1967: Council and lay apostolate

National YCW Council Birmingham. 1967


Whilst there remains much work to be done, today the YCW has the right to be confident, optimistic and proud. The Vatican Council as the highest authority in the Church, especially the Decree on the Lay Apostolate, confirmed all that the YCW stands for. Therefore we should be confident and have rightful pride in the unique value of the methods, work and achievements of the YCW. This will not result in a “we told you so” attitude but an attitude of quiet confidence that doesn’t panic but presses on without fear or favour.

Why the confidence?

1. For the last 30 years the YCW has pioneered many things in the Church and not least in our country. We have been faithful to the following:-

a. The concept that each and every Christian has an irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world. To fulfil this mission he must have a formation which the Movement has given so successfully.

b. We have been faithful to a Christianity that is incarnate. In other words we believe that God entered the world and entered it deeply in the person of his son. This we believe is true today as yesterday. All of us through our local sections are still trying to answer this great question: how does Christ speak, act and react to situations today? Throughout the world grace of the YCW men and women discover their responsibility as other Christs in the real situation that exists trying to see, judge and act with Christ today. The spine of our action is the progressive social doctrine of the Church – to bridge the gap between religion and life, Mater et MagisterPacem in Terris paid great tribute to the YCW and its method. As a result of faithfulness to this Catholic Doctrine, men and women of the Y.C.W. are imprisoned in Spain, beaten up in Bolivia and Columbia, and suffer all kinds of physical and social ??? in many other areas. The decree of the Council on the Church in the modern world is very much the key to our future.

Therefore we must remain true to the developing social doctrine of the church here in England and the YCW has this great responsibility.

We should be alert of this at a time when the Catholic Soul is closing its doors. We should be careful not to be distracted from this private job by schemes of general Catholic youth co-ordination which do not have as their object this Church Soul transformation.

3. Therefore the church has confirmed what we stand for. One can also say that the YCW contributed greatly to the ideas of the Council to its preparation and work. Now the task of the YCW is to remain faithful and true to its ideas and this putting into effect the decisions of the council.

With a view to this I would like to give you some points on the Council.


As the days turned into weeks at the council there were understandably tensions and differences expressed in the debates, all of this you read about in the press. These clashes were real and the differences were of substantial nature and naturally could not, and should not be hidden.

What was less easy to express was the beauty and profound unity of the Church that one sensed looking down St Peter’s at the beginning of the morning sessions; as St Peter’s filled with men of all races and colour, who professed the same faith, associated in the same communion of prayer, discipline and activity, all successors of the Apostles, and who had offered themselves like The Master and Lord for the life of the whole church. Instinctively the Council sought to include others in its deliberations, the priests, the laity and the

Within this context it was possible to sense many things:-

– Tension between established Church traditions and the rapid revolutionary changes in the modern world.

– Within the church were forces long impatient for the reform for whom the Council finally provided an outlet.

– There was a growing sense of the scandal caused by the divisions between Christians.

– A recognition of the growing difficulties which the Church was meeting in the fulfilment of Her mission in great areas of the world – persecutions, etc.,

– The freedom of speech which resigned in St. Peter’s created a spiritual ferment which contributed so much to the renewal and growth of the Church. These debates led many to a more extensive understanding of the Church and Her mission The Council did not merely TEACH freedom it EXERCISED AND DISPLAYED it.


In all sixteen texts of decrees were passed by the end of the Council ranging from subjects like the ”Constitution on the Church” to the “Declaration on Religious Freedom”.

Some decrees could be criticized as patchy, because they were the result often of compromise. Two other decrees, the one on communications media and the one on Christian education, were heavily criticised as inadequate.

In spite of these criticisms the Council functioned without closing any doors, and opening a number of doors that some people may have felt were permanently sealed. In the end there was a real contentment at the progress made, whilst at the same time the awareness that the decisions taken were outlines of tacks for future work.

Obviously all sixteen Council teats were of concern to the laity as The People of God. Of particular interest, however, were the following four:-

(1) Church in the modern world in which the Council expresses the strong desire to have a positive dialogue with the modern world;

(2) Church and other Christian bodies where the Catholic church humbly accepts Her share of responsibility for the disunity of Christendom and where practical cooperation between Christians is positively encouraged. The foundations for a fraternal dialogue have been laid, though this does not mean that the basic differences have been much whittled down. The dialogue was launched at the Council itself by the presence of the many observer delegates. The future of ecumenical unity will finally depend on how the Churches are resolved to face together the common responsibility for the great problems which oppress the world today.

(3) The Church and laity where the layman acquires his own specific personality in the whole Church.

(4.) Reconstruction of the Church in which the Church is seen as the whole People of God on pilgrimage ever ready for reform; where the shades of any monarchical concept of leadership is replaced by the dynamic concept of leadership as a humble service to others. In which all the Bishops together with the Pope take on for always the common collegial responsibility for the whole Church and in whose synod they will have their elected representatives.

I must resist the temptations to deal with all of these points in detail as it would be impossible to do so in the time but I would like to comment on my third point in more detail, namely the “Church and the laity”.


