YCW history



It is almost 20 years since the Second Vatican Council concluded and the work of implementing the decrees and renewing the church began.

Today I wish to speak of three things:

1. How the theology of Vatican II has influenced the action and involvement of laity in four main ways.

2. One of these ways in the priority of the YCW movement. I want to tell something of the YCW experience in renewal.

3. Finally I would like to tell you something of what is happening to day in the YCW, some of the signs of the times as we see them to day, and look at the questions that these raise for us all.

Often when we speak of the laity we think of the as being recipients of the ministry of clerics. Sometimes we talk about the work of a few key people or groups. The council, however, challenged us to think about and talk about the mass of the laity - the millions and millions of the baptised people of God. For us, in a special way laity means the 3-4 million of our Australian catholic people. All of these we are told are by their baptism consecrated as priests to the world. Each and every one of them is called to an active, responsible, irreplaceable participation in the saving mission of Christ and His church.

This challenge has brought 4 main types of changes to the life and action of the laity.

1. Laity increasingly recognised that knowledge of theology and scripture was their right and responsibility. All sorts of adult lay education classes began.

2. New heights of spirituality and prayer came to be regarded as possibilities and responsibilities of laity. And so we have all sorts of new groups classes seminars prayer groups etc.

3. A whole new world opened to the laity with the introduction of laity to ministries - liturgy groups special ministers readers acolytes youth ministries etc.

4. And finally there is what the lieamenta document calls the secular vocation of the laity - the renewal of the temporal order. In a world so rapidly evolving the calls responsibilities opportunities and areas requiring action are constantly growing.

All of these changes of course are commendable valuable and important. They are not exclusive of one another but there should be a balance between them. I believe that in the Church in Australia today we need to understand more deeply and in a practical way what the primary and essential duty of the laity. It is not in building the ecelesial community but in the building of the world and the renewal of the temporal order.

The secular vocation is of course a vocation of all the church pastors as well as laity. It is a complicated and difficult issue any time but even more so today in a very pluralist world that is undergoing an industrial and technological revolution perhaps unprecedented in the history of the world. All of my priesthood which spans the 20 post Vatican years have been spent close to the YCW movement the movement which probably more than any other body in the church in Australia has fought the fights and remained most dedicated to the secular vocation. I would like to briefly outline the history of the YCW in that time It is a history of a response made by the church to the challenge of Vatican II. It raises questions poses pastoral problems, and gives the background of where we are today.

I guess most of us here remember the YCW of pre - 1971, the boys and girls movement, the gospel discussions and the enquiries. The priest sitting up the front with the president a movement doctrinally based on a modern theology of the mystical body, a movement of formation, service, education, a movement within a world system and a church system, a movement of the church, dependent on the church, blessed by the church.

The first move was two actions aimed at sending the YCW out in to the world and making it independent. In 1969 the national movement decided to print no more enquiries. In 1971 they threw out the bylaws. Both actions were based on good YCW and Vat II theology.


The belief was that the YCW was too dependent taking its subjects for discussion from books rather than from matters directly affecting the lives of its members directed in its thinking by the written word. Rather than being challenged to discover the call of god in personal conscience decisions and too restricted in and by its structures. It was like throwing a person into the water saying sink or drown. YCW's had to research their own lives and their own areas to discover where god was calling them. Many responded. Others missing the security and order of books and structures left the movement.

The second move started with two international visits that had enormous effects. Fr. Stan Fernando Asian chaplain and Fr. Brian Burke International chaplain came here in 1971 and I think 1973. They opened our eyes to terrible situations of injustice and oppression in the world. They made us as Australians feel responsibility and showed us why. They challenged us with papal documents like 'Popolorum Progressio', 'Pacem in Terris' the synodal document 'Justice in the World' and the teachings of Vatican II. It was pretty heady stuff revolutionary words from the pope the lay vocation and responsibility outlined clearly.

And don't forget there was already so much anger in the air the moratoriums the Springbok tour Martin Luther King, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Helder Camara, Che Guevera, the drop outs and the hippies, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie singing their songs. No emotion moves young people so much as the recognition of injustice and no hero is greater that the one who fights it.

In the midst of all this we got news of the political prisoners in South Vietnam and the plea to do something about it. Given our political and church history this was dynamite. Fights with the church suppression of the YCW in some parts the decimation of the YCW the rejection of the church by the YCW in some cases. And local members in the groups pounded from both sides over and issue so big, so contentious so foreign and far away when all they wanted to do was to talk about the little events of their lives. Did it all really have to happen? Everyone was quoting Jesus. Given the issue would it all happen again? In the aftermath the YCW dropped its social and sporting services as irrelevant and remnant groups met around issues of justice, aborigines, political prisoners, freeways, poverty etc.

The third move was a gradual move away from a concentration on issues like those already mentioned and back to our roots as a worker movement. We mainly initiated into category groups of workers factory workers apprentices shop assistants etc. We learned the processes of societal analysis, took options for the poorer and more oppressed of workers and alliances with the union movement. We came to understand that work is central to the whole way that society is organised, that as the pope says work is a key and probably the essential key to the whole social question, and that work is essentially central to the meaning and fulfilment of human existence.

The history of the YCW is the history of a group of Australia lay people who uniquely and really seriously took up the challenge to a radical insertion into the world with the aim of striving to renew the temporal order. I see it as an Australian experience exemplifying the pastoral problems and difficulties associated with the important challenge.

How can a church set up in such a way that the institution must bear?

Responsibility for all that is done in its name reconcile this with such things as the call to a radical insertion in the world to renew the temporal order in such areas as work politics economy culture family and mass media? To what extent can the laity be considered as authentic expressions of the Church?

Theoretically there are answers but in practice the difficulties are enormous. We tried distinguishing catholic action from action of Catholics. But then our document teaches us that involvement in the world is the primary essential distinctive and characteristic way of living the Christian lay vocation. The responsibility of the Christian must express itself in intimate and living communion with the whole church and that apostolic formation is an integrating and indistinguishable part of Christian formation.

How achieve all this if Catholics meeting on these issues do not meet as Catholics in the name of the catholic church, and with the aid support and Christian animation that the church can provide/? Then there is the impoverishment that comes from trying to restrict apostolic activity to ecclesial ministries while interpreting them according to a clerical image. And the problem of the laity being so influenced by secularisation that they refuse or at least compromise the fundamental and unrenounceable link with the faith.

We see the results of these dilemmas not only in the YCW but in such areas as the question of the status to be given to the CJJP and their statements what bodies are to be funded by ACR. The support to be given or not to AWD and the question whether Catholic peace groups and other such groups can use the name catholic or not. And all these questions have to be answered in a church in some ways circumscribed and inhibited by its previous political history.

But is it all worth it you might ask. Besides raising questions and exemplifying pastoral problems does the walking of this road really produce fruits? In the YCW we would count fruits in two main areas action-producing change in lay life and church life and personal formation bringing about involvement and leadership in lay life holiness closeness to Christ and a spirituality of lay life.


Hugh O'Sullivan

[Date unknown, Probably to a group/conference of priests, 1983-4? (reference to Vatican II which concluded in 1965)]

Reference: 009-280399







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