Joseph Cardijn, Georges Guérin and the Jocist Network at Vatican II

Presentation at the Le Père Guérin et la JOC d’hier et d’aujourd’hui (Father Guérin and the JOC, Then and Now Conference) in Toul and Ecrouves, France, 5-6 October 2019

In the footsteps of the Annales School

It is fitting that this conference takes place here in Toul, not far from George Guérin’s hometown of Ecrouves-Grandmesnil. It is also appropriate that it is near Nancy, the home city of Lucien Febvre, the co-founder with Marc Bloch of the Annales School (Ecole des Annales) of historical study.

As the Encyclopaedia Britannica explains, this new school, which emerged from the 1930s to the 1950s, “promoted a new form of history, replacing the study of leaders with the lives of ordinary people and replacing examination of politics, diplomacy, and wars with inquiries into climate, demography, agriculture, commerce, technology, transportation, and communication, as well as social groups and mentalities.”[1]

It may also be that, when Joseph Cardijn began to write a series of historical notes on the development of the JOC, he took inspiration from this method. Indeed, there is a remarkable convergence between the Annales School approach and the method Cardijn proposed in 1964 for writing the history of the JOC:

One can look at (the history of the JOC) as a history of a few dates: events, significant facts, either private or public, which were like the markers of the various stages of this history.

One can also look at it as the history of daily life, growing, active, both interior and exterior, with its influences, its spirit, its crises and developments. This is genuine ongoing history which unfolds like a film and while flows unceasingly like a river.

This history… needs to be situated within a larger framework of the history the Church and should develop its missionary, apostolic, liturgical and doctrinal aspects. It should present the JOC within the history of its time, with all its social, economic, political, cultural and international implications…[2]

In this spirit, let us begin this study of the partnership between Cardijn and Guérin with an overview of the late 19th century context that formed them. Next, we will look briefly at the decades-long partnership they forged in the development of the JOC. Thirdly, we will show how this work led to in the emergence of a worldwide network of Jocist bishops and theologians, who would play a decisive role at the Second Vatican Council. We will conclude by highlighting the vital support Guérin offered to Cardijn in the promotion of his book at a critical juncture of the Council.

I. Joseph Cardijn and Georges Guérin: Partners in developing the JOC

Cardijn: From Lamennais to Le Sillon

Born in 1882, Joseph Cardijn was the son of a local coal supplier, Henri Cardijn, while his mother, Louise, worked as a maid to a well-off family. Growing up in Halle, 15 km from Brussels, young Joseph rapidly became aware of the problem of children working at the textile factories of the district, often woken up by the clatter of their clogs on the street cobbles as they left for work early each morning.

When Pope Pius XI published his landmark encyclical, Rerum Novarum, in 1891, he read it aloud to his illiterate father and also accompanied him to listen to the speeches of the radical priest, Adolf Daens, who campaigned against the poor conditions of workers.

His social consciousness already awakened, Joseph left for the minor seminary at Malines at the age of fourteen. Yet when he returned home for holidays, he was bitterly surprised to find that his former schoolmates now rejected him as a “little priest” and an enemy of the workers. As he so often recounted later, this was the shock that set Cardijn on his lifelong mission to reach out and “save” those young workers, who felt so abandoned by the Church.

Significantly, this experience also seems to have turned the teenage seminarian to the writings of Félicité de Lamennais, the 19th century French priest, who after experiencing the French Revolution had concluded that a revolution was needed in the Church. For Lamennais, the Church needed to rediscover the teachings of Jesus, abandon the Ancien Régime alliance of throne and altar, and develop a new alliance with the poor and the emerging working class.[3] For Cardijn, this search for a new direction would crystallise further upon the premature death of his overworked father in May 1903, moving Joseph to vow to devote his whole priestly life to the working class.

The same year, he also learned of a dynamic new French lay movement, Le Sillon, founded by Marc Sangnier, which was devoted to promoting democracy by raising the consciousness and developing the responsibility of the students and young workers in its study circles. “Oh! You would need to measure the loving capacity of a virginal heart aged 20 years to understand the explosion of enthusiasm that such reading could inspire in the soul of a young seminarian!” Cardijn later said of the impact of this meeting.[4]

Four years later in 1907, while studying at the University of Louvain, he had the opportunity to meet leaders of the Sillon while on a study trip to northern France. “At Lille and Roubaix, we had the pleasure of participating in meetings of the study circles of the Sillon,” Cardijn would tell Marc Sangnier in 1921. “We saw those young people, students, workers and employees, loving each closer than brothers, assisting each other to develop their consciousness and to exercise their responsibilities,” he continued.

“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 dew fertilises and multiplies it,” he added, directly acknowledging the indebtedness of the emerging Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne to the Sillon.

Indeed, when Cardijn began to launch study circles for young female workers in the Brussels suburb of Laeken in 1912, he would turn first to Victoire Cappe, a young trade union leader, formed in the Sillon methods in her home town of Liège, and Fernand Tonnet, a young bank employee, who had received a similar formation from a local priest at Quiévrain on the French border.

