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Multiplying the Seeds

"The winds of the air and the birds of the sky carry off the seed and deposit it sometimes in far away fields where God's rain brings it to life and makes it fruitful."

This is how Joseph Cardijn, founder of the YCW, described the posthumous influence of the Sillon in his welcome to Marc Sangnier in February 1921. Cardijn of course made no specific reference to the YCW which only existed at that time in the embryonic form of the Young Trade Unionists. However, I believe that it is an extremely precise characterisation of the Sillon's seminal role in the later birth of the movement that would eventually become known as the International Young Christian Workers.

In fact, not only Cardijn but many of the founder generation of the YCW were very close to the spirit and methods of the Sillon. Victoire Cappe, the young woman who was a co-founder with Cardijn and Madeleine Deroo of the young women's YCW at Laeken in 1912, learnt these methods from Fr Paisse, who was linked to the Sillon group in Liège where Cappe was born. Similarly, young Fernand Tonnet, co-founder of the young men's YCW, learnt the same methods from Fr Abrassart in the town of Quiévrain on the French-Belgian border.

Later in 1926 in France, it was a former member of the Sillon, Georges Guérin, who would become the founder-chaplain of the French YCW movement. In fact, it seems very likely that at least part of the reason for the the early and rapid spread of the YCW can be found in the hidden support provided by the old Sillon network in France and Belgium and perhaps elsewhere.

25 August - Anniversary of the Sillon and the YCW

Archbishop Pierre-Marie Gerlier of Lyon who had been president of the rival conservative French Catholic Youth Association ( ACJF) at the time of the closure of the Sillon recognised its role in the formation of the YCW. Speaking to Marc Sangnier at the 10th anniversary celebration in 1937 of the French YCW attended by 80,000 young workers, he said, "Be happy tonight, Marc, because you are one of the great workers of the miracle that we have just seen".

10th Anniversary of the French YCW, Parc des Princes, Paris, 1937

Moreover, it is very unlikely to have been an accident that date chosen for the First World Congress of the YCW was 25 August 1935 - 25 years to the day after Pope Pius X' s letter to the French bishops heralded the closure of the Sillon. In a fitting symmetry, this was also the occasion on which Pope Pius XI wrote to Cardinal Van Roey of Malines-Brussels to give his formal recognition to the YCW.

In 1957, the IYCW again chose the 25 August to inaugurate its First International Council in Rome, linking the IYCW permanently to the heritage of its sillonnist predecessor.


Stefan Gigacz, The Sillon and the YCW, in First Steps to a History of the YCW, International Cardijn Foundation, Brussels, 2000 at pp. 3-52.

Joseph Cardijn, Discours de bienvenue à Marc Sangnier, 5 février 1921. (French version)

Welcome to Marc Sangnier, 5 February 1921. (English translation)