Senator Michael Tate – Opening Address IYCW World Council 1991







It is an honour and a privilege to be present at the formal opening of the 8th World Council of the Young Christian Workers Movement.

As a Federal Minister I acknowledge my fellow Australians from all parts of the Federation gathered here in Adelaide.

As a Minister in the Government of this great Commonwealth of Australia, I especially welcome those overseas members and supporters of the Young Christian Workers who are visiting Australia for this 8th World Council.

You are very welcome to Australia, the name of our nation derived from ‘Austrialia del Espiritu Santo’, South Land of the Holy Spirit.

That Spirit which has hovered over this ancient land of ours inspired your founder, Joseph Cardijn and that Spirit still effectively works through the activities of the Young Christian Workers worldwide.

Despite all the promise of that name, ‘Austrialia del Espiritu Santo’, you are visiting a land where just over 200 years ago Europeans, displaced from their ancestral homes, experienced the total negation of the fundamental principle in which Joseph Cardijn believed.

We were a colonial outpost of convicts in a prison settlement where the split, the dichotomy, the absolute contrast between work and spirituality was extreme.

On the one hand, one had the degrading conditions of labour of brutalized convicts, on the other hand, one had the forced imposition of religious observance as an artificial element in their prison routine

Cardijn, of course, insisted on the unity of work and spirituality.

In those penal settlements, it required a superhuman effort to realize the dignity of the human being as worker and yet, consciousness of that dignity in this Australia del Espiritu Santo was never entirely suppressed.

In 1891, the year of Rerum Novarum, the year of the Encyclical on the “Condition of the Working Classes”, Australian workers, mainly Catholic and Methodist, determined to advance the dignity of the worker through the arbitration and Parliamentary processes. Turning their back on the temptation to class warfare they decided to achieve non-violent social change, principally of the conditions of work, by creating a conciliation and arbitration system and entering the Parliament of what, a few years later, became this Commonwealth.

I recount this segment of Australian history because I believe it prefigured and realized in practice much of what is to be found in the Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II especially “Laborem Exercens” and “Centesimus Annus” – foundational documents for the current activities of the Young Christian Workers worldwide.

Only if you fully understand the teaching of those documents will you have a firm grip on the values and principles which will enable you to SEE, JUDGE and ACT in a way which enables you to fulfil your vocation to advance the dignity of the human being.

You will be aware of the centrality in Cardijn’s teaching of the dignity of the worker taking creative responsibility for his/her society, precisely the vital link in the teaching of Pope John Paul II so that, in “Laborem Exercens” he insists on the primacy of human labour over the means of production, that ‘work is for man, (deeply and spiritually so), not man for work’ and in “Centesimus Annus” he recognises the value of the democratic system as a participatory, non-violent means of exercising political power.

That must be your twofold programme in taking “the initiative to build a new world” – that new world is not achievable unless the betterment of the conditions of workers occurs within, and because of, a system of politics where they can really participate in a powerful, peaceful means of electing those who govern them.

This programme can lead to very radical and threatening challenges to those who wish to impose their will on others in their society, whether seen as workers or citizens.

It is not a mere coincidence that widespread degradation and exploitation of workers almost always goes hand in hand with authoritarian, non democratic regimes, some of whom even adopt the pretence of being the annointed representative of the workers, some others of whom make no bones about supporting the superiority and ascendancy of capital over labour.

The experiences you bring from over 50 countries to this 8th World Council will be experiences both as workers and citizens – they are inseparable. I hope you find in your Australian visit some evidence of the wedding of the two.

That Australian experience, stretching back to 1891 and “Rerum Novarum“, received a graceful inspiration with the formation of the Young Christian Workers in Australia by Fr Francis Lombard in 1941.

The sense of vocation to transform the world has led many thousands of Australian Young Christian Workers into leadership positions in both the trade unions and Parliaments of this nation, a direct result of that Cardijn spirituality which you are expressing in your own societies.

At all stages of the Australian story of Young Christian Workers, solidarity with the worldwide struggle of Young Christian Workers has been a hallmark. Your presence here will re-invigorate that sense of solidarity amongst the young workers of this small and vulnerable planet, as you relate your stories – the histories of your struggles and your contemporary concerns, so different in each of your homelands.

I wish you well in your deliberations and celebrations over the course of this Council as you seek to take the initiative to build a new world.

You have a great historic mission – a mission of secular and redemptive history – a vocation to transform the world so that the dignity of each human being can be realised.

The principles of Joseph Cardijn enable you to see, judge and then act to create the future.

I truly believe that, in this Council, you will lay the foundations for a new world of the next decade, of the next century, of the next millennium.

You are called to nothing less than to be co-creators of the new world.

May your experience in this Austrialia del Espiritu Santo confirm in you that vocation.

It is therefore with great hope that I formally declare open this 8th International Council Meeting of the Young Christian Workers Movement.



Senator Michael Tate (Australian Parliament)

Michael Tate (Wikipedia)