Lecture 3 - The worker movement

Characteristics of the Workers' Movement

(1) It must be educative. It cannot concern itself only with higher wages, holidays with pay, time for leisure, and social security, though these things are essential. 

Together with these things, the movement must at the same time educate and form the working class, because the working class is made up of human beings who must be influenced, not by instinct or material gain, but only by the end towards which family life will lead, that is, eternal happiness. 

The working class must be educated. We have arrived at a decisive stage. The working class must accept responsibility and take its part in the running of industry and industrial concerns; but if the working class is not formed and educated, if it has not been taught to accept responsibility, if it does not understand industry and national and international economy, then it will be unable to fulfil its responsibility of sharing in the running of each country in the world. The greatest danger facing the working class today is ignorance. 

(2) To save the working class, the workers' movement must be not only educative, but also apostolic. 

There is a difference between the two ideas ; for there can be education by natural, human means, but the apostolate demands supernatural means. An apostolic movement must have as its first concern the eternal destiny of the working class, its divine origin, the divine value of the life of each worker-and of each worker's family. The working class must be made to realise this. 

Each worker and each family must come into contact with Our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the workers' movement, in order to be apostolic, must realise that it holds its mission not from itself, but from God, from Christ, from the Church from which it receives the life, the grace and the Person of Christ. 

(3) The workers' movement must be a missionary movement. A missionary is one who leaves family and country to go for the rest of his life foreign countries to convert pagans. He gives up everything -to save uncivilised peoples who are outside the Church. 

Everyone must be an apostle; husband to wife, parents to children. But the apostolate can be either one of conservation, to improve things, or one of conquest, to win over those outside the Church. 

This apostolate must be to win every man of the masses.. It is not out to kill the Communist or the Socialist, but to convert him, not to lord it over him but to lead him to Our Lord. 

There are in the Church, the Pope says, two kinds of missions and two kinds of missionaries. There are missions of the exterior, which are the foreign missions; and there are the missions of the interior, whose sphere is that ever-growing section of the population which is untouched by the Church: work-places and working-class districts which the Church can no longer penetrate and influence. 

This mission of the interior needs a missionary movement, not only on a diocesan or national scale, but on a world-wide scale. It must reach those millions of workers outside the Church who are necessary for the Church to fulfil her mission. This must be a movement that "I not only make the truth known but will also conquer and organise the people". 

The truth must be made known, and souls and minds formed but that alone is not a missionary movement. A missionary movement must have missionary action, which will organise, conquer, recruit; which will understand the need of subscriptions; which will form souls to be its members. 

Some try to oppose the spiritual to the temporal, as though there were a way of having the spiritual, which is not temporal. That is dangerous. The spiritual must be incarnate in the temporal. I have never met pure souls roaming round in the world; dis-incarnate souls do not exist in the world. Souls exist in the bodies of human persons. To ignore the body in order to save the soul is to lose both. It is equally foolish to ignore the soul to save the body. Bodies cannot be saved without souls. 

We must always have the whole problem before our eyes. At an hour which is so critical for the salvation of the world, we should not have to begin by answering all manner of objections which spread a false spirituality, or, as the Pope says, a spirituality divorced from life." 

The hour of the workers' mission and of the workers' movement must also be the hour of the young workers' mission and of a missionary movement among working youth. Working youth must also be the hour of the young workers' mission, because it is during youth that a vocation must be recognised. 

The age of vocation is between 14 and 25, when young men and girls must recognise what they are called to be in the world. They must realise that they have the workers' vocation, the working family vocation: they are called to form new working class families. Before that age it is too early, because they can not yet understand what life is, what married life is, what marriage is, what love is. With the best Catholic schools in the world, if boys and girls are abandoned at 14 years old, they are lost. The experience of the last 50 years is a terrifying proof of this. 

Between the ages of 14 and 25, the mass of youth must be taught to know and prepare for their mission. The 20,000,000, youths who leave school each year to go to work and the 200,000,000 between the, ages of 14 and 25 must prepare for their workers' mission. We should be haunted by that knowledge for they are the future working class of the entire world. 

