Congar et Cardijn

Yves Congar works with Cardijn 

This is a translation of a text from the Conciliar Diary of Fr Yves Congar, O.P. the well known French theologian (later Cardinal Congar). 

Cardijn August 1965 

Extract from the Council Journal of Yves Congar O.P. 

...However, the great moment from the point of view of the work for the Council was the arrival of Cardinal Cardijn. He had already written insistently that he wanted to see me. On 1st August, I telephoned him in Brussels. He arrived at Geneva airport at 12.40p.m. on 4th August. We began to talk immediately as well continuing in the car. For us, it was an extraordinary feast of Saint Dominic, two and half days of grace. I think it was not in vain that THIS OPPORTUNITY was granted to me. 

Concerning Rome, the projects of the pope, the reform of the Curia, the progress of the Council etc, Cardijn had nothing to say and I believe in fact that he knew nearly nothing about these things. He told me that, since being appointed a cardinal, he had not received a single paper instructing him on what was expected of him. 

As a member of the Congregation on Studies and Seminaries, he went to see Pizzardo. He came back in a state of alarm. Pizzardo is useless, he said. 

He told us about his cardinalate and how the nuncio had informed him, how the Pope had said to him, "Remain Cardijn!". He also told us how since becoming a cardinal, everyone in Rome smiled at him, bowing to him ("It's disgusting," he said, "it's unworthy. I would never have believed it."). In fact, Cardijn is very free; he has indeed remained himself. But what a passion, what enthusiasm; what remarkable health for an eighty-three year old man! 

We spoke about (the texts on Religious Liberty, Schema XIII, the Apostolate of the Laity, the Missions, the Priests). Cardijn had prepared his thoughts on all these texts. 

He relied on me, on us, to go over them and to put them in the form of conciliar interventions. In the last analysis, Cardijn has just one idea but it is co-substantial with him and he is as absolutely faithful to it as he is to himself. This one idea makes sheds light on everything. 

His great idea is to start with the real, with the concrete. You must take people as they are. 

He criticised the new schema on the apostolate of the laity for beginning with different kinds of apostolate, and for proposing a "lay spirituality". 

If I had started out like that, he said, I would never have done anything. I have never met anyone to whom these schemas apply. You need to always begin by taking people as they are, without trying to place them inside our frameworks, our ideas, our demands. It needs to come from them, it has to be authentic for them. 

When you start with a system, it is easy to come to the conclusion that with such and such a person nothing is possible. And so nothing is done. 

Cardijn was teaching in a seminary or in a school when Cardinal Mercier named him vicar at Laeken. He was poorly welcomed by his parish priest, the dean, who had already labelled him: poor health, doesn't speak Flemish, comes from a seminary and knows nothing! 

Yet there was a whole neighbourhood of poor people where neither the dean nor any other priest had ever visited: "nothing can be done there". And so when Cardijn spoke of his intention to go there: "they will not accept you". So Cardijn started going out the next day and they opened up to him, he drank coffee and a year later he had a group of one thousand women from that neighbourhood! 

He made similar criticisms concerning Schema XIII, and on the schema on the Missions. Little by little, we worked out a number of interventions that he would give, starting from his notes and from our conversation. 

Following the departure of the Cardinal, whom we took back to catch his plane at 1.40pm on the 5th, Fr Féret and myself divided up the work. On the 10th, I sent him a draft of an intervention on Religious Liberty. 

Extract courtesy of Fr Eric Mahieu, translation from French by Stefan Gigacz