It was only when I went to work for the International YCW that I learnt that 25 August was celebrated as the “birthday” of the movement.
It was not a date that we celebrated in the Australian YCW in those days.
Of course the reason for celebrating the 25 August was that it was the day of the famous international assembly of 32,000 young workers in Rome on that day in 1957 – Sunday 25 August 1957 – Mass with Pope Pius XII in St Peter’s Square.
Here is Pope Pius XII’s speech on that day:
Sorry, no English translation available yet.
Now most YCW people therefore associate 25 August with 1957 and that is certainly true as far as it goes.
However, when I later worked on the International YCW History Project from 1997-2000, I quickly realised that in fact the first ever international congress of the YCW took place in Brussels on 25 August 1935 in front of a crowd at Heysel Stadium said to number up to 100,000.
Indeed, I also found documents in the IYCW celebrating the 10th anniversary of the IYCW on Sunday 25 August 1945. So Cardijn clearly considered the “birthday” of the IYCW to date from 1935.
And yet there are even more reasons that I believe that Cardijn chose the 25 August as the notional birthdate of the YCW.
The biggest one I believe is that it is the date of the letter Notre Charge Apostolique (Our Apostolic Duty) from Pope Pius X on 25 August 1910 to the French bishops criticising Marc Sangnier’s Sillon movement.
In that letter, the pope asked Sangnier and the other Sillon leaders to make the sacrifice of resigning their leadership of the movement and in effect handing it over to the control of the bishops.
To the surprise, consternation and even admiration of many of their enemies, that is exactly what Marc Sangnier and his colleagues did.
But it was the death blow for the Sillon – a truly tragic story.
Over in Belgium Cardijn was shocked by this outcome but he also admired the way Sangnier and co. adhered to the Pope’s ruling.
Eleven years later, Cardijn would invite Marc Sangnier to visit Brussels on 5 February 1921. Read Cardijn’s stunning speech of welcome here in which he clearly identifies his work as in continuity with the Sillon:
It is worth quoting Cardijn:
If I have recalled these details, it is because they are the story of so many unknown and obscure friends that you can count on in the many countries of the world. It is because it is the privilege and the reward of the sower of the ideal of life to be unable to limit the field that he seeds or to constrain the range of his fertile gesture.
The winds of the air and the birds of the sky carry off this seed and deposit it sometimes far away, in a field where God’s makes it fruitful and multiplies it. And so it is, Sir, that in this Christian Centre for Work, you count only friends. That is how, with the same spirit albeit perhaps in another form that great collective effort to raise the consciousness and the moral as well as the political responsibility of the working class, and to eradicate from our society the obstacles of the economic, political, moral, intellectual and religious orders which prevent the flowering and perfecting of this consciousness and this responsibility of the most humble of popular citizens.
Notice also how Cardijn refers to the Sillon definition of democracy as the social system that maximises “consciousness” and “responsibility” of workers.
Notice also in Pope Pius XII’s speech to the YCW in 1957 that he also uses a similar phrase:
(La JOC) entreprend de façonner leur esprit et leur coeur pour en faire des hommes conscients de leurs responsabilités et prêts à affronter sans crainte les plus lourdes tâches.
In English, that means:
The YCW undertakes to form the spirit and heart of (the young workers) to make them people who are conscious of their responsibilities and ready to face up without fear to the heaviest tasks.
In fact, Pope Pius XII refers on a number of occasions to the Sillon definition of democracy, including in his famous Christmas message of 1944. See Paragraphs 23 and 25.
See my article about the Sillon and the YCW here:
Cardijn also refers to consciousness and responsibility in all his speeches in aula at Vatican II:
See this first speech on Religious liberty:
Note how Cardijn says:
I helped (young workers) to see, judge and act by themselves, by undertaking social and cultural action themselves, freely obeying authorities in order to become adult witnesses of Christ and the Gospel, conscious of being responsible for their sisters and brothers in the whole world.
In other words, the purpose of the see-judge-act method is to form conscious and responsible leaders. This is how Cardijn understood the Sillon and adapted it to the YCW.
That is also why I am convinced that he deliberately chose 25 August as the symbolic date of birth of the IYCW – he was indicating his indebtedness to the movement of Marc Sangnier and he wanted to indicate the continuity between the Sillon which ended on 25 August 1910 and the International YCW which began on the same day 25 years later.
Let me add here that former IYCW secretary Marguerite Fievez who was also later Cardijn’s secretary and archivist, was initially dubious about my explanation of the continuity between the Sillon and the YCW. But when I pointed out the link with 25 August she was very intrigued because, as she told me, Cardijn was very meticulous about dates and their significance.
She was also aware of Cardijn’s speech of welcome to Marc Sangnier in 1921. In fact, it was Marguerite who told me about it – it is not mentioned in the index to Cardijn’s archives and I would never have found it without her directing me there.
There is even another YCW link to 25 August that I discovered.
In 1912, the family of young Fernand Tonnet was moving back from Quievrain on the French-Belgium to Laeken, Brussels where Fernand would meet Cardijn.
It is well recorded that Tonnet was a great admirer of the Sillon.
And on 25 August 1912 – exactly one hundred years ago – Tonnet’s parish group at Quievrain known as the Jeune Garde held a blessing of flags ceremony to mark their own foundation.
Read the story here:
The local young priest, Fr Abrassart, was also an admirer of the Sillon and had taught the Sillon methods to Tonnet. So I feel that it is very probable that Abrassart and his team chose 25 August as their “foundation day” just as the YCW would do much later.
So to conclude there is a lot of significance for the YCW and the Sillon in the 25 August date.
In effect, it is a date to remember for all of us who belong to the Sillon-JOC tradition.
Finally, one last significance of the date: it is also the feast day of the medieval lay Saint Louis, king of France, and loyal to the Pope of his day. You can be sure that is also the reason that Pope Pius X chose it for the date of his letter to the French bishops in 1910.