Guérin: Young worker and Sillonist

Like Cardijn, Georges Guérin, was born into a family that was far from well off financially. His father, also named Henri, held a variety of professions ranging from bootmaker and bank employee and eventually to metal tester and chemist once the family moved to Paris.

Aged fourteen, however, Georges joined his father as an apprentice metal worker at the Hesse company, which provided silver and gold for Paris jewelleries from its factory at 70 Rue des Archives in Paris. In a strange coincidence, this was the very building in which Lamennais had died on 27 February 1854.

As Guérin’s biographer, Pierre Pierrard noted, “it is striking, indeed moving that young Georges, who would spend his life among the humble, lived under the same roof as ‘Féli,’ the priest who revolted because they imposed silence on the poor and who demanded a pauper’s funeral.”[5]

Although he did not find himself alienated from the Church, young Georges was nevertheless far from an enthusiastic apostle at this stage of his life, finding himself somewhat anaesthetised by the routine of his working life. Everything changed though one day in the autumn of 1908 when while walking home he underwent his own personal Road to Damascus experience. Struck by the contrast between his religiously active friends and his irreligious workmates, he asked himself who was right.

“This confrontation was a shock for me, a decisive, luminous shock. It seemed obvious to me: those who had the truth were Marcel Poimboeuf, Paul Tariant, Eugène Bernou, all three militants of the Sillon… The shock was so decisive that, this time, it was me who went towards them, so well did their faces shine with the presence of He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life…”[6]

Quickly, he became a propagandist for the Sillon the Meurthe and Moselle region and still more around Ecrouves-Grandménil where he succeeded in selling 499 subscriptions to the Sillon newspaper, L’Eveil démocratique (The Democratic Awakening).

Later in a 1916 letter to Marc Sangnier, Georges would write: “Never have I have understood the need for popular education so well. Person to person action. Educate. Show truth, the GOAL. That is also true for young people: I realise now all the patience that is needed by an educator to form a virile soul, to turn a child into a man, a decisive, radiant man…”[7]

And at the end of his life in the years following Vatican II, he would remember this experience, noting in 1974 that “The Sillon nourished in us the mission of the Church in the world.” Nevertheless, it was the JOC that offered a more comprehensive formation. “The Sillon was ‘social’ but there was a unity of life in the JOC that the jocist movement imparted to the young worker,” he observed astutely.

Even so, after launching the JOC at Clichy with Georges Quiclet in 1926-27, Guérin would quickly find strong support for the new movement from many other French priests, who had also experienced the Sillon or its influence during their youth. A few of these would even become bishops at Vatican II.


No doubt sensing something of this Sillonist spirit in the JOC, Georges Guérin found himself instantly attracted to the methods of Cardijn’s new movement as explained in the Manuel de la JOC published in Brussels in 1925.

Thus, when Cardijn arrived in Paris in March 1927 to meet Guérin, Quiclet and their embryonic movement, it signalled the beginning of a forty year partnership between the two priests, who would work together to promote the JOC not only in their native lands of Belgium and France but also far beyond.[8]

Henceforth, we find Guérin at Cardijn’s side at many key moments of the subsequent development of the movement. In September 1929, Guérin accompanied him on the first (Belgian) pilgrimage of the JOC to Rome where together they were received in private audience by Pius XI.

Three years later, they returned to Rome, along with Louis Liagre, co-founder of the JOCF in the Diocese of Lille and future bishop of La Rochelle, to discuss the need “to safeguard the genuine character of the JOC” with the pope. Perceiving the need to build a strong theological foundation for the JOC, Guérin also encouraged Liagre and his colleague, Palémon Glorieux, another theologian who had helped found the JOCF in Lille, to become his guides in orienting the JOC. At Guérin’s initiative, Glorieux would also launch a series of “La lettre aux aumôniers” that would link the emerging theology of the laity with that of the Mystical Body.[9]

Two years after the First World Congress of the JOC in Brussels in 1935, an event crowned by a mass rally of nearly 100,000 young workers at Heysel Stadium, Guérin and the French JOC followed suit with a second, perhaps even more influential international congress in Paris, similarly crowned by a rally of 80,000 young workers at the Parc des Princes in July 1937.

It was at this rally that Archbishop Pierre Gerlier, who had helped Guérin and Cardijn gain the support of Paris Cardinal Louis-Ernest Dubois in 1927, spotted Marc Sangnier in the stands. “Be happy tonight, Marc,” Gerlier told the Sillon founder, “because you are one of the great architects of the marvel that we have just witnessed.”[10]

In April 1939, Guérin again joined Cardijn and the founder of the Swiss JOC, Albert Maréchal in meeting the new Pope Pius XII ahead of the international pilgrimage to Rome planned for September 1939, which was sadly cancelled at the last minute owing to the outbreak of war.[11] During this war, both Cardijn and Guérin were imprisoned by the occupying forces. Fortunately, unlike many jocist leaders who suffered martyrdom in the prison and concentration camps, they both survived this harsh experience.

It sadly fell to Guérin to inform Cardijn of the final moments of Paul Garcet, co-founder of the JOC in Belgium, who died at Dachau. The French priest, Fr Fraysse “asked for the last rites to be administered to the JOC national leader who was dying.”

