Cardijn, Joseph

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Cardinal, champion of the working class; b. Schaerbeek, a suburb of Brussels, Nov. 13, 1882, of working-class Flemish parents; d. Louvain, July 24, 1967. His father opened a small coal business in Hal, Belgium, depending on Joseph for manual assistance. In 1897 he entered the minor seminary at Malines and became aware of the gulf which separated him from his boyhood friends who had entered factories. At his father's deathbed in 1903, the young seminarian vowed to consecrate his priesthood "to end the scandal which brings death to millions of young workers, separating them from Christ and the Church." He was ordained by Cardinal Mercier in 1906. During one year of study at Louvain and five years of college teaching, he spent his vacations examining working-class conditions in Belgium, Germany, France, and England.

His opportunity to apply his social principles came in 1912, when he became assistant in the parish of Laeken, a Brussels suburb. He spent his time making the acquaintance of young workers, interesting himself in their material conditions. He gathered a band of young men and women to engage in the social apostolate, and developed his technique of allowing the workers to analyze their environment and discover their own mission. His principle was that religion must not be separated from life and that every Christian is called to be an apostle of Christ to his fellows.

During World War I his nascent organizations were disrupted and Cardijn was imprisoned by the German occupiers. In 1919 he reassembled his followers and the work began to spread. Cardinal Mercier was uncertain about the autonomy of working-class associations, but in a visit to Rome during the Holy Year of 1925 Cardijn managed to intrude into the study of Pius XI and completely won his approval. His movement, now called "Jeunesse ouvrière chretiénne" (Young Christian Workers, in English-speaking countries) spread rapidly; and in 1935 at a joint rally of the Belgian and French sections in a Parisian stadium, 80,000 enthusiastic working youth celebrated the liturgy with materials entirely fabricated by themselves. World War II again interrupted a work that had spread to most European countries, and Cardijn was imprisoned by the German Gestapo, managing to escape only in the confusion of liberation. After the war Cardijn undertook 24 intercontinental trips to developing countries to spread his belief in a humanity united in justice and peace. He played a prominent role in the Second Vatican Council, where his volume Laïcs en premières lignes (1963) helped to shape the decisions on the role of the laity. He was elevated to the episcopate and cardinalate in 1965.

Cardijn united a burning faith in the Church and in the ordinary worker with a dynamic personality. A seeker and a visionary until the end, he could say after 61 years of intense priestly activity: "An old man is always tired; but a good priest is never old."

Bibliography: a. arbuthnott, Joseph Cardijn (London 1966). m. de la bedoyere, The Cardijn Story (Milwaukee, 1958). j. cardijn, Laymen into Action, tr. of Laïcs en premières lignes (London 1964). m. fievez, j. meert, and r. aubert, Cardijn (Brussels 1969). m. walckiers, Sources Inédites relatives aux débuts de la Joc (Louvain-Paris 1969).

[j. n. moody]