1956: Cardijn: Reflections on the Enquiry

In the YCW, the method of formation, action and organisation is inseparable and universal. Inseparable because the three elements must find their place simultaneously as the movement is being built and not in successive steps: first study circles or discussions groups, several weeks later action within the surroundings of life and years afterward, the establishment of an organisation which stimulates and sustains the action and brings the results to the attention of outside institutions.

The method is universal because the fundamental principles of the YCW itself are universal. The first principle: the mission given by God to each person and the dignity of each one which is a consequence of this mission. The second: the young worker’s ignorance of this mission and the contradictions between his working life and his dignity. It is because of these truths that a movement is necessary which can help the young workers to discover and accomplish this personal and communal mission — but to do so as young workers on the basis of their lives, their surroundings, the problems and needs of each one in particular and of all, without exception. This is the “YCW dialectic” which is as true for the youth of countries which are in the spearhead of atomic progress as for those of areas on the road toward industrialisation.

The YCW trilogy.

The objective of the method of “by them, among them and for them” is to make young workers discover the significance and the purpose of their existence, their reason for living and for working, their individual personality and the mission which they have on earth — and all this within the perspective of their eternal destiny. This discovery and this awareness are the source and the basis of YCW formation as well as of its mystic and the personal and social transformation which it wishes to accomplish.

Seen in this context, the enquiry method IS the YCW method. Far from being separated from the training, the enquiry constitutes the basic means of formation. First of all, the YCW enquiry is a making of contact with and among young workers. It is the means of getting to know them, their lives and needs: “Where do you work? What do you do there? Where do you live?” and all the questions which come up in the ordinary conversation among young workers.

The enquiry is not scientific nor official; it is carried out in the same way that people get acquainted with one another. Getting acquainted or carrying out an enquiry, in the beginning it is the same thing. Making an enquiry is not gossiping or spying, but rather a sharing of responsibilities, a mutual help and support. It is the life of the YCW itself. The enquiry continues goes deeper and becomes more concrete through the many contacts and in the measure that young workers become better comrades, better friends, more confident in themselves and toward others.

The authentic YCW enquiry is not carried out on or with strangers. Young workers may not remain strangers to one another, but they must become friends who are known to each other, loved by one another and united.

Enquire in order to transform.

The spirit of the YCW enquiry almost becomes an obsession to get to know the young workers, there where one meets them in the districts, on the street, at the factory — everywhere : a desire to seek them out, in order to know them and to win them. This desire creates a spirit of enquiry which is the characteristic of a true leader and in turn it creates and develops the spirit of conquest, that is to say the desire to transform.

The YCW enquiry is the way to and the means of YCW transformation. The one is the purpose and the accomplishment of the other. In addition to this continual YCW transformation which springs from the basic enquiry and which becomes a spirit of enquiry — the movement must launch more official enquiries which are decided in connection with a particular campaign, a specific need of young workers which may be visibly manifest or hidden (unemployment, health, transport, preparation for marriage, spiritual life, etc.). These enquiries are directed toward a particular aspect of current importance, toward a progress to be accomplished and to be made known to great numbers of young workers, to the general public, to governmental authorities or social organisations — in order to gain their attention and obtain the reforms and the necessary cooperation.

These particular enquiries, decided by the national and regional organisers and carried out by the whole of the movement, may have overall results and permit the alerting of public authorities — but they must always be carried out in the spirit of the permanent and ordinary YCW enquiry. They pre-suppose this spirit and this activity in order to succeed and above all in order to have an educational and transformative value as well as a value for representative action. It is the educational nature of the enquiry which counts and not its immediate or scientific results.

Judgement born of conviction.

Any YCW enquiry, in order to lead to a true transformation signifies not only a changing of surroundings and of persons, but also a constant support in order to help the young workers to five the ideal they discover — and this support will be given by affiliation to the movement. This transformation does not stop at the “see” stage with an exterior or superficial knowledge. Necessarily it brings on a judgement. Are the facts, the situation, the behaviour, the conditions, of work in harmony with the dignity and the mission of the young workers? A YCW judgement cannot be imposed by authority from without; it must become personal, born of a conviction. It is the result of all the questions asked concerning the objective of the enquiry: “Why? because of what? with what purpose? what are the consequences? how?”… judgements which are exchanged, discussed, completed and transformed among fellow workers, friends, leaders and teammates. These exchanges of ideas must be natural, spontaneous, sincere as conversations among friends who confide in one another. In the YCW, they are the normal means of doctrinal formation, leading to a synthesis and a conception of life. They introduce the sort of talk which pulls together the conclusions of “see and judge”.

