A meeting with Cardijn in Brussels

Paris, 14 February 1921

A few days ago on Saturday 5 February, I spoke at the Christian Labour Centre (Centrale chrétienne du travail) in Brussels. I was hosted by Christian democrats who organised a very lively, fraternal and enthusiasic meeting.

The words of welcome spoken by Fr Cardyn were filled with the purest spirit of the “great times of the Sillon” (les beaux temps du Sillon). He acclaimed the work accomplished by our friends, unhesitatingly and gratefully linking his movement to our own.

The Christian Democrats of Brussels, who were so simple, cordial and familiar, whose allure, manners and even their faces resembled our comrades virtually to the point of mistaken identity, have achieved an outcome that shows that they are a force that certainly needs to be reckoned with.

In the recent parliamentary elections that like ours took place on 16 November 1919, the Catholic Party, which is the major governing party in Belgium and which until recently held an absolute majority of seats, refused to allow them a place on the official list.

People scorned them, believing that they were not a serious force. So they were forced at the last minute to walk alone. Nevertheless, they allied themselves with rural groups from the region surrounding Brussels and which formed part of the same electoral circumscription.

Yet, although the Catholic list, which included Christian democrats like our friend M. Carton de Wiart who is now president of the Council, only obtained five seats, the Christian Democrats won two of these, and with only a few more more votes, they would have obtained a third.

Before my talk, I shared an intimate dinner with Fr Cardyn and Mr Herman Vergels, the Christian Democrat parliamentarian. Truly, I felt that I was in a most intimate meeting of comrades. And I thought of Warsaw, and even Lithuania, where I had encountered similar long-standing sympathies with people equally informed of our efforts and who linked themselves directly to the magnificent explosion of moral and social life of our old Sillon…It filled my heart with solace and hope.

I think it’s important for our friends to appreciate the strength of our ideas and our approach in the world. They must not feel isolated and start to have doubts.. They need to also understand the complete background to the living and promising future reality known as the Democratic International that we already launched in the pages of our magazine.

Nevertheless, the Brussels Christian Democrats’ battle with those on the official Catholic list is not a bitter one. In fact, Mrs Carton de Wiart and her two sons attended my conference in the absence of the Council President, who had another engagement outside Brussels. And as soon as the meeting was over, she took me to the Council Presidency group, where I was welcomed with great friendship and affection.

Mr Carton de Wiart has been a friend of ours since the very early days of the Sillon. As for Mrs Carton de Wiart, she has never ceased to affirm that the moral and religious ideal of the Sillon was close to her heart.

The circumstances that made her a genuine war hero and have now brought her to such an elevated position have not distanced her from our movement nor taken her away from our effort.

The atmosphere of this family so simply and naturally Christian is a blessing for all those who experience it, even just in passing. The few moments that I spent with her two sons aged twenty and seventeen were enough for me to understand the marvellous educational value of the milieu that formed them.

These foreign trips that have been so frequent recently, as rapid as they are, have nevertheless convinced me of the relevance, and I would even say, the ease of our task. Everywhere we find the beginnings of the great democratic movement that we desire.

Just as twenty years ago, France was ready to welcome the initiatives of the Sillon, now Europe (and perhaps even the world) has a similar moral appetite. Spontaneous awakenings of democracy and Christianity are emerging that demand our involvement.

But are we truly ready for this superb and immense task? Let us ask God to ensure that we are lazy and useless servants. All false excuses are in vain. There is no lack of tasks to be done; only us who may lack in achieving it.


English translation: Stefan Gigacz, 2017

Translator’s notes: 


Marc Sangnier, L’âme commune (15 août 1920 – 26 mars 1921), La Démocratie, Paris, 1921, 192p. à p. 156.