There must be a movement of working class leaders and apostles to prepare them for life; and that movement is the Y.C.W., with its Christian ideal and Christian leaders, which teaches the young worker the noble lesson of the greatness, the beauty, and the importance of the young workers' mission. 

This movement cannot be formed if the school-leavers are left to themselves. A great deal of thought is given to the best kind of teaching for the well-to-do youth, but people do not feel the importance of the formation of working youth. Yet it is clear that it is they who will decide the fate of the universal working class. If we are to have a workers' movement, and if the knowledge of its divine mission is to spread among the working class, the, great need is for working-class leaders, martyrs, and apostles. Priests, monks and nuns most emphatically are not enough. Side by side with priests and nuns in the Church, there must be an ever-growing number of working-class apostles, to form a Christian workers' movement and make known to the working class its divine mission. It is perhaps a discovery, that as well as a priestly or a religious vocation, there is also a vocation for working-class apostles. 

It is about twenty years ago now since I went to Rome for the third or fourth time to see the Pope. We were alone, and he asked me, " How is the Movement going?" and I answered: "Not too bad, not too good:" "Why, what is wrong? Are there still some people who do not believe in your Movement?» " There are, Holy Father, and what is more, there are even priests and bishops who do not believe in it." Then he said to me: "Very well, you must come to Rome with your Jocists, -and the Holy Father himself will show the cardinals, the bishops and the priests what he thinks of your Movement." 

That needed a year of preparation; but in spite of criticism and objections, fifteen hundred young workers left their country for the first time in three special trains. There were several hundred miners with their helmets and lamps, and mechanics and dockers in their working clothes. 

The Holy Father received us on the 27th, in the evening, and he received us as no king or emperor had ever been received. We'll do nothing else today - no protocols he said. "Cardijn is in charge - he can do what he likes in the Vatican. The Jocists and their flags were taken into all the beautiful rooms of the Vatican. They sang; they cheered the Holy Father. The Pope wanted to shake hands with every one of them, and his sacred hand, trembled. And then a Young worker, no longer able to restrain himself, threw his arms round the Pope's neck - "My father is a Communist, I am going to convert him". The Holy Father wept and embraced him. 

The words of the Pope on that occasion, 1929, September 27th, must be repeated: "My dear YCW's you are the Church's missionaries in the workshops. You are the missionaries of the Church in the working class." This was the time when he said: "There are two kinds of mission in the Church. The foreign missions in China, Japan, the Congo among the natives are one kind; but today there is another, the mission of the interior, in the factories and workshops, where there are pagans separated from the Church. And today and tomorrow, the missions of the interior will sometimes -- will often be more important and more difficult than the foreign missions. Very well, you are the missionaries of the interior, the Church's missionaries, who will bring back to Christ the working class and their workshops." 

Continuing, he said, "We have given a special Patroness for missionaries, and today I give, as special Patroness of the Y. C. W., the Patroness of missionaries - St. Teresa of the Child Jesus". Then he, brought out some small packets already done up. "My dear Jocists, I am giving you personally, through your chaplain, as a remembrance of the mission I have entrusted to you, as a remembrance of the vocation of missionaries I have given you, this beautiful medal of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, your Patroness, in order that she may guard and protect you and enable the Y.C.W. to fulfil its mission, so important in the Church, and bring back to it the working class and the whole world of work." 

The Y.C.W. is a school of missionaries, a missionary movement. In order fully to understand that, we must be obsessed, even from a purely temporal and natural point of view, with its fundamental truth that in the world of today and tomorrow the workers need working-class leaders to save them and deproletarianise them. The working class needs trained working-class leaders at the head of the workers' movement itself, in the trade unions, in the cooperative and educative organisations. There must be leaders to lead, direct, spread, and organise the movement. 

More and more, in every country, we need working-class leaders at the head of working-class institutions, institutions for security, holidays, hygiene, family and working class representation. And tomorrow the structural reforms already conceived will require an ever-increasing administration, labour organisations, international labour organisations, international headquarters for workers. There must be in every country greater numbers of working-class leaders who will decide the direction of the workers' movement and of the working class. 