“Together with Fernand Tonnet, Fr Fraysse was in the corner where the leader who had received the last rites and who had lost consciousness,” Guérin continued. “Everything leads us to believe that it was Paul Garcey (sic).”[12]

Despite these losses, the two men quickly resumed their collaboration following the liberation of France and Belgium. Surprisingly, Georges Guérin did not participate at the first post-war international study day in Brussels on 27-28 August 1945.[13] However, he once again joined Cardijn to meet Pius XII in Rome in 1946, gaining the pontiff’s strong support for the international development of the movement.

In this context of the post-war international expansion of the JOC, we cannot overlook the fact that much of this, particularly in Africa and Asia, took place through the vast network of French missionary priests and lay people (JOC extension workers) who helped establish the movement in those regions. Among these were a number of prominent former French JOC chaplains, notably Jean Noddings, chéville ouvrier of the JOC in West Africa.

Moreover, although he could never have guessed its significance, it was during this period that Guérin made contact with the new nuncio to France, Angelo Roncalli. As he recorded in his diary, Roncalli was greatly impressed by the JOC he discovered through the dozen meetings he had with Guérin.[14] Fifteen years later in 1961, as Pope John XXIII, he would endorse the Jocist see-judge-act method in §236 of his first encyclical, Mater et Magistra, setting the scene for its further adoption at Vatican II.

Guérin would again be present in Rome in 1957 for the long-delayed JOC international pilgrimage to Rome, delivering a long remembered address to the gathered French participants. “Nous étions deux,” he began, recalling the humble beginnings of the French JOC at Clichy.

« Quand les jeunes travailleurs et jeunes travailleuses de Belgique autour de l’abbé Cardijn ont commencé, se doutaient-ils que ce soir au Colisée, que demain autour du successeur de Pierre et des successeurs des apôtres qui l’entoureront, il y aurait 30.000 jeunes travailleurs, jeunes travailleuses de 80 pays, délégués d’une multitude de jeunes qu’on ne saurait dénombrer ? Prévoyaient-ils cette prise de conscience autour du Vicaire du Christ, de l’immense charité que vous portez, qui vient de plus grand que vous : tous frères, jaunes, noirs et blancs, tous un dans le Christ Jésus ? » he asked.

Cardinal Gerlier, who was one of more than 100 Jocist bishops who accompanied the pilgrimage, was deeply appreciative. “Ce que j’ai vu il y a 30 ans, ce que je vois aujourd’hui, ce que je verrai demain, c’est cela la JOC! La petite équipe des 20 jeunes travailleurs est devenue une grande internationale, » he told French JOC leaders.[15]

It was a fitting tribute to thirty years of partnership between Georges Guérin and his inspiration, Joseph Cardijn. Not only had their work created a worldwide movement of young workers but it had also inspired a whole family of Specialised Catholic Action movements. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that France by the end of the reign of Pius XII, France had become the superpower of Specialised Catholic Action. Moreover, unknown to them, those 100 Jocist bishops would soon meet again at the Second Vatican Council.

III. The Jocist network of bishops and theologians at Vatican II

Rome 1957 was thus not the end of the collaboration between Guérin and Cardijn. Indeed, at one level, it was merely a prelude to their greatest achievement, which would come at the Second Vatican Council.

This accomplishment would soon become evident in the number of conciliar bishops, periti, advisors and even lay auditors, who would play decisive roles in the redaction of the sixteen documents of Vatican II and who owed their formation to the JOC and its sister movements of Specialised Catholic Action.

Cardijn’s role

Cardijn himself had three formal roles at the Council, first as a member of the Pontifical Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate from 1960-62, then as a peritus in the corresponding conciliar commission from February 1963, and finally as a cardinal and Council Father at the Fourth Session in 1965.

Even more important than these, perhaps, were his informal roles, first as the leader or reference point for the “Jocist network” of conciliar bishops, theologians, experts and lay auditors, and secondly as the author of his book, Laïcs en premières lignes, published in French in June 1963 and later translated into five languages.

Although Cardijn’s contribution to the Council has often been overlooked by historians, Pope Paul VI was very aware of its significance. Addressing French-speaking bishops on 22 November 1965, just four days after the promulgation of the Decree on the Lay Apostolate, Apostolicam Actuositatem, he said:

“For the first time in the history of the Church, the Council has just devoted a decree to lay people and their apostolate; now it’s a matter of implementing it,” the pope said. “Yes, the good seed sowed half a century ago by several generous pioneers and particularly by a young Belgian priest has truly delivered a hundredfold!”[16]

So clear was Cardijn’s contribution that the pope had no need to explicitly mention his name.

