On July 18, in Paris, the “Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne” (Christian Working Youth), known as the J.O.C., celebrated its tenth anniversary. This remarkable movement of Catholic Action, which has been so enthusiastically commended by the Holy Father, has already spread from Belgium and France to Africa, Canada, South America, and recently to England and the Far East. The Jocists provide many lessons for Australian Catholic youth. What is Jocism? How did it begin? What are its aims?
IN 1912, a young Flemish priest, Joseph Cardijn, born of a working-class family on November 13, 1882, was appointed curate at Laeken (a parish in one of the suburbs of Brussels). He turned his attention immediately to the poorest sections of the working-class. He applied himself to following closely their conditions of living. He resolved to dedicate himself entirely to the welfare and the re-Christianisation of the workingclass. In the course of his education for the priesthood, he studied sociological problems and spent his holidays in England in order to observe the methods and organisation of the British Labour Party.
As a result of his investigations, he realised that workers in general feel deeply their inferiority to other classes. He soon concluded that it is not sufficient to take up the defence of the workers. One must first make them conscious of the dignity of their vocation, and give them enthusiasm, so that they may enjoy the fruits of life, and thus produce a lasting effect upon them.
In April, 1912, he grouped together seven young girls about 13 or 14 years of age. They hardly knew how to read or write, and were at work from 7 in the morning until 7 at night for a very poor wage. He convinced them that they could help their fellow workers, but for that they must train themselves to become leaders in order to exercise a decisive influence over their companions.
A group of girl workers was formed and was soon followed by the formation of a group of young men who heard and obeyed the call of a leader. Minute investigations were carried on for a further period of two years by the young men and the young girls. The activities of the movement, both apostolic and social, drew inspiration from their results.
The World War did not interfere with the zeal of the promoter in continuing his work. He succeeded in keeping his movement alive in spite of countless difficulties.
In 1917 Fr. Cardijn was sent to prison by the Germans for his patriotism. In 1918 he was imprisoned again. Shortly before the Feast of the Sacred Heart, an ecclesiastical authority visited the home where the girl workers were carrying on their activities in the absence of their leader. He found them praying that Canon Cardijn might be released oil the Feast of the Sacred Heart (June It), 1918). Their prayer was answered, as he was released on that very day. His whole apostleship has been marked by similar incidents.
At the end of the war the movement spread gradually through the whole of Belgium. The founder of the work improved and increased the means suitable for the formation of the young workers.
At Easter, 1924, after 12 years’ experience, he gave a definite Constitution to the organisation, and its present title, namely, “Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne” (Young Christian Workers’ Guild), commonly known as “J.O.C.,” from which “Jocisme” and “Jociste” are derived.
On February 1, 1925, the young women workers adopted the Constitution of the J.O.C. The name of the girls’ section of the J.O.C. is “Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne Feminine” (Young Christian Women Workers’ Guild), or “J.O.C.F.”
All young men and women workers or future workers between the ages of 14 and 25 may become members of the J.O.C. or J.O.C.F. (In Belgium, education is compulsory up to the age of 14 years. From November, 1935, the age limit was raised to 16 in certain large towns.)
The J.O.C.’s programme is founded on the Faith and on the present social structure. The worker should be given every facility to realise his eternal destiny, in the coal-mines, workshops, offices, at home, in the exercise of his rights of citizenship and in his family life.
It is evident the present industrial life prevents rather than assists individuals in attaining their eternal destiny and in practising their Faith.
For this reason the J.O.C. decided:
(1) To undertake the complete formation of the young workers.
(2) To transform progressively and methodically the social life of the working-classes, to promote and facilitate the spread of religion and the reform of the social order.
(3) To create organisations to defend and help the young workers in every respect.
The J.O.C. insists on the necessity of prayer and of the Sacraments. Furthermore, it takes every opportunity of impressing members with the value of conforming their daily lives to their divine destiny, thus working out their salvation by every action of their day.
“O Lord Jesus, I offer You my day’s work, my labour, my trials, my joys and my sorrows. Teach me and all my fellow-workers to think with You, and to live in .union with You.
“Grant me grace to love You with all my heart and to serve You with my whole strength.
“May Your reign be established in the factory, in the workshop and in the office, as well as in our homes.
“May the souls of workers who are to-day often in danger find refuge in Your grace.
“And by the mercy of God, may the souls of the workers who die in the honourable discharge of their duties rest in peace.”
The prayer is followed by invocations to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and to Our Lady, Queen of the Apostles.
There are, in Belgium, 2204 parochial sections, consisting of 85,000 young workers (boys and girls together), or about 15 per cent, of the total number of young working people of both sexes between 14 and 25 years of age who are occupied in industry and commerce. The parochial groups are united in 68 regional federations. Every parochial section and every regional federation must adapt the rules of the J.O.C. to the local and occupational requirements.
Since the J.O.C. is essentially a lay apostolic organisation, it is affiliated to Catholic Action in Belgium, and a chaplain is appointed to each parochial section and to each federation. The office of the chaplain is important, and one that requires great discretion. He instructs, inspires and advises. His function may be compared to that of the heart in the human body; although unseen, it is the centre of vitality, on which the smallest cells depend.
The chaplain’s task is to discover the young workers fit to become leaders and educators of the working-class. He must form them, help them, on the lines and – according to the methods of the J.O.C. By virtue of his office, he is a member of the directing committee, whether parochial or regional. The chaplain approves of the list of members who are elected to constitute the parochial committee. This committee may be re-elected each year.
SOCIAL STUDY AND PRESS.
