Cardijn, Fatima and the JOC

In the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to Fatima last week for the canonisation of Francisco and Jacinta Marto, young shepherd children, who with their sister Lucia witnessed the famous Marian apparitions of 1917, it is interesting to recall Cardijn’s own attitude to Our Lady of Fatima.

Cardijn certainly had a strong devotion to Our Lady in general. It is notable, for example, that the day of the death of his father, the day on which he vowed to consecrate his life and his priesthood to the working class, took place on 24 May 1903, feast of Our Lady Help of Christians.

In a draft of his speech of welcome to Marc Sangnier in 1921, he planned to speak of “Notre Dame de la Démocratie” – “Our Lady of Democracy.” But he must have felt it was going too far as the phrase is crossed out in his speech!

Later, he would lead several JOC pilgrimages to Lourdes, the first of which was in the early 1930s, with another in 1952 and a third in 1961.

Cardijn’s first visit to Fatima took place in 1934 and was the occasion on which he asked Our Lady for the gift of the burnt out factory building near the Midi Station in Brussels that would become the Centrale Jociste.

He described this later in a television interview:

“I was leaving for Portugal to speak to bishops and priests about specialised Catholic Action for young workers when on the way to the Gare du Midi station I saw this large textile factory that had been totally burnt down and that was being refurbished. Following my presentation in Portugal, I went to Fatima where I said Mass at the place where the Holy Virgin appeared. I said to her! “Virgin Mary, you need to give me this building.”

Upon his return to Brussels, after contacting the owners and delivering what must have been one of his most inspired spiels about the needs of young workers, the owner family, the Hardy le Beaulieu famiy, called him the next day to say:

“Canon, here are the keys to the building. You are now the owner of it.”

Read the full story here.

This would certainly be enough to turn almost anyone into a fan of Our Lady of Fatima! And indeed Cardijn does seem to have wished to place the JOC, particularly the JOC Internationale, under the protection of Our Lady of Fatima.

Thus, during the September 1950 International Congress of the JOC in Brussels, Cardijn arranged for a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to be brought from Portugal to the Heysel Stadium, where it was placed on display at the center of the field.

Cardijn welcomes Archbishop Salgueiro of Lisbon arriving with the statue
Dignitaries gathered for the event
Young workers in more relaxed mode

Three years later, in 1953, Cardijn sought to explain his thinking on the meaning of Fatima in an article that he wrote for JOC chaplains in Portugal following another private visit there.

This is what he wrote:

I have just returned from Fatima. I spent a day there in prayer with Our Lady. I asked Her to bless and protect the international expansion of the YCW. Once again the global importance of the message of Fatima and the universal role that the Immaculate Virgin is called to play in the emerging new world were clear to me.

The solemn consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary of all peoples and all nations, even the pagan peoples and those who are under yoke of communism, has missionary consequences on which we – priests above all – cannot reflect enough.

This solemn consecration of the whole of humanity at what is perhaps the most decisive hour of history highlights the importance of the lay apostolate, an organised and adapted apostolate, without which the Church will never succeed in conquering the modern world for Christ, particularly the worker world, the working class, which is in the process of being born and developing in every continent and in every race on earth.

As long as every priest is not convinced and penetrated with this idea, the lay apostolate will be condemned to impotence. The lay apostolate requires the apostolate of priests, just as the latter requires the apostolate of lay people.
So clearly Cardijn was convinced of the “global importance” of the message of Fatima, which can be read on the Vatican website here. Thus, he did not shy away from calling for “the solemn consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary of all peoples and all nations.”

All of this had “missionary consequences” that in turn gave rise to “the importance of the lay apostolate” and hence the work of the YCW.

And he concluded his article with a typical challenge:

The message of Fatima has given Portugal and the Portugal JOC an ineluctable responsibility here. The choice of Portugal by the Most Holy Virgin for the spreading of her message for the redemption of the world today is more than an honour and privilege. It is also a formidable mission and a grave responsibility.

PS And how could I forget? Cardijn has an image of Our Lady of Laeken emblazoned on his episcopal coat of arms?

Stefan Gigacz