church

I ask you with all humility to pray and work to make Cardijn who was a great person, a great priest, great chaplain a full doctor of the Church. Well you must be asking why then not a saint because unfortunately we put saints on pedestals like the old Greeks did. They did not want the perfect to disturb their imperfections. So keep them out of the market place where they might prove to be bothersome. No, a doctor’s place is at the bedside of the patient and then to find the medicine to cure the person from the present disease of nothingness which is terminal. The only cure is that incredible act of faith that all the gold in the world cannot equal the value of one young worker. Yes Cardijn was a social justice activist.

Yes Cardijn was a cultural activist, yes Cardijn was a great evangelist, he was all of this but much more. Cardijn is a true doctor that can and has cured the dread disease of nothingness which is death alive in our world.

Cardijn is a true doctor that has cured the dread disease of nothingness that is alive and well in our world. Any religious faith that does not start with this cure, is but a faith that confirms the deadly disease of alienation.

From this is born the present religions that preach “keep away from the world” for it will rob you of your faith. The present alienating religions threaten to sweep the world. The Church cannot avoid being present in the shopping malls of the world. The beginning of faith must be faith in oneself. This is the first gift of god and the rest of faith in the creator, in Jesus, in the trinity, in the Church are gifts from the hand of the creator. All real faith is locked in the incredible act of faith in oneself. When a young worker discovers his or her true value.

Is this evangelization, social action or what? This incredible act of faith in one’s value is evangelization at its highest point.

For locked into this act is social action and justice and a whole new culture. Culture can only be born and grow in and through this irreplaceable act of faith in oneself. Unfortunately, most religious leaders are looking for the fast cure. Convert the leaders of society and the masses will follow.

For the first time in the history of the Church, the continuity from the elites to the masses is gone. The Church must go directly to the youth in the modern malls of life and listen to the hurting youth this hurt cannot even be explained in words.

We must learn to listen to the sufferings of modern youth which cannot be put into words. Only it can seen in their unseeing eyes.

The awesome breakthrough of Cardijn to discover the immense dignity of young workers is still waiting to be discovered by the Church to which his total obeisance was given.

Long live Cardijn!

Romeo Maione
May 1, 2000
International YCW History Colloquy, Brussels