FREE Catholic Classes
One of the remarkable and important manifestations of the social and religious life of the present day are gatherings of Catholics in general public conferences. This is the case both when these assemblies consist of delegates representing the entire Catholic population of a country or nation meeting to express opinions concerning matters close to its heart; or when they consist simply of the members of some one Catholic association who have come together for the advancement of the particular aims of the society. Taken collectively, these congresses prove that the life of the Catholic Church of the present day is not confined to Church devotions; that not merely individual classes and circles, but all Catholics, men of every rank and of every degree of culture, of all callings, all ages, and of all nations have been quickened to an unheard-of extent by the ecclesiastical movement of the nineteenth century, and gladly co-operate with it. This movement in Catholic life has been made possible by the development of travelling facilities, the multiplication of social interests, and also by the political freedom of modern nations. But Catholics would probably not have made use of these aids in such large measure if they had not been stirred up by extraordinary zeal.
The first large Congress was held by the Catholics of Germany. In the year of political revolutions, 1848, they founded throughout Germany local Catholic associations, called "Piusvereine" after Pope Pius IX, the Catholics of Mainz taking the lead. Their object was to stimulate Catholics to make use of the favourable moment to free the Church from dependence on the State. In accordance with an agreement made by a number of distinguished Catholics at the festivities held to celebrate the completion of a portion of the cathedral of Cologne, August, 1848, these associations met in convention at Mainz, 3-6 October of the same year. In the neighbouring city of Frankfort the German Diet was in session. Only a few weeks before, this body had decided to separate the schools from the Church, in spite of the opposing votes of the Catholic deputies, and had filled the Catholic people with a deep distrust of the Frankfort Assembly. A large part of the Catholic members of the Diet went to Mainz, and expressed their views, thus directing widespread attention to the convention and arousing the enthusiasm of its members, which reached its highest pitch when one of the deputies, Wilhelm Emanuel von Ketteler , the parish priest of Hopsten, arose and urged the Congress to give their attention to social as well as religious questions. Thenceforth the General German Catholic Congresses had a distinctive character impressed upon them. It became their mission to prove and intensify the devotion of German Catholics to their Church, to defend the rights of the Church and the liberties of Catholics as citizens, to preserve the Christian character of the schools, and to further the Christian spirit in society. At first the congress met semi-annually; after 1850, it met annually in a German or Austrian city. From the start it regarded the development of German Catholic societies into a power in national affairs as one of the most important means of gaining its ends. Consequently the Congress gave its attention not only to the "Piusvereine" but also interested itself in all other Catholic societies, e.g. the St. Vincent de Paul Conferences, the Gesellenvereine (journeymen's unions), the reading-circles, the students' corps, etc., and also encouraged the founding of important new associations, such as the societies in aid of German emigrants, the St. Boniface Association, the St. Augustine Association for the development of the Catholic press, and others. The end sought was to combine the general assemblies of as many of these societies as possible with that of the "Piusvereine", or to secure their convening at the same time and place. Thus the Catholic Congress became in a few years and is still an annual general meeting for the majority of German Catholic societies. This appears from the programme of every German Catholic Congress. As long as the Catholic Congress was principally a representative general meeting of Catholic societies, its proceedings were chiefly discussions and debates and the number of those who attended was relatively small. This was the case in the first decade of its existence. Still even at this time one or more public mass-meetings were held at each Congress, in order to arouse the interest of the Catholic population of the place of assembly and its vicinity. The most celebrated address of the first decade was made in 1849 at Ratisbon by Döllinger on the "Independence of the Church." The most important of the early German Catholic Congresses was the session held at Vienna, 1853.
