80th anniversary of the JOC Internationale

For many years, the JOC Internationale or International YCW has celebrated its foundation day on 25 August. This year, however, also marks the 80th anniversary of the first International Congress held in Brussels from 25-29 August 1935.

Ten years on 25 August 1945, just after the end of World War II, the movement celebrated its tenth anniversary as an international movement at another smaller conference that established its first international secretariat and executive committee.

The three truths

The first International Congress of the JOC began with the famous rally of between 85,000 young workers at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels on Sunday 25 August 1935. It was for this occasion that Pope Pius XI wrote a special Autograph Letter for this event to Cardinal Van Roey of Malines-Brussels in which he characterised the JOC as “an authentic form of Catholic Action”. Cardinal Van Roey, in fact, regarded the letter as so significant that he later stated that the JOC was henceforth “an institution of the Church”, a phrase that Cardijn also quickly adopted.

The Congress itself drew participants from around twenty countries, mostly from Europe. It was also during this Congress that Cardijn delivered his famous “Three Truths” speech defining the jocist method in terms of “truth of faith”, “truth of experience”, and a “truth of pastoral practice or method”.

A second international congress and pilgrimage was planned for September 1939 but had to be abandoned at the last minute owing to the outbreak of what became World War II.

Organisation of the JOC Internationale

Eventually, ten years after the Brussels congress, on 25 August 1945, just months after the end of World War II in Europe, the JOC celebrated the 10th anniversary of the “foundation” of the JOC Internationale. It seems that Cardijn had hoped to organise a large scale event but in the post-war chaos Cardinal Van Roey declined to give permission for such an event.

Nevertheless, a smaller scale meeting took place bringing together representatives of the movement from Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, England, Canada and the United States. Among those present were Patrick Keegan from the UK, Jeff Deschuyffeleer, Rosa Van Salen, Marguerite Fiévez and Emilie Arnould from Belgium, Roger Cartayrade and Canon Dewitte from France, and Fr Villeneuve from Canada.

It was during this meeting on 27-28 August 1945 that the movement took on the title “JOC Internationale”, adopted a “Young Workers Charter”, and established its first formal international structures, including:

a) An “International Secretariat of the JOC” to manage the work of the movement, in which Marguerite Fiévez and Emilie Arnould played a particularly significant role;

b) An “International Committee” that would meet annually as an executive body, of which Keegan would later become the first president;

c) An “International Bureau”, a kind of sub-committee that would meet every two or three months to take shorter term decisions.

Here is part of the list of participants from that historic meeting:

Twelve years later, the JOC Internationale would constitute itself even more formally at its first International Council, which also opened with 32,000 young workers from around the world at a rally and Mass with Pope Pius XII in St Peter’s Square in Rome.

But as I have written previously, the 25 August date also has a deeper historical meaning for the JOC as the foundation date of Marc Sangnier’s Sillon movement, which closed down tragically in the wake of Pope Pius X’s letter to the French bishops on 25 August 1910.

PS: Yes, it’s also the 90th anniversary of the official foundation of the Belgian JOC in 1925 as well as the centenary of the founding of the first male JOC group in 1915.

Stefan Gigacz