1965: The lay apostolate



Many faithful, both adults and young people, who have been formed by Catholic Action over the last fifty years, are expecting that the Second Vatican Council will provide them with clear and precise declarations and directives, in language that they are able able to understand and that they speak among themselves in their own milieu and in their daily lives to their everyday companions.

People have written to me from several continents: “Beg all the bishops and all the priests, both diocesan and religious, to help us to understand the apostolic value of our daily life, to persevere “in good times and bad times” in our apostolic responsibilities, in our milieux, in our ordinary lives because we want to make known their apostolic value. And in order to do this, we want to use living and active methods that will help us to discover this value, to achieve it within ourselves and to spread it around.”


The formation of lay apostles poses a very important problem of methodology.

After an initial period of enthusiasm, many priests start to feel discouraged. They say: “In our area, we are unable to find capable leaders. Our people are too materialistic, they are soft, they only care about earning money, enjoying themselves and having a good time.”

We must insist with our seminarians and our priests on the absolute necessity and irreplaceable importance of the apostolate of lay people. However, we must also arm them with patience and perseverance at the beginning of their formation and apostolic action.

During the sixty years I have lived with young workers, I have never met any who are immediately concerned with spirituality and moved by supernatural ends, nor are they concerned with the doctrinal fundamentals of the apostolate. This only comes after a long period of moving forward together.

But from the beginning I was interested in their work and their lives. I got them to speak. I asked what they were thinking, what they thought about their work, their housing, their recreation and all the various aspects of their lives. I thanked them for their responses and their frankness. We were strangers no more and we started to become friends. They told me their secrets. We searched together how to improve their behaviour, how to help others.

We met together as militants to make these findings, to do this review of life. Together we made recollections and retreats where we implored the help of Christ, Mary, and all the saints in heaven. Little by little they began to understand the need for the sacraments, the mass and communion to unite themselves with Christ, to live with Him, by Him. The Hierarchy and the Church were no longer strangers to them, external to their lives. On the contrary, a vital and intimate link united them everywhere.

I could cite thousands of cases from all the countries of the world that illustrate the absolute necessity and irreplaceable importance of the lay apostolate, as well as the need for a prolonged patience that provides an education for the apostolate on the basis of confidence.

We cannot transform the world without them. THEY are the Church in the world of today, together with their families, as well as their influence in all the key posts of national and international life but most of all at the grassroots, in ordinary and daily life.

Please excuse me for insisting on this so much. But I always come back to this point wherever I am, whether with my colleagues or with national and international leaders in the apostolate of young workers. I am convinced that these simple yet profound experiences are vital, essential for the progress of the Church.


However, in order to form lay apostles, we must first of all be convinced of this fundamental truth:


  1. is the lay (secular) life of lay people, the problems of that life, at every level: local,         regional, national and international;
  1. is the divine value of this life to implement the work of God and Christ, in order to transform life and the world;
  1. is a transformation that must take place with, by and in Christ and the Church, with the resources of the Church (prayer, sacraments, etc.) but which are incarnated in the affairs of the world, the institutions of the world, in view of the inseparable goals that are the happiness of humanity and the glory of God.

* * *

If the Council wishes to proclaim this truth and clearly indicate the means for realising it, if the Council shows that it believes in lay people, in their capacities, in their generosity, their vocation and their mission, the lay apostolate Popes – from Pius XI to Paul VI will rejoice.

The thousands of leaders of the lay apostolate throughout the world and the immense crowd of people of good will who are awaiting this missionary message will respond with fervour to the call of God and will help Christ to save the world of today.

JOSEPH Cardinal Cardijn


Joseph Cardijn, The lay apostolate (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)