Owing to epidemics and political difficulties up to 1858 the congress met irregularly and the attendance decreased so that its future appeared doubtful. After 1858, however, the congress rose again in importance while at the same time its character gradually changed. It became a general assembly of German Catholics, and the attendance greatly increased. In these changed conditions the public sessions devoted to oratorical addresses from distinguished speakers as well as the private sessions for deliberation grew in importance. In these years Catholic Germany could boast of several very eloquent orators, the best among whom were Moufang, Heinrich, and Haffner, theologians of Mainz, and after these Lindau, a merchant of Heidelberg. The participation by the Catholic nobility in the meetings made them socially more impressive. The most striking speech of this period was made at Aachen in 1862 by Moufang on the "Duties of Catholic Men." Among the subjects debated the school and education aroused the most feeling; in connexion with these great discussions great attention was given, under the guidance of Dr. Hülskamp, editor of "The Literarischer Handweiser", to the development of the press and popular literature. Since the Frankfort Congress of 1863 the labour question has occupied more and more of the attention of the assembly.
The hope awakened in the hearts of Catholics by the apparently victorious progress of the Catholic movement in Western Europe gave special inspiration to the gatherings of these years. A similar congress was held by the Swiss Catholics ; a more important development was the resolve of the Belgian Catholics, instigated by the success of the German Catholic Congress near them at Aachen, to hold Catholic congresses for Belgium and to invite the most distinguished Catholic men of the entire world to participate. The intention was to form a central point for the Catholic movement of Western Europe and to give it a perpetual organization, making it an international movement, so that in the future Catholics of all nations could work together. The chief organizer of the preparatory plans was Ducpétiaux. The first Belgian congress was held at Mechlin, 18-22 August, 1863, and was a great success. The most prominent champions of the Church in Europe attended the Belgian Congresses: Montalembert, Prince Albert de Broglie, Cardinals Wiseman and Manning, the two Reichenspergers ( August and Peter ) and Kölping, the Abbé Mermillod; representing the United States were Bishop Fitzpatrick, of Boston, and L. Silliman Ives, of New York. Reports on the Catholic life and work of every country were presented: much time was devoted to the discussion of social questions, and decided differences of opinion were expressed. The most brilliant success was achieved by two discourses by Montalembert on "A Free Church in a Free State." A second congress took place in September of the next year, and the intention was to hold yearly meetings; but already the first clouds of internal conflict among Catholics began to appear. According to their views on political liberalism and modern science, men's minds drifted apart. Henceforth Catholics could not be gathered together for a common meeting. The only later congress was held at Mechlin in 1867; the Swiss assemblies also ceased after a short time, so that soon the German Catholic Congresses were the only large assemblies of the kind. At the Bamberg Congress, 1868, a standing Central Committee was formed, which gave a permanent form of organization to the German Catholic gathering.
Development in France
Towards the end of the sixties a third period of progressive development began, due to the increasing interest of Catholics in social problems and the growth of the spirit of association among Catholic workmen. In Belgium, in 1867, it was decided to form a union of all workmen's associations in order to systematize their development and growth. A standing committee was formed, and a first congress was called to meet at Mons in 1871. Its object was to strengthen and aid the movement for organization among workingmen, and at the same time to give it a Christian character and to enable workingmen to make their views and wishes effective. The work grew rapidly in importance; up to 1875 the president was Clément Bivort, and over 50,000 workingmen were connected with it. The most successful congress was that held in 1875 at Mechlin. After this, the organization declined, partly it would seem, because, instead of following purely practical economic ends, under French influence politics were introduced; so much weight was raid on the religious element that social interests did not receive their due, because the members were not agreed as to the intervention of the State in socio-economic activities, and because sufficient consideration was not given to the growing independence of workingmen. A Catholic workingmen's movement also sprang up in the great German industrial region of the Lower Rhine; this did not grow into a national convention, but it exerted its influence at the meetings of the general Catholic Congress, especially at the one held at Düsseldorf, 1869. In France there was formed an "Union des associations ouvrières catholiques" for the purpose of promoting all Catholic efforts and "to develop a race of Christian workingmen's families for the Church and State ".