In 1936, all sections in Belgium studied the conditions of working-class families and the solution of their religious problems. The results of these regional meetings are examined during a. national study week held in one of the Catholic secondary schools.
Besides this, the most promising members are given a three-day retreat each year. The response of the Jocists to these retreats and their spiritual benefits are such that priests who organise them consider them the most fruitful of their priestly functions.
The J.O.C. has its own press. Six million copies of various periodicals were either sold or distributed in Belgium in 1936. During Lent, 1936, 2,500,000 copies of a special paper were issued to all the workers inviting them to return to their Easter duty. All these papers were distributed by the Jocists who take this opportunity of getting into contact with workers.
Public entertainments are held which are intended rather for educational purposes than for amusement. These are the chief means used by the J.O.C. to raise the mental culture, the religious and moral life of the young workers. As to the financial side, the J.O.C. is independent. It derives means from fees paid by members, by the sale of its periodicals, educative calendars, etc., and by organising concerts. Each department contrives to increase the resources of the movement on business lines.
The J.O.C. is not only a school; it supports its members by means of the diverse institutions which it has created. It advises and influences their choice of a career, inculcates habits of economy, defends their interests whenever and however it may be necessary; it concerns itself with social work, such as the health of young workers, labour risks, etc., while directing its members towards the Christian Trades Unions. The J.O.C. has also formed camps for the unemployed.
The 300,000 workers who have passed through the ranks of the J.O.C. constitute the elite of the working-class and many of these are leaders in the religious and social institutions of Belgium.
A NEW SPIRIT.
Travellers who have been privileged to see the Jocists at work in Belgium and France tell us that to hear the J.O.C. speakers announce their message to the workers is to be fired by a new spirit of Christian conquest. It seems to set one’s faith on fire. The story of the first ten years of the movement is the evidence of its profound vitality and proof that the working classes can shake off the materialism which follows in the train of industrialism.
It is not merely a question of figures, though they are impressive enough. What matters is the change of heart which has been effected in ten years. The Jocists are working on real values. They have come to grips with the vital problems of the day. They are out to Christianise their milieu. It is only necessary to listen to their active members to appreciate the depth of their understanding of their own class and its problems. The Jocist mission is to those members of the working classes who are capable of recognising the workers’ destiny but who have been led astray by false hopes; being themselves of that class, they are quick to : understand and sympathise with the difficulties and disillusionment and to restore a true sense of values.
This is a record of the actual situation of the Jocistes (including the movement both for men and women) in France, according to official statistics supplied by the two secretaries. The J.O.C. and the J.O.C.F. (the organisation for women) number 100,000 young workers.
In 1927, when the first section was founded at Clichy, there were four. In that same year nine federations came into existence, numbering 40 sections. In 1937 the J.O.C. comprises 86 Federations with 734 affiliated sections and 800 in course of formation.
The J.O.C.F. comprises 96 Federations with 650 sections and 700 in course of formation.
The newspaper, “Le Jeunesse Ouvriere,” which had a circulation of 2000 in 1927, now sells over 100,000 fortnightly. “La Jeunesse Ouvriere Feminine” has a regular circulation of 100,000.
Those few figures give some indication of the progress of the J.O.C. movement in France in its first ten years. There are also the thousands of study circles held each week all over the country, and special courses organised each year for the leaders.
It would be quite wrong to think of the organisation as a matter of meetings and study circles only. In fact, they merely round off the real and continuous work of the movement, which is to give to its members a religious, moral, and intellectual formation.
Both the men’s and women’s organisations offer their help at an early stage. They offer opportunities tb boys and girls while still at school to learn something of the world in which they will have to earn their livelihood. The official papers, “My Future” and “Towards the Future,” are scattered liberally among schools, and every opportunity is taken for personal help and instruction for boys and girls before they “reach school-leaving age. Advice is also given to parents so that they may help their children to find suitable work.
In November, 1934, Canon Cardijn presented to the Pope a record of Jocist work.
The Holy Father has given his august approval to the movement. He hopes it will extend by adapting itself to the varying situations in each country, conforming itself to the wishes of the Bishops. In a letter addressed in the name of the Pope to Canon Cardijn, Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State, writes: “The J.O.C. aims at Christianising working conditions through its organisation and its methods, which are exactly adapted to that purpose, with a view to gain to Our Lord Jesus Christ the souls of the young workers the more easily. It is thus seen that the thought expressed by his Holiness Pius XI. in the encyclical, ‘Quadragesimo Anno’: ‘the first apostles of the working men must themselves be workers,’ has been well understood.”
Stating in January, 1936, that the future was threatening because of Bolshevism, our Holy Father added that few people are fully aware of the power of the diabolic zeal of those who are spreading Communism, but that he had confidence in the conquering zeal of the Jocists.
In a letter dated August 19, 1935, from Castel Gandolfo, to his Eminence Cardinal Van Roey, his Holiness Pius XI. wrote: “In thinking of the J.O.C. Congress on August 25,1935, Our heart exults with joy and rises gratefully towards God. . . . Stopping for an instant to-day to survey the road already trodden, and to consider the work already done, the J.O.C. cannot but recognise the power of God. . . .”
The J.O.C., with its militant faith, its crusading spirit and its modern methods, sets about its apostolate as did the first Christians among the pagans in Rome. It may well be proud of the work it has accomplished among the working class in the last ten years. On Sunday last, while the world’s press was describing the Paris Exhibition, 60,000 young Catholic workers assembled in triumphal congress at Paris passed unnoticed.
Tenth Anniversary of the J.O.C. (Advocate, Thursday 22 July 1937, page 9) (Trove)