I have already spoken of the danger of worker leaders who separate themselves from the working class, better themselves, and, instead of serving the workers, simply make use of them. They should be not only at the head of organisations, but also leaders in life, at the head of families, in the district, in small groups, infusing the spirit, influencing others, spreading an atmosphere, a way of thinking, a way of morals, and a conception of life. 

They must be in the workplaces, in the factories, the workshops, the mills, the mines, land the offices, on the buses and trains. 

How can the working class fend for itself, with its thousands and millions of members? It is too absurd to imagine. But here is the agonising question, which everyone must look into: leaders there must be, but why is it that the majority of them are Socialists, Communists, non-Christian? 

In the whole of South America where everyone is a Christian the leaders are non-Christian. 

In Belgium and France and in Most countries it is the same. Whatever else happens if the working-class leaders are not Christian, the working class cannot be conquered for the Church. 

What are Catholic Universities for? To train middle-class Christians Christian engineers and Christian barristers. Why must there be Christian schools and Christian colleges? To form leaders of the Christian middle-class. 

Leaders are indispensable to the working class. Christian working-class leaders must be formed and multiplied. That is the fundamental truth. 

These worker leaders must be apostles. They must understand that the betterment of the working class on a temporal and material plane will fail, if they ignore the divine vocation, the divine origin, the divine destiny, and the immortal soul, of each working-class family. 

To be apostles, they must realise that with the temporal betterment of the working class, there must also be achieved simultaneously its eternal spiritual well being. They must realise that they cannot act according to their whims, according to their personal preference, but that they must recognise the authority of Christ, of His Church, and their own mission from God, from Christ, from the Church. 

They must know that the working class, and especially the leaders themselves, cannot rely only on natural means; that they need supernatural life, the influence of Christ, of grace and of the presence of Christ, and the development of the life of Christ in them. 

These leaders must be missionaries. They must not be concerned only with a small group of workers; they must be like the missionaries, ready to leave their country, their home, a good job, to go to the pagans, to those who are separated from Christ, the Communists, the Socialists, the non-Christians. This is the mission field for the missionaries, whose task is not to preserve or improve the good, but who are taken up with those who are separated, those who are lost, those thousands who must be re-conquered. 

When I started thirty-six years ago, I asked office lads to leave their firms and go into the worst factories in Brussels. They went. I asked seamstresses and dressmakers with good jobs, living at home with their parents, to leave their homes to go and live in certain streets. They went. And then obviously they could not be left there alone and isolated. It was necessary to go with them, so that they would not flounder but would have someone to guide them and help them to be missionaries. 

Missionaries are needed in the Church today. How can they be formed ? When will the Church have these Christian working-class leaders, who are apostles, missionaries, and workers? 

The first condition is one of formation. Until now leaders have been lacking, because they were not formed. When I first started, they called me a fool. 

I started by thirteen years of failure. And now I have been trying for forty-one years. I still go on. We must be convinced that it is absolutely necessary and that we shall be doing it to the day of our death -- for we shall. What is to be done? It is not a question of a year or two; it is a matter of life and death for the Church; and without that belief there will be no success. We must believe that it is not only possible to do it but necessary, and that faith is tried by action. Faith without works is not enough. You must pray, go to Mass, go to Communion, but that is not enough. 

They must be formed, they do not grow like mushrooms. We must be convinced that there is a way of forming the most noble of apostles from ordinary young workers and working girls. If you are not absolutely convinced of that, you will never succeed. 

In the training of young workers, the first thing is not to lecture them. That must come later, but never at first because they will not understand. We start by giving them responsibilities, actions to be done, and we must go on doing it. All formation depends on it. The sense of responsibility must be developed. If the young workers want to know the numbers leaving school, let them find out by going to the headmaster and to parents. In the same way with the sick. When I was chaplain to the first section of young working girls thirty-six years ago, I told them: " I have been to such and such an attic in such and such a district, and it smelt so much in there, that I almost had to get out. Who will clean up that attic? " We will, Father," and they went with pail and rags to clean up that old woman's garret. I visited a sick woman. "Who will stay up with her at night "We will, Father " and they went. "Who will go? Who will do this and that?" Responsibility all the time. 