The Jocist bishops

Modest as always, however, Cardijn, preferred to highlight the role of his Jocist colleagues. Speaking to JOC Internationale leaders, Rienzie Rupasinghe (Sri Lanka) and Joseph Weber (France) eleven days before his death on 24 July 1967, he told them: “The JOC contributed a great deal to the Council, not me, but all the bishops, the cardinals, the Helder (Camaras) and many others, have taken into account the missionary vision developed and incarnated by the JOC.”[17] He was referring to the 225 bishops with a Specialised Catholic Action background of whom at least 100 had been JOC chaplains including 20 former national chaplains.[18]

From Cardijn’s Belgian homeland, we can mention Emile-Joseph De Smedt, worked closely with the VKAJ (JOCF) where his sister was a fulltime worker, Charles-Marie Himmer, a promoter of the SCA movements from the 1930s and André-Marie Charue, who had helped promote the JOC from 1924.

In Poland, the venerated Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski had been one of the first (if not the first) to introduce the JOC in his home diocese of Wloclawek,[19] while the rising star, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow had travelled to Belgium and France during the late 1940s to meet with Cardijn and learn the methods of the JOC.[20] In Germany, Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne was a major supporter of the development of the German JOC (CAJ) following World War II.

Cardinal Manuel Gonçalves Cerejeira of Lisbon had supported the development of the JOC, even attending the first international congress in Brussels in 1935. Similarly, Cardinal Bernard Alfrink of Amsterdam had joined the JOC international pilgrimage to Rome in 195

From Latin America, these Jocist bishops included the Chilean co-founder of CELAM, Manuel Larrain, and Helder Camara from Brazil as well as Leonidas Proaño from Ecuador, Ramon Bogarin from Paraguay and Blessed Enrique Angelelli, who would be martyred in 1976. From North America, they included the Canadian Maurice Roy, who would become the first president of both the Pontifical Council of the Laity and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, as well the Panamanian Marcos McGrath, who chaired the Signs of the Times Commission which drafted the introductory section of Gaudium et Spes on the Situation of People in the World of Today.

From Africa, there were the South African anti-apartheid archbishop, Denis Hurley, the future Cardinal Joseph Malula from the DR Congo, the future Cardinal Paul Zoungrana from Haute Volta now Burkina Faso, and Bernardin Gantin from Benin, also later president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as well as Cor Unum.

In Asia, these bishops included the Indian Archbishop Eugene D’Souza and the Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) Archbishop Thomas Cooray, omi, who was raised to the cardinalate the same day as Cardijn himself while bishops from the Pacific included the coadjutor archbishop of Melbourne, Justin Simonds, and the future Cardinal Reg Delargey, a prominent Cardijn disciple from New Zealand.

French Jocist bishops

But France occupies a special place here with more than 80 bishops (out of 140 conciliar bishops), who had direct experience of the JOC and/or another of its sister movements. The first of these was Cardinal Pierre Gerlier of Lyon, who had recognised the potential of the Clichy JOC, encouraging its young leaders with the words: “My little ones, you are beginning a very great work.”[21]

In the north, the future Cardinal Achille Liénart, who had known the Sillon as a seminarian in Paris, quickly became a chaplain to one of the earliest JOC groups at Tourcoing. As bishop of Lille, he was perhaps the first in the world to make it his policy to promote the Specialised Catholic Action movements. Palémon Glorieux would assist him at the Council as his personal advisor while Louis Liagre would have an active role as the bishop of La Rochelle.

In the east of France, Prado father, Alfred Ancel, future auxiliary bishop of Lyon and “worker bishop,” helped launch the JOC in that diocese while at Chambéry the future Archbishop (and eventually cardinal) Gabriel Garrone taught and promoted the methods of Specialised Catholic Action at the local seminary. Further south-east, Emile Guerry, future archbishop of Cambrai, founded not only the JOC but also the JAC in the Diocese of Grenoble. Later he would also play a key role in the development of the ACO.

By the time of Vatican II, in fact, French Council Fathers included no fewer than 13 French present or future cardinals with strong ties to the JOC and other SCA movements, including the archbishop of Paris, Maurice Feltin, a stalwart of the JOC since the 1930s.[22]

Other prominent Jocist bishops included Arthur Elchinger from Strasbourg, Gabriel Matagrin and Marius Maziers, both auxiliaries for Lyon, Guy Riobé, the Jacist bishop of Orleans and René Stourm of Sens-Auxerre, who would become a member of the Lay Apostolate Commission at the Council.

Perhaps it was Ancel who best expressed what he – and no doubt many others of these French bishops and cardinals – owed to Georges Guérin: “It is impossible for me to express in writing everything I owed to Father Guérin. I have never forgotten our first meeting, in 1928, I think, when he came to Lyon for the first time (it was in May) to speak of the JOC; there were several priests with him; I was far from understanding but through this simple priest who communicated his immense hope to us I understood that God was raising something great within his Church. I believe I can say that since I have always remained in full harmony with the thinking and concerns of Father Guérin.”[23]

Jocist theologians

Many prominent theologians and experts at Vatican II also had close links with the JOC and its sister movements. From Belgium, these included the Louvain professors, Albert Dondeyne, a theologian and philosopher, who had long been close to Cardijn, Gustave Thils, whose theology of terrestrial realities had a strong impact at Vatican II, and of course Gerard Philips, architect of Lumen Gentium, who had worked with Cardijn since the early 1930s. Perhaps closest of all to Cardijn was François Houtart, a Louvain sociologist, who had worked extensively with the JOC in Belgium and in Latin America, and who eventually wrote the first draft of the introduction to Gaudium et Spes.

