The jocist bishops who signed the Pact of the Catacombs

As we saw in my last post, the original 1965 Pact of the Catacombs developed from Helder Camara’s desire for a number of bishops to take a vow to devote themselves to the poor and the working class modelled on Cardijn’s own consecration to the working class at his father’s deathbed in 1903.

It is therefore no surprise to find a strong jocist influence in the text of the Pact itself, notably in its concluding sentences, which explicitly refers to the jocist “review of life” (or “see-judge-act” method):

We commit ourselves to sharing our lives in pastoral charity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, priests, religious, and laity, so that our ministry constitutes a true service.


Accordingly, we will make an effort to “review our lives” with them; we will seek collaborators in ministry so that we can be animators according to the Spirit rather than dominators according to the world; we will try be make ourselves as humanly present and welcoming as possible; and we will show ourselves to be open to all, no matter what their beliefs. 

Nor is it a surprise then to find that more than half of the 34 identified signatories of the 1965 Pact of the Catacombs were “jocist” bishops (“jocist” from JOC, i.e. the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne or Young Christian Workers YCW movement).

By “jocist” bishops I mean those bishops, who either had

a) gained personal experience as local, diocesan or national chaplains of the JOC and/or its Specialised Catholic Action counterparts (JEC, JAC, JUC and corresponding adult movements);

b) taught and promoted the lay apostolate, jocist methods (the “see-judge-act”) and Specialised Catholic Action in seminaries, universities and through their writings;

c) promoted Specialised Catholic Action as understood by Cardijn in their role as bishops;

d) developed close personal links with Cardijn and/or other movement leaders.

It is said that 42 bishops originally signed the Pact of the Catacombs and the names of 34 of these are known.

Here is a list:

http://www.rk-kerkplein.org/home/themas/Kerk-zijn/Kerk-zijn/spiritualiteit/vandaag-heb-ik-die-dromen-niet-meer/index9d3b.html?language=es

An English version here:

https://www.we-are-church.org/413/index.php/library/church-democracy/97-the-catacomb-pact-against-pomp-and-ceremony-in-the-church

For convenience, let’s list them, marking the jocist bishops whom I’ve identified in bold.

These are the 23 named bishops that the RK-Kerkplein website lists as having signed the Pact during the mass held at the Domitilla Catacombs on 16 November 1965:

Msgr. Charles M. Himmer, Bishop of Tournai, Belgium
Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife, Brazil
Dom Antonio Fragoso, Bishop of Crateus, Brazil
Dom Francisco Austregésilo de Mesquita Filho, Bishop of Afogados de Ingazeira, Brazil
Dom Joao Batista de Mota e Alburquerque, Archbishop of Vitoria, Brazil
Dom Luiz Fernández, Auxiliary Bishop of Vitoria, Brazil
Dom Jorge Marcos de Oliveira, Bishop of De Santo André, Brazil
Dom Henrique Golland Trindade O.F.M., Archbishop of Botucatu, Brazil
Dom José M. Pires, Archbishop of Paraiba, Brazil
Dom Cándido Padín, Bishop of Lorena, Brazil
Msgr. Georges Mercier, Bishop of Laghouat, Sahara, Africa
Msgr. Hakim, Melkite Bishop of Nazareth, Israel
Msgr. Haddad, auxiliary Melkite Bishop of Beirut, Lebanon
Msgr. Gérard Mario Coderre, Bishop of Saint Jean, Quebec, Canada
Msgr. Rafael González, Auxiliary Bishop of Valencia, Spain
Msgr. Julius Angerhausen, Auxiliary Bishop of Essen, Germany
Msgr. Guy Marie Riobé, Bishop of Orléans, France
Msgr. Gerard M. Huyghe, Bishop of Arras, France
Msgr. Adrien Gand, Auxiliary Bishop of Lille, France
Msgr. Luigi Betazzi, Auxiliary Bishop of Bologna, Italy
Msgr. Bernard Yago, Archbishop of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Africa
Msgr. Joseph Blomjous, Bishop of Mwanza, Tanzania, Africa (of Dutch origin)
Msgr. Charles Joseph de Melckebeke CICM (expelled from China and then living in Singapore, Apostolic Visitor of the Chinese Catholics outside China, Belgian origin)

In addition, bishops from Vietnam and Indonesia signed the Pact.

According to the RK-Kerkplein website, there were also others who may have signed during the Mass or possibly later.

“In the Episcopal groups of Opus Angeli, Church of the Poor, the following Bishops were active but it is not sure that that they signed during the Eucharist.”