The first congress of this association was held at Nevers, 1871, but it never grew to much importance, although a permanent central office was founded, and special committees were appointed to encourage sports, clubs for study, etc. The association laid undue stress on the cultivation of religious life, and did nothing to develop social economics in connexion with politics and but little for the class interests of workingmen; it was hardly more than a confraternity. In Northern France it succeeded owing to personal influence. The "Cercles d'ouvriers catholiques", founded by the Comte de Mun in 1873, were much more successful. De Mun desired to unite in these cercles the best mechanical and agricultural labourers, to bring them under the influence of educated practical Catholic gentlemen, so that, led by the latter, the workingmen might exert a social and political influence in the world of labour. At the same time he wished the organization to frame and advocate a distinct plan of social reforms. From 1875 the work of advocating reforms fell chiefly to the annual sessions which were composed of the delegates of the "Secretariates" of the circles, the deputies from all the circles of the province, and Catholic dignitaries who were interested in social questions. The sessions for deliberation had an average attendance of from three to four hundred members, and the public meetings were often attended by several thousand persons. The assemblies were managed by the Comte de Mun, assisted by the Marquis de la Tour du Pin, M. de la Guillonnière, and M. Florroy. These meetings and the work of the various circles first spread among French Catholics correct conceptions of social problems. The practical social results became, however, gradually smaller. With the help of the congress De Mun gradually worked out a complete social programme; by means of industrial associations, with perfect freedom of organization, laws were to be obtained granting to the working classes proper representation in the political bodies of the country, effective measures were to be taken to aid workmen by means of insurance and the regulation of wages, their corporal and mental well-being were to be protected by Sunday rest, limitation of working-hours, etc.; compulsory arbitration in disputes between masters and workmen was to be legally enforced. The programme is noteworthy because it included reform of taxation, and also because it aimed to aid agricultural labourers as well as mechanics. De Mun's main mistake was, that he refused on principle to allow the workingmen to organize independently, and permitted only organizations common to workingmen and employers. Although apparently the congresses just described and the societies connected with them were the proofs of the growth in strength of the economic movement, yet in their first development they did not advance far enough to be able to impress their character upon the Catholic congresses of the third period. This was defined by the further growth of the general Catholic conventions. After the successful settlement of the differences in the Church by the Vatican Council, in consequence of the Kulturkampf, the German Catholic Congresses regained their former importance with a religious enthusiasm never before witnessed. At the same time the French Catholics also started general congresses.
Download Now >
During the siege of Paris by the Germans, a committee had been formed in the city to protect Catholic interests against the danger from anti-religious and revolutionary sects. In a circular of 25 August, 1872, this committee proposed that all forms of Catholic associations of the country and all French Catholic organizations should create a general representative body for the purpose of defending their common interests. This circular led to the convening of the first "Congrès des comités catholiques" at Paris, 1872, and the sessions of this body were held annually until 1892. They were originally presided over by M. Bailloud, their founder, afterwards by Senator Chesnelong. The congress, divided into different sections, busied itself with purely religious questions, with teaching, education, the press, and social subjects. A large part of the attention of these assemblies was given to the non-governmental schools, and much was done for them. On the other hand, the incessant and vehement agitation of the assemblies against free, obligatory, lay instruction had no apparent effect. The French, like the German congresses, received strong encouragement from the pope, and the bishops ardently promoted them. Nevertheless, owing to its composition, the French congress never attained the importance of the German assemblage. Although intended to be a union of all the Catholic forces of France, it drew together only the Monarchists. For although its constitution excluded politics, nevertheless, as the circular of August, 1872, said, it supported the Conservative candidates as a matter of course. The connexion with the Royalists made the congress unfruitful also in social questions; its social political position was not sufficiently advanced, and it offended the classes that were fighting their way up. When it became evident that the Royalist party had failed, the congress declined with it. The sessions ceased when Leo XIII, on receiving the congratulatory telegram of the congress of 1892, expressed the hope that, following his wishes, they should uphold the Republican constitution. The place of the former organization was taken by the "Congrès nationaux catholiques". The first session, held at Reims, was a preparatory one; this was followed by two congresses at Paris, 1897 and 1898. Both their organization and aim were the same as those of the congress of the "Comités catholiques", but the political views held were different; the meetings were gatherings or "Ralliés", that is, of Royalists who had become Republicans and of Christian Democrats. The history of this organization is, briefly, that of the "Ralliés" movement, and it went to pieces with the latter. A working together in the congress of those who were democrats from honest conviction, the politically indifferent "New Catholics ", and the "Ralliés", or "Constitutional Righters", who obeyed the papal command against inclination and conviction, proved to be impossible. The "Christian Democrats" met separately, in 1896 and 1897, at Lyons and received the blessing of Leo XIII . But it was found that the views of the members were too divergent to make a continuation of these assemblies profitable. The meetings of the "Cercles d'ouvriers" also came to an end through the failure of the "Ralliés" or "Constitutional Right ". From the decade 1880-90 these circles, like those of the "Union des associations ouvrières", were gradually transformed by their leaders into pious confraternities, and the clergy sought to control them more than was wise, making the members feel like irresponsible children. Most of the members of the circles were Royalists, and few of them obeyed the suggestion of the pope as sincerely as did De Mun. In 1892 the congress assembled for the last time ; but even before this, of the 1200 still existing circles, a part had combined with the new diocesan organizations, and a part with the "Association catholique de la jeunesse française".