Here it is important to note that French Dominicans stationed at Le Saulchoir, which was then located near Tournai in Belgium, were among the earliest to experience the Cardijn influence. Probably the first was Marie-Dominique Chenu, who helped in the launch of the JOC at Lille just across the border from Belgium. Although he never held a formal role at Vatican II, Chenu was the inspiration for the Message to the World at the beginning of the Council.

Chenu and his confrere and friend, Yves Congar, also gave retreats for early JOC leaders and chaplains both in Belgium and France. Both also contributed to the theology of the JOC and more generally the laity. Thus, at Vatican II, it was Congar and another Dominican, Henri-Marie Féret, who assisted Cardijn in the drafting of his five conciliar interventions.

Another French Dominican, Louis-Joseph Lebret started a Specialised Catholic Action movement for young seafarers, la Jeunesse Maritime Chrétienne. At Vatican II, he would also play a significant role in the commission responsible for the drafting of Gaudium et Spes.

Other French priests with a Jocist formation also played key roles at the Council. As a young priest, Jean Rodhain, served as a federation chaplain for the JOCF in the south of Paris and helped organise the famous rally at the Parc des Princes in Paris in 1937. After World War II, he was appointed as the first secretary-general of Secours Catholique, leading to his eventual appointment to the Lay Apostolate Commission at the Council.

Also appointed to the same commission were Henri Caffarel, a former JOC national-secretariat chaplain, who founded the Teams of Our Lady from France, Jacques Bonnet, a JOC regional chaplain and later first national chaplain of the ACO.

Finally, we need to mention Pierre Haubtmann, originally from Saint Etienne, a local chaplain of the JOCF, later a member of the ACO national chaplaincy team from 1954 until the eve of the opening of Vatican II. Haubtmann, who lived for several years with Georges Guérin at the JOC chaplains’ residence at Rue Jean de Beauvais in Paris, was initially appointed as media representative for the French bishops at the Council.[24]

In 1963, Haubtmann was appointed as a peritus to the Mixed Commission working on Schema XIII, the future Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today. And a year later, he was appointed to lead the drafting committee which was responsible for the final version of Gaudium et Spes.

A worldwide Jocist network

The outcome of this was that of the roughly 2500 bishops who attended Vatican II, over 225, i.e. at least 9%, had direct experience with the JOC and its sister movements, either as chaplains or as promoters of the movement in seminaries, colleges and in their dioceses.

Significantly, these bishops who had years of experience in forming young worker and student leaders, were well versed in the Jocist methods of exercising influence within their milieu. Moreover, at a time when mass international travel was still in its infancy, many already knew other through the various international meetings and formation sessions that the JOC and its sister movements had organised over the previous three decades.

These factors help explain how so many of these Jocist bishops came to occupy key roles in the various Vatican II commissions, particularly in the Lay Apostolate and Theological/Doctrinal commissions and in the Mixed Commission responsible for Schema XIII, the future Gaudium et Spes.

In this context, it is also important to recall the prophetic role at the Council of the informal group of bishops and priests known as the Jesus Christ and the Church of the Poor group initiated by Cardijn’s Belgian ally, Charles-Marie Himmer. Taking its name from the book, Jésus, l’Eglise et les pauvres, by Paul Gauthier, the group’s first patron was Cardinal Gerlier. Indeed, it is striking to find that eleven out of fifteen members of the Comité d’animation of this group were in fact Jocist bishops and theologians while at least 28 out of 85 bishops who participated in its meetings were Jocist bishops and at least nine of 27 theologians.

In addition to its general influence over the direction of the conciliar documents foreshadowing the Church’s option for the poor, during the final days of the Fourth Session of the Council, forty bishops close to the group celebrated mass at the Domitilla Catacombs on 16 November 1965, and signed the Pact of the Catacombs, committing themselves to an evangelical lifestyle.[25] Proposed by Helder Camara, this pact was directly inspired by Cardijn’s own vow to consecrate his life to the working class.[26]

The next evening on 17 November 1965, another group of Jocist bishops issued a message from Cardijn’s cardinal’s church, St Michael Archangel, in Pietralata, a working class suburb of Rome, calling on the Church to make a greater commitment to the lay apostolate.[27]

The First Session

The First Session of Vatican II opened on 12 October 1962 and the Jocist bishops and theologians quickly made their presence felt.[28]

Cardinal Liénart made a decisive intervention on the first sitting day of the Council, calling for time for the bishops to get to know each other better before electing the members of the various commissions. This was the critical move that enabled the bishops to wrest control of the Council agenda from the conservative Roman Curia. Moreover, it also facilitated the election of many Jocist bishops to the various conciliar commissions.

