Lessons and challenges



There are many other issues which we could also take up here, questions and lessons from the life of the Sillon: its experience of reaching out to Protestants and even to Muslims, its methods of organisation, its demands at the level of financial commitment, its methods of selling its publications, the commitment of its fulltimers and volunteers. 

In fact, we can also find nearly every future tension of the YCW prefigured in some way in the Sillon. The Sillon’s 1905 d’Hellencourt crisis is a perfect example here involving a student-worker clash, an orientation problem concerning the role of services in the movement, the degree of structuration, the problem of personalities, etc. 

Within the Sillon, we can also discern the first moves towards specialisation of the movements. The student-worker tensions were themselves signs of this. Moreover, by 1907 the Sillon was already in the process of establishing a more or less autonomous Sillon rural, specialising in issues in country areas of France. In this, sense, all the specialised movements, including the YCS (JEC), the Young Christian Farmers (JAC), etc. are equally indebted to the Sillon as the YCW . 

The difficult problem of the relationship of an apostolic movement with the political sphere is also raised in the Sillon. 

So too is the problem of the relationship of a lay movement like the Sillon with the Church. Indeed, on this last aspect, one of Cardijn’s major contributions was to find a way to link the YCW to the Church — finding a solution to the problem of linking an autonomous movement to the Church — the lay-clerical partnership that Leon Harmel had dreamed of and Marc Sangnier had tried to implement. 

On these issues, it is true that in many respects the YCW went further than the Sillon. But in nearly every case, it was the Sillon which first broke the ground, tracing the furrow in which the YCW and its sister movements would later germinate. Like the grain of wheat in the Gospel, the Sillon perhaps needed to die so that our movement could live. 

Nevertheless, if as Cardijn insisted so often, the YCW needs to continually start again, there may be no better place for replanting than in the fertile soil first opened up by the Sillon of Marc Sangnier.

Stefan Gigacz