Church Needs Militant Lay Missionaries

Pope Pius XI Astounded at Workers Ignorance of Catholic Social Teaching, Says Canon Cardijn

DURING his six days in England on his return trip from the United States, Canon Cardijn Belgian founder of the world wide Young Christian Workers, told audiences in the north and south of England of the direct commission he received from Pope Pius XI to start his movement and of the Holy-Father’s consternation when he was told that the working classes knew nothing of the Church’s social teaching.

Canon Cardijn said that he was trembling when he sought his first interview with Pope Pius XI to put before him his great desire—to win the working-class masses for the Church.

“While I was speaking,” said the Canon, “the Pope stopped me and said: ‘This is the first time that anyone has come to me and said that he wanted to win the masses. Everyone says: “I will form an elite; I will form a little group of good Christians.” It is not an elite that the Church needs, not a small group, but the masses of the working classes.’


“Then the Pope said to me the words you have heard repeated so often: ‘The greatest scandal of the 19th century is that the Church lost the masses of the working class. The greatest service you can do to the Church is to win them back. The masses of the working class need the Church, but the Church needs the masses of the working class’.”

Canon Cardijn then quoted the following words uttered to him by the Holy Father during the same interview: “I can write Encyclicals, I can write about social doctrine, I can speak on the radio, but I cannot go into the factories, into the shops, into the offices, into the mines, and I cannot spread the doctrines of the Church. Nor can the Bishops^ nor the priests do this, for these places are closed to them. Therefore, the Church needs thousands upon thousands of militant, lay missionaries, young working boys and girls who are the representatives of the Church in their working environment. Everywhere there is a burning desire for the re-conquest of the masses of the people, the masses of the working classes of the world.”

Canon Cardijn went on to recall an audience which the Archbishop of Toulouse, Cardinal Saliege, had with the late Pope, in which he told his Holiness that the working class knew nothing of the Church’s social teaching. “Is that possible!” exclaimed the Pope. “Fifty-five years after ‘Rerum Novarum,’ 15 years after ‘Quadragesimo Anno,’ a Cardinal comes to tell me that the people know nothing about the Encyclicals, know nothing about the social doctrine of the Church. Is that possible? In the dilferent countries of the world there are people .who do not know the social doctrine of the Gospels, of Jesus Christ, of the Popes, that I myself have repeated so often by Encyclical, by letter and by the wireless!”

Canon Cardijn declared that the present Holy Father has told him: “I want for the future of the Church a very strong international organisation of Young Christian Workers in every country.”

During his short stay in England, Canon Cardijn addressed two meetings in London, in the presence of Cardinal Griffin and Archbishop Amigo of Southwark, one in Manchester and, finally, a national rally in Liverpool. He told the Y.C.W. members that the British Empire and the United States looked to the English Y.C.W. for leadership in the apostolate for the restoration of the working classes to Christ, and he added: “From what I have seen, that leadership will be forthcoming.” Soon he is to go to Rome to tell the Pope the results of his tour.

“I shall tell him,” he said, “that I have found the movement strong and virile in spirit in England and with immense possibilities in the Americas.”


Church Needs Militant Lay Missionaries (Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), Wednesday 25 September 1946, page 3) (Trove)