A week later on 20 October, the Council adopted its first text, a “Message to the World” entitled Nuntius ad omnes homines et nationes, which was initially proposed by Cardijn’s Dominican friend, Marie-Dominique Chenu, in a letter dated 4 September 1962 letter to the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner. Chenu had called for an “ample declaration… in the style of the Gospel” and “in the prophetic perspectives of the Old and New Testaments”:

A declaration addressed to humanity where grandeur and distress are… an aspiration for the light of the Gospel and the presence of God the Creator…. A declaration proclaiming the fraternal unity of men, beyond frontiers, races, regimes, – in a refusal of violent solutions, in love of peace, testifying the Kingdom of God.[29]

The final text of the Message, which also helped shaped the Council’s direction, was drafted by Liénart along with three other Jocist bishops, Gabriel Garrone, Emile Guerry and Alfred Ancel. No doubt encouraged by all these developments, other Jocist bishops made a series of vital interventions over the following weeks that further helped shape the Council’s direction.

Reacting during the debate on Revelation, Emile De Smedt warned that “if the schemas prepared by the Theological Preparatory Commission are not drafted in a different manner, we shall be responsible for having crushed, through the Second Vatican Council, a great and immense hope.”[30]

Several weeks later, De Smedt again came to the fore criticising the schema on the Church for presenting its subject as a “concatenation of triumphs” by the Church Militant. This was totally out of touch with the reality of the Church as the “little flock” of Jesus Christ, he said, criticising the “hierarchism,” “episcopolatry” and “papolatry” of the draft document.

More positively, Léon-Arthur Elchinger, called for an ecclesiology inspired by “pastoral concern” based on the Church “as a communion” rather than as “an institution.” “In the past, theology affirmed the value of the hierarchy,” Elchinger noted, “now, it is discovering the People of God.” Moreover, where “in the past, the theology of the Church considered its internal life above all; now it sees the Church turned towards the world,” he added.[31]

Liénart too had expressed similar thoughts in a preparatory document he had drafted entitled “Un plan pour les travaux du Concile” (A plan for the work of the Council), in which he called for the Church, i.e. the Council to make a “double effort” to examine “herself” and “in the present world.[32] This line was backed by other Council Fathers, notably Cardijn’s own archbishop, Léon-Joseph Suenens, and Montini, who was now the archbishop of Milan.

Although he had not yet been appointed to the conciliar Lay Apostolate Commission, Cardijn nevertheless visited Rome from 18-22 November, where he met with many of his closest colleagues, including Larrain and the Brazilians Camara and José-Vincente Tavora.

In a letter to his home diocese of Olinda, Camara recorded Cardijn’s reaction to the events of the Council:

Mgr Cardijn has just left. He cried with joy at everything that Dom Larrain, Dom Tavora and I told him. If God wishes, we will succeed in having him appointed as an expert on lay apostolate issues (and who surpasses him in this area?).

Tomorrow he will come to celebrate his 80th birthday with us. What a life, fully and well lived in the light of grace![33]

Over the course of the next three years, these bishops and theologians, including so many protégés of Georges Guérin, would be among the architects of all the great documents of Vatican II that, under the pontificate of Pope Francis, continue to orient our Church.

IV. Guérin to the aid of Cardijn

None of this, however, should create an impression that this success was achieved without a long struggle. Cardijn himself faced a series of great challenges at the Council, beginning in the Preparatory Commission on Lay Apostolate, which despite the number of Jocist bishops and priests remained dominated by Italian prelates with little understanding and no experience of the Specialised Catholic Action movements. Here too the collaboration of the French bishops, particularly Archbishop Garrone proved vital.[34]

So much opposition did Cardijn face, including from his own new superior, Cardinal Suenens, that he was not initially appointed as a peritus to the conciliar commission on lay apostolate. Only after the intervention of Camara and others was he finally appointed in February 1963.

Meanwhile, he had completed his book Laïcs en premières lignes that was to be published in early 1963 by Editions Universitaires in France and Editions Ouvrières in Belgium. While in Rome during the First Session, Cardijn had taken the opportunity to give a copy of the manuscript to Suenens, who did not provide any written feedback regarding the book but nor did he offer any hint that there were any problems.

Thus, when the book was ready to go to print in early 1963, Cardijn was astonished to learn that the imprimatur had been delayed by Archdiocesan authorities.[35] In short, Suenens wished Cardijn to water down his conception of the lay apostolate and the role of Specialised Catholic Action.

This caused a major personal crisis for Cardijn who was punctilious in respecting his vow of obedience to his bishop. The conflict was only resolved after a personal meeting with Suenens in which Cardijn succeeded in convincing him to accept very minor changes to the text.

This finally cleared the way for publication with printing completed on 20 May allowing the book to go on sale in June 1963 in good time for the Second Session of the Council. Nevertheless, although Cardijn heroically refused to criticise his superior, word had started to leak regarding the problems that Suenens had caused for the book. A backlash was brewing.

Guérin’s response

Georges Guérin, who no doubt had some knowledge of these problems, was becoming increasingly worried over the delays in publication.

On 6 May 1963, he had written to Cardijn’s secretary, Marguerite Fiévez, expressing concern over the delay in publication. In response, Fiévez confidentially informed him of the “difficult palabres” with the archdiocese in relation to the imprimatur.[36]

Guérin, who was evidently familiar with Suenens’ attacks on Specialised Catholic Action, reacted swiftly by making contact with several (friendly) French bishops.[37]

“I often think of the date of the 2nd session, which will be so important,” Guérin responded to Fiévez, emphasising the importance of ensuring rapid publication of Cardijn’s book.[38] “This book will make waves,” he wrote.

