There can be no doubt that the success and growth of the Young Christian Workers movement was a consequence of the vision, determination and dedication of its founder, Joseph Cardijn.
Cardijn was born in the town of Hal, in Belgium. His parents were Henry and Louise Cardijn. He was a lively boy with an enquiring mind and very sensitive to every human suffering he met, especially that of the workers he saw going to the factories at dawn each morning.
At age fourteen, Cardijn was preparing to finish his studies and enter the working world. His parents looked forward to the additional household income. However, one night he told his parents that he wanted to become a priest. With no hesitation his parents agreed to work harder to allow their son to enter the seminary.
In 1897 Cardijn entered the junior seminary at Malines. When the holidays came, he visited his schoolmates now working in the factories. But his friends gave him a cold reception believing that he had betrayed them and joined with the forces that oppressed the working class. Their rejection wounded his heart.
This experience stayed with the young Cardijn as he went back to his studies in seminary. However, it was the death of his father that would be the moment he felt drawn to respond to a new call from God, a call that was clear and decisive. In his innermost being he swore to consecrate his whole life as a priest to save the workers.
In 1906, Cardinal Mercier ordained Joseph Cardijn a priest and he began to develop his own education in the sociological and political spheres, not only theology and philosophy.
Today therefore, we thank God for the revelation of the young Joseph Cardijn and his vocational calling to the priesthood. We also thank the countless number of priests, religious, bishops and Popes who have supported our mission since its creation.
Current National Chaplain of the YCW in England and Wales, Msg. John Marsland, said: “The tradition of priests empowering the laity through the YCW has been our cornerstone since Cardijn began the movement. He recognised that our priestly ministry had to be one that was close to the lives of the faithful and those in need of our help. We continue that mission to this day.”