It names 11 of these bishops as:

Msgr. Manuel Larraín, Bishop of Talva, Chile, President of CELAM
Msgr. Marcos G. McGrath, Bishop of Santiago de Veraguas, Panama, Secretary of CELAM
Msgr. Leonidas Proaño, Bishop of Ríobamba, Ecuador
Msgr. Alberto Devoto,Bishop of Goya, Argentina
Msgr. Vicente F. Zazpe, Archbishop of Sta. Fe, Argentina
Msgr. J. José Iriarte, Bishop of Reconguista, Argentina
Msgr. Alfredo Viola, Bishop of Salta, Uruguay
Msgr. Tulio Botero Salazar, Archbishop of Medellín, Colombia
Msgr. Raúl Zambrano, Bishop of Facatativá, Colombia
And later Dom Sergio Méndez Arceo and Dom Samuel Ruíz from México

So that makes 16 of the original 23 signatories who I can document as “jocist” bishops in the sense described above plus five more of the additional 11 eleven signatories named.

You can find a spreadsheet listing all 222 jocist bishops at Vatican II whom I have identified here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YSVXsW86-Ar0jZSrvRFXhcpH-8gM2rF0KgzmBMawZPI/edit?usp=sharing

(One day, I’ll make it look nice!)

The signatories

Looking at the list, it’s highly significant that it is headed by Charles-Marie Himmer, who was a leading promoter of the JOC and its counterparts as a young priest in the Diocese of Namur and later as bishop of Tournai, the mining and industrial region in the south of Belgium. A key ally of Cardijn, late in his life he said, “I have long practised the see-judge-act and I still believe in it.”

Scheutist Bishop Charles de Melckebeke, who had been bishop of Ningxia in the north-western China, was the second Belgian signatory. Later based in Singapore, he wrote to Cardijn during the Council to thank him for the copy of his book Laïcs en premières lignes (Lay people into action) that the latter had sent him. He even asked for five further copies and urged Cardijn to make sure the book was translated into English and Chinese.

The list includes seven Brazilians beginning with Helder Camara himself, who had been an early JOC chaplain and later a promoter at national level of Specialised Catholic Action, as well as another of Cardijn’s most important allies during Vatican II. Indeed, it was Camara who urged first John XXIII and then Paul VI to make Cardijn a cardinal.

Dom Antonio Fragoso was another longstanding JOC chaplain and Cardijn collaborator at the Council while Joao Batista de Mota e Alburquerque, Luiz Fernández, Jorge Marcos de Oliveira, Henrique Golland Trindade O.F.M., Cándido Padín and Francisco Austregésilo de Mesquita Filho had all been movement chaplains and/or promoted Specialised Catholic Action in their dioceses.

Meanwhile, Julius Angerhausen of Essen had been national chaplain of the German JOC (CAJ). And he wrote the preface to the German edition of Laïcs en premières lignes, Laiem in Apostolat.

Of the French bishops in the list, Gérard Huyghe and Adrien Gand, were both originally from the Diocese of Lille, which had become a stronghold of Specialised Catholic Action under Cardinal Achille Liénart while Guy-Marie Riobé was a noted chaplain of the rural youth movement, the JAC.

In Canada, Bishop Gérard Coderre had been director of Catholic Action in the Joliette diocese before becoming a bishop as had Archbishop Bernard Yago of Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Chilean Bishop Manuel Larrain was one of the pioneers of Specialised Catholic Action in Chile and a close collaborator of Cardijn during the World Congress on Lay Apostolate in 1957 and later at Vatican II.

Leonidas Proaño had founded the JOC in the Diocese of Riobamba, Ecuador while Archbishop Marcos McGrath CSC, a member of the Holy Fathers Congregation, which had longstanding links with Cardijn and the JOC, had been a promoter of Specialised Catholic Action as a seminary professor and later as Archbishop of Panama. During the Council, he led the Signs of the Times sub-commission and worked hard to ensure that the future Gaudium et Spes would adopt the see-judge-act method.

Sergio Méndez Arceo, the bishop of Cuernavaca, Mexico, who assisted Ivan Illich with the foundation of his CIDOC centre, once told Mexican JOC leader Ezekiel Avila Curiel that “all I am I owe to the JOC.”

Argentine Archbishop Vicente Zazpe was diocesan chaplain to the Catholic Secondary Students movement (JEC) before becoming a bishop and later continued his support for the movements during their periods of crisis.

Others of the 34 named bishops probably also had close links with Cardijn and the Specialised Catholic Action movements but I have not yet been able to fully document this.

Even so, this means that at least 21 of the 34 named signatories of the original Pact of the Catacombs were jocist bishops. A huge influence on the document and a great testament to the role of the jocist network at Vatican II.

And still counting…

UPDATE: I’ve identified another couple of jocist signatories and will further update this post once I have completed that documentation. Now added Sergio Méndez Arceo, Francisco Austregésilo de Mesquita Filho and Vicente Zazpe.

There is also circumstantial evidence linking many of the others to one or other of the Specialised Catholic Action movements.

Stefan Gigacz