On November 10th 1965 the Council passed the decree on the lay apostolate with only two votes against. One month before I had the privilege of addressing the Council Fathers in their plenary session on this subject. This historical first was in itself an outward sign of the laymen in the Church, Monsignor Talbot, the English aristocrat and mischievous advisor of Pope Pius IX, had defined the role of the laity 100 years ago as “to hunt, to shoot, to entertain.” He went on “these matters they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical matters they have no right at all.

This decree confirmed the achievements of the past thirty years when pioneer priests devoted themselves to inspiring and training young writers, students, families and professional people to discover that the primary way to serve the whole Church was in their daily life of work, neighbourhood and profession. They had discovered the POWERFUL but SIMPLE TRUTH that the first and immediate apostles of working people would be workers the selves and the same for students to students. But all this helped by priests who desired to enfold to them the spiritual riches of the Church ever youthful and relevant to modern men in their everyday human situation.


First we are asked by the Vatican Council to see that our work and our apostolate is to seek God’s kingdom in and through our daily occupation and job; in our family, neighbourhood and parish, seeing that HERE we must work to make Christ known and loved and do all in our power to change anything in the structures and system that hinders people from discovering the love and justice in Christ.

In summary, anything in work, home or neighbourhood that is contrary to the dignity of the human person has to be tackled. Why? Because every person however poor is not just a unit or a machine but one who is called to be a Son of God. Hot when he is dead but here and now, in and through his work place, neighbourhood and leisure. Therefore, anything that contradicts this vital truth is the challenge to the Christian of today. This is what is meant by BUILDING THE CHURCH and as men and women we are especially” called to make the Church present and active in the day to day world. This is our unique and irreplaceable job as Catholic men and women.

This implies a recognition that the whole of creation is good and made for the worship of God, and that if we as Christians help each other in these day to day concrete situations then gradually the whole world will be drenched with the Spirit of Christ.

Our task as laymen is to bring Christian values to bear in every corner of life. To speak to the needs and agonies of our time, to show the contemporary relevance of Christianity to the great issues which trouble and divide men, Christianity far from being opposed to the material world is a religion of incarnation, a religion which has the obligation to accept and redeem the world. The committed Catholic of today will be known by:-

– his work for justice in the neighbourhood, nation and international community, a work essentially for the oppressed and the poorest;

– his sensitivity to the cares and needs of the suffering and persecuted;

– one who attempts humbly to make his deepest values as a Catholic visible and effective in the fields of work – for example the aged, industrial relations, community projects and development;

– care of the sick.


The work of the post-conciliar Catholic will be directed toward the salvation of men and individuals. We must all try to give a witness of Christ by co-operation with the clergy in all the plans of evangelisation or of bringing news of the Gospel to all people. Pope Paul spoke to an Italian journalist with great anguish about the millions of people who no longer have any religious faith. As Catholics we have to bear witness in a world which is unmoved by “watered down” Christianity kept alive by traditional routine. Increasingly, we can say this world will only be influenced by the expression of a deeply rooted Faith based on the hope of the Resurrection.

The true Catholic apostle will constantly affirm the spiritual priority in a rising tide of affluence. All of us, I believe, should consciously seek to know what are the things in daily life that “hide the Face of Christ from His people”. According to the Council, more and more pastors will be consulting lay people on this very vital question, and structures on the parish, diocesan national and international levels are in process of creation so that laymen will be fully consulted in every possible way. Through all this, therefore, we can help in presenting the Gospel to the people of today.

The Council asks us as Catholics to look at the world as one family and to take the scales from our eyes and to see the need of a loving, charitable activity to all those who suffer from miserable poverty. The Council asks us not only to be present but to seek people out who are needy, we are asked not to exclude anyone from this kind of love and that whatever we can give by loving service should be unsoiled by any seeking for our own advantage, or and search for power. More than that we should actively seek to eliminate the causes of distress and not merely deal with the symptoms.


1. Therefore to be true to the Post Conciliar Church we have to reaffirm our commitments to the YCW and build it. There is nothing in the YCW against Common sense. We should not try and find complicated answers to basic simple questions, i.e. Development in an area. There will be no danger when there is a group of people responsible – priests and laymen.

2. Do not be afraid to experiment. The YCW is not a china doll that can easily break. This means we now know the facts of the ??? situation, and the first principle is that the YCW must try to meet his situation and any other. Two by-factors you need to think about.

a. Younger age of marriage Implications for truthful ??? in the YCW

b. More people going for higher education. Do we have enough groups in technical schools and those places?

3. Avoid a ghetto YCW psychology

We exist for all the young people in the neighbourhood. Therefore on Study days, days of recollection, other activities must be open and organised for all. Otherwise we finish up with a dialogue between the deaf.

4. Do not confuse details of organisation with principles

The principles are clear:-

a. A knowledge of and a desire to work on the real solution of young people by becoming committed to solving their own situation with the help of all people of good will.

Badge and

5. Our basic strength is and will remain dependent on how far each one of us is committed. This frankly depends on our personal relationship with Christ in the mass and in our prayer. Without this we spend all our time in further discussion.


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