The way to form them is to give them activities they can do to serve the youth of the district. Can they do anything for those they travel to work with ? Always activities and responsibilities. They don't always understand immediately why you do it, because they do not realise that it is the apostolate. 

And then by means of these responsibilities they are made ready. "What are you going to do with that family, with those you travel with, with those you work with?" Prepare them, teach them what must be done. Speak about that to them, about the school leavers, those entering work. How are they to get to know them, and to speak to them? How can they serve them? In this way you are doing the Review of Influence with them. Their activities are examined. 

Prepare activities. Review and control the activities. There is the whole Y.C.W. formation. Make them realise the problems of the young workers by activities and by doing enquiries with them. Are there many young workers in the parish? How many leave school each year? Where do they start work? Which dance halls do they go to? How much do they spend each week ? The problems of the young workers are discovered by responsibilities and activities. How can we see them and contact them? 

Then by means of all these responsibilities, their spiritual and supernatural formation starts. Teach them the Y.C.W. prayer: teach them to pray for the young workers they must contact and save. Show them that they are not animals or machines. Slowly they will understand that they must help them, because they are sons of God and have immortal souls. Then show them the example of Our Lord, what He did for them-what He does for them today. 

Teach them to understand the Church, which is Christ, who today continues His work in His members, by the Pope and bishops united to Him. Then all the objections brought against the Church and the priests will slowly disappear, because they see Christ and their mission with Christ in the Church. 

The fact that there are certain priests who do not understand will no longer worry them. "But we know such and such a priest, he's great." Then they are proud and gradually surrender themselves. 

Show them the Church and the work of the Pope and the bishops and priests, so that they will be proud to work with them; and once they are interested, the slow work of spiritual direction begins. How must they pray, be united to Christ? 

Don't make them go to Mass before they understand it. Not understanding it, they get bored. Sometimes they are still led in file like soldiers doing drill; there can be nothing worse. Get them to understand it. They must go to Mass rather than to the cinema or to a dance, because the Mass means something to them. 

In the same way gradually introduce days of recollection and retreats. That is how I formed the first YCWs in this very building, in 1912. It was making history in those days to bring in young workers and to show that they knew how to behave themselves as well as the rich, the school-boarders, and the under-graduates. They made a retreat, which edified the whole house. They were formed by recollections and retreats. Without that, there is no way of forming them. 

So you see, it is no use saying to them " Do this, do that," and then leaving them to themselves. Some people think that action by itself is educative. That is absurd. Action by itself is not educative, but it is a means of education. We must use that means to educate and to form. Nevertheless, without action there is no way of educating. One cannot educate in a closed room. 

You can explain how to forge metal on a blackboard but if you never put a hammer in the worker's hands, he will never be a blacksmith. It is the same with the apostolate. The apostolate demands apostolic action, giving cigarettes to a friend, giving sweets to a sick person, cleaning up a house, dressing children in the morning to go to school ; but these actions must become apostolic. Explain that they must have an intention, and then these acts become acts of charity, which will change a district. 

Secondly, it is not a question of forming individuals, it is a question of forming teams. Apostles cannot be formed singly. That is more true of an apostle than of anyone else. An apostle working on his own is a misfit. 

It is essential to work in teams and to teach the workers to work in a team that is apostolic, where they bring up and share their difficulties, where they help each other. When one is depressed, the others will help him. A team is made up of friends who know each other well. There is nothing more beautiful and nothing stronger than an apostolic team. On their own they would soon break up. Form apostolic teams in the trains, the district, and the factories. 

Never force stability on them, that is, never insist that they should remain leaders or organisers for a certain length of time; but gradually make them want stability. Then it is a true vocation. The apostolate is not a pigeon coop where they come and go at will. 