The fourth and latest period in the development of the Catholic Congresses dates from the last years of the nineteenth century. About 1890, the year when the "People's Union [ Volksverein ] of Catholic Germany " was founded, the Catholic social movement reached its full strength and became the leading factor among German Catholic societies. Its influence was well shown by the multiplying of Catholic societies in all directions; it shaped the form and aims of organization, checked the spirit of particularism, induced the societies to combine in a united body, and brought thousands of new members into the branch associations, while directing Catholic organization more and more toward practical social work. The meetings of the congresses are the tangible sign of this social movement; their increase in strength and influence is furthered by the growing interest of the civilized world in all kinds of congresses. It is owing to the centralized, many-sided propaganda of the well-organized "Volksverein", with its 600,000 members, that the German Catholic Congresses have been so successful. The aims of the societies are limited to social work of a practical character, and the annual meetings are held on one of the five days of the session of the Catholic Congress and at the same place. Since the Mannheim Congress of 1892 the meetings of the congresses have been attended by larger numbers of workmen than any other such conventions in Europe, from twenty-five thousand to forty thousand being present at the sessions, the number at a single session often reaching ten thousand persons. In Austria after two decades of hard struggle Christian socialism finally reached success. After 1867 it was for a long time almost impossible to hold a Catholic convention in Austria ; now a General Catholic Congress is held every other year, while numerous assemblies convene in the different states forming the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy; the general congress of November, 1907, attained nearly as much influence over public opinion as the German Congress; a speech of Burgomaster Luegers of Vienna started the "high-school movement" which has since greatly agitated Austria. Since 1900 a Catholic Congress has been held annually in Hungary ; in Spain since 1889 Catholic assemblies have met from time to time; in Switzerland, after suspension for a generation, the first general congress was held in 1903 on the basis of an excellent organization. In 1908 the Danish Catholics of the Copenhagen district met for the first time to discuss their school interests. Before this, in 1886 and 1889, they had met for anniversary celebrations, the first time, in 1886, in conjunction with representatives from Sweden and Norway. About the close of the nineteenth century a congress was held in Italy representing all the Catholic organizations of that country. Not only among the above-named great nations of Europe has Catholic zeal led to the meeting of general congresses, but on both sides of the ocean hardly a year passes in which the Catholics of some country do not unite in a public congress.
Help Now >
However numerous and large these assemblies, whether general or special, have been, they do not represent the whole number of Catholics who take an interest in social reorganization. Catholics have taken a prominent part in many movements which have an interdenominational, universal Christian, or neutral character, because this form of organization can lead to better results. Among these may be mentioned the "Christian Trade Unions" of Germany, the "Christian Farmers' Unions" of Germany and Austria, and the "Société d'économie sociale et union de la paix sociale" of France, founded by Le Play, in 1856, with annual congresses since 1882. A German branch is the "Gesellschaft für sozial Reform" (founded 1890), which gives its attention largely to scientific investigations, but has at times also had much influence on legislation; besides these may be cited the "Workingmen's Gardens", founded in 1897 by Abbé Lemire, with international congresses in 1903 and 1906; the work of the "Raiffeisen Bank" (international assemblies at Tarbes, 1897, and Paris, 1900); the "Anti-Duelling Society ", founded by Prince Löwenstein, the last international convention being held at Budapest, 1908; and the association for suppressing public vice, which held an international congress in 1908.