Here is an example given at a study week:

Jane is a YCW leader In a large factory. In her department a married woman often speaks of her conjugal life in a vulgar fashion, and tells jokes with a double meaning to the young girls of the department. One day Jane reproached her for this… a dispute followed and the woman tore Jane’s YCW badge from her overalls… the boss intervened. Result: the woman was transferred to another department.

The leaders meeting: Jane mentioned the fact — finally the atmosphere in the department will be better. All the leaders were relieved. The president asked: “…and this woman… what will become of her? what is her home life like? what will be the results in her salary and in her state of mind after the transfer? What does Christ think of her? Does He love her? What would He have done in Jane’s place? Shouldn’t Jane go to see the woman at her new machine?”… consternation…

Jane thought the matter over for a few days then went to see the woman. The latter, greatly astonished at this, was disheartened with her new work which was disagreeable. Her salary was less. She spoke of her family life: her husband is not well, family relations are bad and their income is quite insufficient.

At the leaders meeting everyone listened and then decided that Jane should propose to take the place of the woman and thus let her take up her former job. However she should do this on condition that the woman will agree to be responsible for the moral atmosphere of the whole department and that she herself consents to be an example for the younger girls.

Jane carried out the plan, the boss gave his consent, the woman accepted and from that moment on her whole attitude changed. If vulgar expressions sometimes slip out, she bites her lips when she realizes it!

This enquiry, which begins by observing and judging, necessarily leads to and ends in an action which pursues and achieves the true YCW transformation not only exterior and practical, but interior, deep-seated, which changes a person. It is not just propaganda; it is a witness, a formation and a real “conversion”. This kind of enquiry makes the leader into an apostle and a missionary. It makes an apostolic, missionary, social and revolutionary movement of the YCW… a movement which puts leaders and young workers into action, which transforms individuals, families, environments of life and of work, institutions and even society itself.

A striking example is given by the Japanese YCW. It was through concrete enquiries on working conditions that the leaders discovered salaries of 8,000 to 15,000 yen1 — and even less for the girls — which are far from being in harmony with the dignity of the young worker. From that moment on, the young workers become conscious of the social doctrine of the Church and began to wonder aloud:

Why does work and the worker have dignity?

– Why do the YCWs make enormous sacrifices to improve the lot of their fellow workers?

– What is the source of their courage?

– What is the Church? Does she defend the workers?

… and in the period of one year, 500 young non-Christian workers asked admission to the YCW.

At once difficult and easy.Those who want formation and education to consist of instruction given through talks, conferences and exposés on subjects of study (God, Christ, the Church, justice, etc.) — the intellectual or the scholar who wishes to communicate his own knowledge through speeches which the others hear and retain — those who start from a doctrine not always applied to life — all those find it difficult to understand and use the method which starts from life itself, attaches one’s ideas to life, discovers its significance and transforms it.

This method is easy for ordinary people, for the uninstructed. It is the method of parents, of people who have no written language, and of workers among themselves. It presupposes and creates confidence, friendship, intimacy and sincerity. It arouses the mutual help and the apostolic and missionary contacts which really transform ideas, customs, persons and society. Sometimes one is astonished that after years of being instructed, how much this remains something exterior and how little the ideas are transformed from within. On the other hand, one is surprised to see what a deep and radical transformation can be accomplished by the method which starts with reality and remains in reality. Moreover this does not exclude talks and speeches, but it grafts them on to life, incarnates them in life.

The best way to learn the enquiry method is to use it, to persevere, just as one throws oneself into the water in order to learn to swim, or does a thing in order to learn how to do it. The more the chaplains, organisers and leaders approach the young workers and interest themselves in their lives, becoming a part of it and coming back to it — the more they will transform the young workers and win them.

There is only one condition: a real love. If we do not love the young workers, if we do not take them seriously, do not believe in their irreplaceable mission, we will not succeed with the YCW method — and we do not deserve to succeed.

Joseph Cardijn


Extract from YCW International Bulletin N° 49. March-April 1956 YCW International Secretariat. 78. Boulevard Poincaré. Brussels. Belgium (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)