Fiévez immediately sought to reassure him over the changes. “Pour ceux qui liront l’ouvrage, elles ne sont guère perceptibles,” she wrote. “A l’occasion, lorsqu’il (Cardijn) vous rencontrera, il vous dira lai-même de vive-voix de quoi il s’agit.

“Mais il vaut mieux ne pas attirer là-dessus l’attention de nos amis ou de vos interlocuteurs ; sinon, cela risque de faire plus de mal que de bien.”[39]

Guérin was clearly relieved to learn that the book had not been significantly altered. However,  Cardijn’s difficulties spurred him to launch a personal campaign to ensure that the book reached the hands of as many French bishops as possible and above all to the bishops closest to the JOC and its sister movements. Over the following weeks and months, Guérin would write more than a dozen times to Fiévez, seeking extra copies to send to those bishops and theologians, complaining that not enough copies had arrived.

By the time, the Second Session opened on 29 September 1963, Guérin had ensured that Cardijn’s book was in the hands of many influential French bishops and theologians, including Haubtmann, the future chief redactor of Schema XIII. It is no accident, therefore, that at the beginning of the Second Session, we find the French bishops, led by Garrone, moving swiftly to remove control of Schema XIII from Suenens, who had endeavoured to create a committee of his own to oversee the drafting process.

Gaudium et Spes

The outcome was that during the Third Session of the Council, the Commission reorganised its work in line with the Jocist approach. A Theological Sub-Commission was appointed to clarify doctrinal issues relating to the theological significance of the “world,” while a Signs of the Times Sub-Commission was appointed to study “world realities.”

And in a meeting held on 17, 19 and 20 November 1964, it was decided that the drafting of the final documents should follow the see-judge-act:

– Start from the facts;

– Offer a Christian judgement in the light of the Gospel and the Catholic tradition, from the Fathers of the Church to the contemporary magisterium;

– Indicate concrete action orientations (pastoral aspect).[40]

A new drafting committee was also appointed at the same meeting, now headed by Pierre Haubtmann, the French former JOC and ACO chaplain.

Over the next two months, Haubtmann, who was a renowned expert on the philosophy of Proudhon, completely revised the draft schema in an ideal-real dialectical format that also reflected Cardijn’s famous Three Truths dialectic. Indeed, the definitive text of Gaudium et Spes still reflects this structure.[41]

Introduction on the Situation of People in the World Truth of Reality (Antithesis)

Part I: The Church and the human vocation and destiny        Truth of Faith (Thesis)

Part II: Problems of Special Urgency                         Truth of Method (Synthesis)

(Five see-judge-act chapters on:

– Marriage and family

– Development of culture

– Economic and social life

– The life of the political community

– Fostering peace and the promotion of a community of nations

Chapter 3 on the Development of Culture illustrates its see-judge-act structure in a particularly clear fashion:

– Section 1: The circumstances of culture in the world of today

– Section 2: Principles for the proper development of culture

– Section 3: Some more urgent duties of Christians in regard to culture.

The outcome was while Cardijn himself was never personally a member of the Mixed Commission responsible for Gaudium et Spes, his ideas and method nevertheless prevailed.

Lumen Gentium and Apostolicam Actuositatem

The efforts of the Jocist network also bore fruit in many other Vatican II documents, notably Lumen Gentium’s Chapter IV on The Laity. In particular, §31 embodied much of Cardijn’s vision of the lay apostolate, which finally recognised the “proper” vocation of the laity in life and the world in terms closely approximating his own:

[T]he laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.

Apostolicam Actuositatem also emphasised the same concept, insisting from §1 on the “proper and indispensable role” of the laity. In addition, §29 again canonised the see-judge-act method of formation:

Since formation for the apostolate cannot consist in merely theoretical instruction, from the beginning of their formation the laity should gradually and prudently learn how to view, judge and do all things in the light of faith as well as to develop and improve themselves along with others through doing, thereby entering into active service to the Church.

The effect of all this has had a long lasting impact on the Church as we continue to see today with Pope Francis’ whose own encyclicals continue to follow the see-judge-act format.[42]


Cardijn could certainly never have achieved all this alone, as he recognised explicitly himself. And among the Jocist network of bishops, priests and lay auditors at the Council, the French played a very major role. In this, the role of Georges Guérin cannot be overlooked.

Perhaps we can best summarise the role and impact of both Joseph Cardijn and Georges Guérin as the animators and formators of a conciliar network of bishops and theologians impregnated with a vision of the apostolate of the laity and a method of personal and social transformation, which were “canonised” by Vatican II.