II. INTERNATIONAL CONGRESSES
The forerunner of the international congresses of the present was the Mechlin general congress of 1863-64. Since then international Catholic congresses of general scope have been abandoned as unlikely to be profitable, and it has been sufficient, especially as between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, to invite a few foreign representatives. It was only by limiting the scope of discussion to a few topics, especially religious, that it has been possible to hold Catholic congresses of an international character. Among the best known of these assemblies is the "Eucharistic Congress", the aim of which is to increase and deepen the love of Christ in every way tolerated by the Church : by general communions, general adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and discussion of the best means of increasing devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Between its sessions the Eucharistic League endeavours to promote and intensify Eucharistic devotion in the various dioceses in which it is organized. Nineteen of these meetings have been held since the first in Lille in 1881, most of them being preponderatingly French, the inspiration of the first coming from Mgr. de Ségur. The first to attract the attention of the Catholic world was that held at Jerusalem in 1893, and they have since grown more solemn and influential. A general congress was held at Rome, 1905, another at Metz, 1907, and one in London 9-13 September, 1908. Both Leo XIII and Pius X manifested great interest in these congresses. Less successful, however, was the attempt of Leo XIII, by means of international congresses, to make the Third Order of St. Francis once more a great socio-religious influence. After he had indicated his plan of Christian social politics in his encyclical "Novarum rerum", he hoped to change the Third Order of St. Francis from a purely pious organization into an instrument for the regeneration of society such as it had been in the thirteenth century. For a time efforts were made, especially in France, to carry out this ambition of the pope. A committee met at Valdes-Bois, July, 1893, at the call of the Minister-General of the Franciscans, and under the presidency of Léon Harmel a plan of action was drawn up: several meetings were held in France, and in 1900 an international congress met at Rome. After this the movement came to an end. The political-social scientists, who were too much absorbed in their political schemes, were unable to grasp the grandeur of the pontiff's idea, and the Tertiaries clung to their accustomed exercises and preferred to remain a pious confraternity rather than to transform themselves into a world-wide religious and social organization.
For a time the Congress of Catholic Savants had nearly as successful a career as the Eucharistic Congress. This was also of French origin, and founded by Mgr. d'Hulst , rector of the Institut Catholique at Paris, in pursuance of a suggestion of Canon Duilhé de Saint-Projet. The founders meant to prove to mankind that Catholics, instead of being opposed to science, were vigorously active in scientific work; to show the harmony of faith and science, and to stimulate the slackened interest of Catholics in science. The plan of the congress was, therefore, largely apologetic ; it received the approval of Leo XIII, and from 1888 the sessions were triennial. The first two meetings, at Paris, had an attendance, respectively, of 1605 and 2494 persons ; the third congress, at Brussels, 2518; the fourth, at Fribourg, in Switzerland, 3007; the fifth, at Munich, 3367; a sixth was to be held at Rome, 1903, but it did not take place. Originally this congress was divided into six sections; theology, philosophy, law, history, natural sciences, anthropology; four more were added later; exegesis, philology, biology, and Christian art. The character of the international congress of Catholic physicians which met at Rome, 1900, was largely religious.