A priest consecrates himself not for life but for eternity. He is consecrated -- that is an end to it. At 20, 21, or 22 years of age, monks and nuns consecrate themselves not for life, but for eternity. 

In the apostolate a lad must give himself for a few years, until he marries; but if he has done that, he has given himself for life. He will not stop being Y.C.W. when he is married. Then will come the apostolic families. 

There is a need today of apostolic families, where the wife helps the husband, where the apostolate is discussed, because both of them have prepared themselves for the apostolate in the Y.C.W. There are some families today who are among the greatest riches the Church possesses. They bring up their children and, in spite of all the cares of their own home manage to find time to give themselves to other families in the district and to the Christian Workers' Movement. As soon as we have formed worker apostles and apostolic working-class families, Communism is finished. 

It is not necessary to force anything on them; but it is necessary to bring them to understand, and desire, and discover. The apostolate is a school of formation. No one is forced to become a priest against his will; it would only make for bad priests. A priest desires to be a priest of his own free will because he has understood the priesthood. Sometimes, of course, there are difficulties, and you want to let everyone go to the devil. That has happened to me; it happens to everybody. It cannot be helped. 

In order that they remain steadfast, it is necessary for them to dedicate themselves for a few years freely in conscience before chaplain or bishop. It is something new in the Church for the Cardinal to receive regional teams and say, " I receive your pledge, I accept it, and I confirm it with my Episcopal authority. Go forward in my name. I will tell the deans and the priests that I have received you, that I rely on you for the transformation of the entire working class." 

Then will come the days of courtship and preparation for marriage. This becomes something like that dedication in the service of the Church, something sacred and magnificent. It is itself an apostolate, a pledge which presupposes renunciation and sacrifice. 

Once again force nothing on them, but let them realise that the greatest proof of true love is sacrifice. The greatest proof of love a man can show is that he should lay down his life for the one he loves. You will never make an apostle of yourself, if you want to go to the pictures every night, and you will not know presently how to be engaged to be married. You agree not to see each other every night; you can do without seeing each other and without kissing each other; by your apostolate you prepare each other for marriage. There are couples who have done this, and they are now at the head of the Christian Workers' Movement. Ask them how they prepared for marriage. They will admit the sacrifices, but they will point to the blessing that followed. 

Your children will be blessed, not according to the number of times you kiss each other during your engagement, but according to the number of sacrifices you have made. When a young man and a young girl have that idea of the apostolate, then it becomes something great and beautiful. Perhaps one of the greatest problems in the Church of today and tomorrow is the great problem of the working-class laity. An organised working-class laity is absolutely necessary in the Church. All over the world Catholic action must give to the Church lay apostles, movements of the lay apostolate, an organised laity developed and strengthened by the priesthood and the religious apostolate. It will be a force against Communism, materialism and capitalism. Never forget the words of Pope Pius XI: "The first and immediate apostles of the workers will be workers." The Pope did not say that herein was the whole apostolate. To form these apostles of the workers, the Church must have priests and religious; She must have the apostolate of the middle-class, of all Christians, of all classes. It requires an apostolate of class to class, the apostolate of one's immediate neighbour, the indispensable apostolate of worker to worker. Priest or employer cannot take the place of the worker, but all must help to form and sustain him. 

Reflect deeply on all these points, and then you will understand the place of the clergy in the workers' movement. There can be no apostolate without the chaplains who represent Christ. The work of the chaplain in the Movement is to be a priest. It is not to organise nor to lead, but to sustain, form, help, and give to the leaders the teaching and the grace of Our Lord. 

Therefore, avoid all negative criticism of chaplains. There is nothing which causes greater harm to the Movement than negative criticism. Tell them the facts of the apostolate in the factories, in order to make them understand the problem by means of facts and influence. 

Sometimes there are holy priests who do not yet understand the problem. Pay great attention when you make a judgement. Pray, and do everything possible, so that we may have in the local sections the chaplains we need.

- Joseph Cardijn