In all this work, as Pierre Pierrard has written, Georges Guérin was “much more than ‘the authentic student of Cardijn’ (Georges Béjot), or the ‘first disciple of Cardijn’ (Jacques Bonnet): but rather his son, in the spiritual but full sense of the term.”[43]


[1]     Annales School, Encyclopaedia Britannica :

[2]     Joseph Cardijn, Writing the history of the JOC: Joseph Cardijn Digital Library (JCDL):

[3]     Stefan Gigacz, Chapter 2, Lamennais, Le Sillon et la JOC, The Leaven in the Council: Joseph Cardijn and the Jocist Network at Vatican II, Australian Cardijn Institute, 2021:

[4]     Joseph Cardijn, Welcome to Marc Sangnier, 02/02/1921 (JCDL):

[5]     Pierre Pierrard, Georges Guérin, Une vie pour la JOC, Mémoire d’Hommes, Mémoire de Foi, Editions de l’Atelier, 1997, 38.

[6]     Ibid.

[7]     Pierrard, 57.

[8]     Georges Guérin, A Clichy la rouge, 1962, JCDL:

[9]     Pierrard, 178-79.

[10]   Stefan Gigacz, Marc Sangnier – 70 years (Cardijn Research):

[11]   Joseph Cardijn, Le Pape nous attend, in Notes de Pastorale Jociste, juin 1939, T. VIII.5 p. 94 (JCDL):

[12]   Guérin – Cardijn, 01/06/1945 (JCDL):  

[13]   Compte-rendu des Journées d’Etudes Internationales des 27 et 28 août 1945 à Bruxelles, Bulletin Documentaire N° 1, octobre 1945 (Archives JOC Internationale)

[14]   Angelo Roncalli, Journal de France, Vol. I, Cerf, Paris, 2006: 51.

[15]   Archives JOC Internationale, 2.1, 1957 World Assembly

[16]   Paul VI, Discours aux évêques de France, Turquie, Belgique, Luxembourg, 22/11/1965 (Archives Liénart, Diocèse de Lille) (JCDL):

[17]   Joseph Cardijn, A deathbed message, Testimony of Joseph Weber, 13/07/1967 (JCDL):

[18]   Stefan Gigacz, Chapter 4, Towards a Global Jocist Network, The Leaven in the Council, 2021:

[19]   Stefan Gigacz, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski – A founding JOC chaplain (Cardijn Research):

[20]   Stefan Gigacz, Universal brotherhood and solidarity: Cardijn and John Paul II (Cardijn Research):

[21]   Pierre Gerlier, Son Eminence le Cardinal Gerlier parle aux jocistes, 24/08/1957 (JCDL):

[22]   Maurice Feltin, Troyes, Bordeaux, Paris; Achille Liénart, Lille; Pierre-Marie Gerlier, Lyon; Gabriel-Marie Garrone, Toulouse; Paul Gouyon, Bayonne, Rennes; Louis Guyot, Toulouse; Joseph Lefebvre, Poitiers; François Marty, Saint Flour, Reims, Paris; Alexandre Renard, Lille, Versailles; Clément Roques, Montauban; Paul Richaud, Lille, Versailles, Lyon; Pierre Veuillot, Paris; Jean-Marie Villot, Paris, Lyon.

[23]   Pierrard, 162.

[24]   Pierrard, 251.

[25]   The Pact of the Catacombs, 16/11/2021 (JCDL):

[26]   Stefan Gigacz, Cardijn, Camara and the Pact of the Catacombs (Cardijn Research):

        Stefan Gigacz, The Jocist bishops who signed the Pact of the Catacombs (Cardijn Research)

[27]   The Pietralata Message, 17/11/1965 (JCDL):

[28]   Stefan Gigacz, Chapter 7, The Council opens without Cardijn, The Leaven in the Council:

[29]   Quoted by André Duval, “Le message au monde” in Fouilloux, “The Ante-Preparatory Phase,” in Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph Komonchak (Editors), History of Vatican II,  Orbis – Peeters, Maryknoll-Leuven, 1995, Vol.I, 110.

[30]   Ibid., 50.

[31]   Antoine Wenger, Chronique de la première session, Centurion, Paris, 1963, Vol. I, 153.

[32]   Achille Liénart, “Un plan pour les travaux du Concile” (Archives Liénart, Diocèse de Lille), 44.

[33]   Helder Camara, Lettres conciliaires, Cerf, Paris, 2007, Vol. I, 130-131.

[34]   Stefan Gigacz, Chapter 6, Church, world and lay apostolate, The Leaven in the Council:

[35]   Stefan Gigacz, Chapter 8: Suenens vs Cardijn, The Leaven in the Council, 2021:

[36]   Fiévez – Guérin, 06/05/1963, AC1782 (JCDL):

[37]   Guérin – Fiévez, 10/05/1963, AC1782 (JCDL):

[38]   Ibid.

[39]   Fiévez – Guérin, 22/05/1963 (JCDL):

[40]   Compte rendu de la Commission de Rédaction de Schéma XIII (Gaudium et Spes), 17-19-20/11/1963 (JCDL):

[41]   Stefan Gigacz, Chapter 9, The Three Truths in Gaudium et Spes, The Leaven in the Council, 2021:

[42]   Cf Pope Francis, Laudati Si’, 2015:

[43]   Pierrard, 9.