Cardijn and the baptism of Reims

“It was at Reims that the YCW of France received its baptism from the successor of St Remi,” Cardijn once said with reference to a 1927 conference at which he had spoken.

This was a reference to the famous historical event in which Bishop Remigius (Saint Remi) baptised King Clovis on Christmas Day 496AD, thus opening up the way for the conversion of the Franks.

In their biography of Cardijn, Marguerite Fievez and Jacques Meert described the “baptism” of the French YCW as follows:

“The congress of the Union des Oeuvres at Reims offered him his first big “platform in France. What would he talk about if not the YCW? Before an audience bursting with enthusiasm, Cardinal Lucon rose and thanked Abbé Cardijn. Later the latter told how ‘it was at Reims that the YCW of France received its baptism from the successor of St. Remi…’”

And that’s how I have always understood the event.

But that’s not the only way that Cardijn described what happened as I have recently discovered. Here’s what he told BRTN TV in Belgium in an interview on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 1962:

“In fact, it happened at Reims during a study week of the Union des Oeuvres, the association of all French Catholic apostolic movements. I had given a speech on the living conditions of young workers which moved everyone to tears. After my talk, Cardinal Dubois (of Paris) took me in his arms and, since his tears were falling on me, one of the chaplains present said ‘voila, the baptism of Rheims’ referring to the baptism of Clovis and the mass of Franks.”

Now that sounds more like the true story of what actually happened!

As always, however, Cardijn knew how to spin the event to his and the movement’s advantage. Hence, the later reference to Cardinal Lucon as the successor of St Remi who “baptised” the French YCW. There’s no reason to doubt that, whether implicitly or explicitly, Cardinal Lucon did in fact give his endorsement.

As I have written previously, there was good reason for Cardijn to seek to ascribe extra meaning to the event.

It had been Cardinal Lucon in 1909 who triggered the events that a year later led to the letter from Pope Pius X to the French bishops “Notre charge apostolique” that in turn resulted in the closure of the Sillon.

Winning over Cardinal Lucon to the cause of the YCW was a major victory for the young movement and for Cardijn freeing it from fear of condemnation.

In any event, we see once again how Cardijn was not just a great public speaker, he was also a spin doctor extraordinaire!

Photo: EricM (Wikipedia CCA BY SA 3.0)