International meetings are also held by the "Association catholique internationale pour la protection de la jeune flue", a society that looks after young girls who are seeking employment, guards them from dangers, and aids in their training and secures employment for them. It was founded by a Swiss lady, Frau von Reynold, 1896-97. Up to 1897 the sessions were at Fribourg, Switzerland ; 1900, at Paris ; 1902, at Munich ; and in 1906, again at Paris. Fribourg, Switzerland, is the headquarters of the society. Ten countries are represented in it, among them Argentina, South America. Each national society holds its own annual meeting; the French branch, formed in 1898, alternately in the provinces and at Paris ; the German, founded 1905, at the session of the Strasburg Catholic Congress in connexion with the Charities Congress. Among national Catholic assemblages may be also included the so-called "Social Week" started by the "Volksverein" (People's Union) of Catholic Germany. Its sessions were held annually, 1892-1900, with the exception of 1897, in different places. About a week was given to an introduction to practical social work. The original attendance of 582 in time rose to about 1000. The sessions were devoted not to discussions, but to instructive lectures and the answering of questions, thus making what might be called a popular travelling school. But a week was too short a period of instruction, and the constant change of place made it difficult to obtain good teachers, consequently a permanent home was given to the association at München-Gladbach, and the annual session was made a two months' course in political economy . A limited number of men and women selected by a committee of the "Volksverein" assisted at these lectures. Since 1904 the shorter courses, in improved form, have been resumed in addition to the longer ones, and the attendance has largely increased. The French Catholics were the first to imitate this example, holding a similar assembly at Lyons in 1904; since then sessions have been held at various places, that of 1907 being at Amiens, and the next at Marseilles. The best of their national economists give their assistance; the programme differs from the German in as much as the topics treated are not exclusively practical, but that the lectures include the philosophical and religious premises of modern social politics, and the part Christians should take in political life. The movement spread to the other Romance countries during 1906-08, and also to Belgium and Holland, and made great progress, thanks to the efforts of Professor Toniolo in organizing a social-science week at Pisa, followed by a larger meeting at Pistoja in October and another at Valencia in December, 1907. In France, Spain, and Italy, this social-science week will hereafter be held according to a joint programme.
III. NATIONAL CATHOLIC CONGRESSES France
Since 1898 the French Catholics have held provincial conventions in place of general congresses, and since the separation of Church and State, these have given place to diocesan conferences. Such gatherings have been held in about half of the dioceses, the most important being those of the Archdiocese of Paris. Their aim is to unite all Catholic social societies, especially those for the young which in many dioceses have a large membership. In results they are not as effective as general Catholic congresses, but they seem rather to tend to supply what has hitherto been lacking in France, a steady and even attention to details, as the Volksverein has done in Germany, eloquent orations giving place to quiet, practical work. This would be an important result. On the other hand, it is possible that the inclination of the French to overburden even socio-political societies with religious issues, to give them a denominational aspect, and place them under strict clerical control, may be kept alive by the diocesan societies. Before this the impulse to permanent organization came from a congress, whereas now the bishop or an ecclesiastic commissioned by him is the head of the diocesan committee, and the parish priest of the parish committee.Religious Congresses
In certain French dioceses e.g. at Paris, 1902-1908, special diocesan Eucharistic Congresses have been held. A "Congrès national de l'œuvre des Catéchismes" was held at Paris under the presidency of Mgr. Amette, Archbishop of Paris, 24-26 February, 1908. Seventy dioceses were officially represented, and the attendance was over 2000. It was reported that 20,000 lay catechists, chiefly women, voluntarily assisted the French clergy in the religious instruction of the young. These teachers are united in an archconfraternity, publish a periodical, and receive special preparatory training. Charitable and social care of the families of the pupils is united with the catechetical work.Sociological Congresses
The "Union des associations ouvrières catholiques" has held, since 1871, annual meetings attended by about 500 delegates. The "Association catholique de la jeunesse française", founded in 1886 by Robert de Roquefeuil, which aims to gather together the Catholic youth of the country, in order to strengthen them in their Faith and to train them to do their duty in the struggle for the reorganization of French society in a Christian spirit, has held several hundred interesting meetings. They have served in part to spread a more thorough knowledge of certain social truths or of certain important problems of religious life ; but they have principally made known the work of the "Jeunesse catholique" throughout France. Their assemblies which took up the first mentioned class of subjects were held at Châlons, 1903, where trusts were discussed; at Arras, 1904, which discussed mutual benefit schemes; at Albi, 1905, regulations governing the labour of youthful workmen was the topic; and at Angers, 1908, the agrarian movement. The treatment of these problems at these conventions was excellent. The meetings held to amuse interest in the membership were chiefly provincial, only a few being national assemblies. The growth of the association is best shown by the national conventions: Angers, 1887, 17 groups having 782 members were represented; Besançon, 1898, 25 groups with 16,000 members; Bordeaux, 1907, 180 groups with 75,000 members. There has been a great increase since the meeting at Besançon, chiefly by the admission of young mechanics and farm labourers as well as of the student class. The association has placed itself in all things under the guidance of the Church authorities, consequently, its social as well as its religious activities rest on a denominational basis without any further enunciation of principles, and it has always been very favourably regarded both by the bishops and the Roman authorities. The "Jeunesse catholique" has not been undisturbed by the political troubles of French Catholics. At the congress of Grenoble, 1892, it accepted unconditionally the advice of Leo XIII, but declared at the same time that, in accordance with its statutes, the association had nothing to do with party conflicts. Some of the groups, however, still adhere to the Monarchists. Fortunately, these differences of opinion have not checked the development of the society, the religious and social influence of which on the youth of France is not equalled by that of any other organization.
About the close of the nineteenth century Marc Sangnier and some of his friends founded the society called the "Sillon" (the Furrow). Convinced that in future democracy, which they took as their ideal, would rule the State and society, and desiring to prevent its degeneration under bad and godless leaders, while hoping to keep it from turning against the Church, these young men resolved to build up a democratic constituency of high-minded Christians devoted to the Church and well-informed on political and social questions. The idealism characteristic of the "Sillon" has gained for it the respect of the working-classes. In the beginning the tendencies of the society were not clear, as was shown in the first four general meetings: Paris, 1902; Tours, 1903; Lyons, 1904; Paris, 1905. More definiteness of plan was evident at the later gatherings, Paris, 1906; Orléans, 1907; and especially at Paris, 1908, giving promise that the "Sillon" would develop into a socio-political party taking an active part in national politics. This explains why it asserted its independence of the bishops and intention always to support any political measure that may aid in improving the condition of the working-classes, and especially all efforts aiming at thorough social regeneration and a genuinely democratic form of society and government. Only in this way, it is held, will the workman be able to obtain an equal share of the material, intellectual, and moral possessions belonging to the whole nation. Collectivism is absolutely rejected by the association. The growth of the "Sillon" into an independent socio-political party, its refusal to be "avant tout catholique" aroused the distrust of some of the bishops. Consequently the clergy held back from it. Nevertheless, the membership did not fall off. The first congress represented 45 members; the second, 300; the third, 800; the fourth, 1100; the fifth, 1500; the sixth, 1896. The "Fédération gymnastique et sportive des patronages catholiques de France" intended to aid all Catholic societies in honour of a local saint by arranging sports for the members of the patronage has held annual meetings since 1898 when the federation began in a union of 13 patronages; the number is now 450, representing 50,000 young people in all parts of France.Political Congresses
The "Action libérale populaire", founded by M. Piou on the basis of the Associations Law of 1901, is a political association led by him with much skill and energy. Its task is to defend civil rights derived from the Constitution in all legal ways, to promote reform in law-making by energetic work at elections, to develop or create anew sociological influence and methods, and to improve the lot of the workingman. Only Catholics are members, but it claims that it is not a " Catholic party." Its first general session convened at Paris, December, 1904, with 900 delegates representing 648 comitiés or branches and 150,000 members. The statistics for the following years are as follows: Paris, 1905, 1400 delegates from 1000 comités with 200,000 members; Lyons, 1906, 1600 delegates representing 1500 comités and 225,000 members: Bordeaux, 1907, 1740 comités with 250,000 members. The proceedings of all four congresses were of great interest. The society, conducted by a central committee, is divided into provincial and town committees which, though controlled by the general committee, are allowed much independence of action. Besides assiduous efforts to educate the voter the society has turned its attention more and more to practical sociological work, as the discussions held at the various congresses show. The reactionary methods which so greatly damaged the Monarchists have never been adopted. However, the growth of the association has not equalled expectations, because at the first election which took place after its establishment (1906), while the "Action libérale" did not disappoint its friends, the parties of the Right, without the aid of which it could not succeed, were completely defeated at the polls. Besides, the distrust of many Frenchmen was aroused because in order to gain numerical strength it admitted as members many who, until their reception into its ranks, had been known as opponents of the Republic.The Women's Movement
The "Ligue patriotique des Françaises", formed in 1901, to collect funds for the election expenses of the candidates of the "Action libérale populaire", aims to arouse interest among women in the efforts of the "Action" to defend civil liberty and to promote sociological activity. Since then the league has declared that it does not pursue political ends. The movement had as its leaders such able women as the Baroness Reille, Mademoiselle Frossard, Mademoiselle de Valette, and others, and in 1908 the league numbered 700 branches with 328,000 members, 28,000 more than in 1906. The league holds numerous district sessions and an annual general meeting. At the last two annual sessions at Lourdes, 2000 women attended. The addresses and discussions at these conventions show that the attention of the league is more and more fixed on attaining practical social ends. This, however, is made more difficult by the mistaken conception that all Catholic Frenchwomen, because they are Catholics, should belong to the league; consequently, the programme lacks definiteness, and many problems are taken up in a hesitating and incomplete manner. Moreover, this policy prevents a correct perception of the sociological character of the organizations in question and their accommodation to the needs of the workingman. They are turned too much into the direction of charitable and benevolent activities. The work of the league in social economics is as yet only in its infancy. The "Jeanne d'Arc" Federation aims to unite all Catholic women of France who take up questions of social betterment, in an annual assembly for exchange of views and combined effort. Since 1901 a well-attended annual meeting has been held at Paris, but so far has resulted only in an interchange of opinion and resolutions. This is due to the fact that the federation has no regular and recognized authority over the manifold associations affiliated in it.Educational Congresses
Up to 1908 three congresses of French priests had been held: Saint-Quentin, 1895; Reims, 1897; Bourges, 1898. The first, which differed in aims from those following, met at the suggestion of Léon Harmel and confined itself to considering the share the clergy should take in the efforts to better present social conditions. The attendance was about two hundred. The two following congresses called by the Abbé Lemire, supported by the Abbé s Dabry, Naudet., Gibier, Lacroix, had an attendance of from six hundred to eight hundred persons. Questions touching the sacerdotal life were discussed: training of the clergy ; continuation of clerical studies; activity in the cure of souls ; organization to secure a continuous succession of clergy ; priests' unions; mutual aid societies, etc. The conventions were presided over by bishops, Leo XIII sent his blessing, and the influence on the younger clergy was excellent. There was much opposition to them, however, on the part of some of the bishops and some of the older clergy, and especially on the part of the Conservatives in politics. The "Congrès de l'Alliance des grands-séminaires" met at Paris, 21-22, July, 1908, the questions taken up were mainly the preparatory training of the clergy in letters and in ascetic life. Conventions of delegates of the teachers of higher and elementary schools not under State control, the "Syndicats et associations de l'enseignement libre", met: at Bordeaux, 1906; Poitiers, 1907; Paris, 1908. At Paris, the delegates represented 2300 teachers belonging to teachers' unions and 3000 not connected with such organizations, from a teaching force of 20,000. Among the subject discussed were pedagogical questions, school-organization, instruction in industrial and high schools, matters of professional interest. The association of Catholic Lawyers has met yearly since 1876, the first session being held at Lyons, that of 1907 at Angers. Those legal questions are taken up which, at the moment, are of practical importance for the continuance of the Church as an organized society, for its endowment sand institutions. The "Alliance des maisons d'éducation chrétienne" aims to secure for independent schools those advantages which a centralized organization confers on those under State control. Up to 1908 the annual sessions were organized by Abbé Ragon, Professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris. The subjects discussed are methods of instr
Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2020 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.