When the idea of establishing the Young Christian Workers Movement was mooted by Fr. Joseph Cardijn in faraway Brussels, Belgium in 1925, little did the Priest envisage the ripple effects such initiative would have in communities, such as Nigeria and others that are many miles away from Belgium; where the movement was founded. Traditionally, November 13 is set aside to commemorate Cardinal Joseph Cardijn’s birthday and the International Coordination of the Young Christian Workers Day.
Biography of Cardinal Joseph Cardijn
Joseph Cardijn, eldest son of Henri Cardijn and Louise van Daelen, was born on November 13th, 1882, at Schaerbeek, a district of Brussels, where his parents were employed as caretakers of a small block of flats. Madame Cardijn’s state of health did not allow her to nurse her child, and young Joseph was entrusted to the care of his grandparents who lived at Hal, a small Flemish town to the South of Brussels, on the borders of Brabant and Hainault. His parents joined him there a few years later and his father took up a coal merchant’s business – a very modest affair, which gave the family a relative degree of prosperity and independence.
The childhood and adolescence of Joseph Cardijn were spent in a typical Christian home of Flanders. Monsieur Cardijn, his father, could neither read nor write, but he was a man of high principle and deep religious conviction. Joseph Cardijn began his education at the elementary school with working-class boys of the little town. The impact of industrial development was making itself felt in Flanders, and Hal was fast becoming the centre of an industrial district. When Joseph was about to leave school his parents naturally thought of placing him in a factory, but the boy had other ambitions. This is how he has told the story of his vocation: “It was the eve of my entry into the factory. I went up to the bedroom with my brothers and sisters.
When they were all in bed, I crept down barefoot to the kitchen, where my father and mother, in spite of the late hour, were talking by the fireside. ‘Father’, I said, ‘there’s something I want to ask you. Please let me continue my studies!’ ‘But you know well enough’, answered my father, ‘that you are the eldest, and that we rely on you to help us in bringing up your brothers and sisters’. But I insisted: ‘Father, I’ve felt a call from God within me. I want to be a Priest.’ Joseph Cardijn was ordained priest on September 22nd 1906, and was sent to follow a course of sociology and political science at the University of Louvain. He made a close study of the Trade Union organisation, meeting Tom Mann and Ben Tillett.
His impression of Ben Tillett is particularly interesting as it shows that, as far back as 1912, his mind was already working on the lines which were to result, some twenty years later, in the foundation of the Young Christian Workers. In 1924, the JeunesseSyndicaliste became the JeunesseOuvriereChretienne, the Young Christian Workers, and Father Cardijn was appointed its National Chaplain by the Belgian Bishops. In March 1925, Pope Pius XI received the founder of Young Christian Workers in audience, and gave the final sanction of the Church to the movement. Cardijn has often told the story of this momentous interview.
‘Here at last,’ said the Pope, ‘is someone who comes to speak to me about the masses! The greatest scandal of the nineteenth century was the loss of the workers to the Church. The Church needs the workers, and the workers need the Church.’ The YCW is a living movement. At present it is established in over 125 countries; it groups over a million and a half young workers of every race, colour and nationality. Its founder has become a world famous personality, and his name is venerated by young workers all over the world. Few men have been able to achieve so much in their lifetime. When Father Cardijn started his first small group of working lads over thirty years ago, he said to them: ‘We are setting out to conquer the world.’ Today the YCW International has become a reality. It has taken its place among the great world organizations. It can speak for working youth with the prestige and authority of an international movement and NGO and an affiliation with International Labour Organization. Cardinal Joseph Cardijn died on July 24, 1967.
Young Christian Workers Movement is active in Nigeria with presence in Lagos Archdiocese, Ibadan Archdiocese, Abeokuta Diocese and Warri Diocese. In the Lagos Archdiocese, it is established in 13 Deaneries and over 80 Centers. In the few decades of its existence in Nigeria, one of the ways the movement has made its impact felt in Lagos Archdiocese and its local branches has been its strong community service – which have ensured the improvement of lives in different parts of Lagos State.
YCW, Lagos Archdiocese
The YCW, Lagos Archdiocesehas successfully carried out projects that have impacted positively on lives of the people. The most remarkable of them was the free medical outreach, in all, about 2500 people enjoyed free blood pressure, eye and diabetics screening, Breast & Cervical Cancer screening, prostate cancer screening, Dental care, Cardiac screening, child care & general health. About 300 free eye glasses were distributed while drugs were also given out; free, to those who are diabetic.On environmental issue, the Lagos Archdiocese of YCW, has helped the community maintain clean environment with clean-up exercise initiated.
It has also conducted free capacity training with members of the communities as beneficiaries. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movement; through its Centers and Deaneries contributed substantial amount of money to cushion the effect of the Covid-19 induced lockdown on the vulnerable; to support them, to alleviate the tough situation people faced during the total lock down. YCW is the future of the workforce of Nigeria. The spirit of Cardinal Joseph Cardijn is active and leaders are raising the world. YCW, the difference is you. • Press & Communication Directorate, Young Christian Workers Movement of Nigeria, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos.