Caritas Internationalis 18th General Assembly
I personally carry home with me something particularly special: the honour of being chosen to serve as your new Secretary General. You may recall that in my introductory presentation on Monday, I likened this honour – and the obligations it brings with it – to the parable of the talents. One person who has epitomised the spirit of this parable is my predecessor, Duncan McLaren, who, after eight years’ service hands over a Caritas that is richer in so many ways. My warmest thanks to you Duncan. As a confederation our work over the coming four years will build on the foundations laid by so many, the out-going Executive Committee and Bureau, and notably our out-going President Denis Vienot and the late President, Archbishop Fouad El-Hage.
We also have a challenging strategic framework document for the next four years that leaves no doubt that I shall have plenty to occupy my time! In response to that strategy, I would like to outline where I feel we will need to place particular emphasis.
On Globalising Solidarity in Emergencies: Here we need to respond to the ever-increasing scrutiny under which global humanitarian agencies operate. We are accountable to our beneficiaries, our donors and the general public and must adapt to changing demands and demonstrate professional performance in accordance with international humanitarian standards and codes of conduct. I would like to see a strengthening of capacity in all Member Organisations working in disaster prone regions, as well as improvements in the Secretariat’s ability to provide co-ordination in major emergencies. In addition, we must build the Confederation's humanitarian advocacy capacity through greater participation and collaboration with other international actors, including NGO networks, SCHR, the United Nations family, and other faith and inter-faith based organisations, notably ACT and Islamic humanitarian NGOs.
On Integral Human Development: Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has pledged itself to ‘read the signs of the times’. One of these signs is the impact of climate change. For too long we have underestimated the scale, the urgency, and the impact of climate change, but we should not underestimate our capacity as the Church and as Caritas to address it, and the need to highlight the particularly devastating consequences it has for the poor. This is an economic issue, a migration issue, an issue of international human development, and a moral issue. We have a global reach and influence which government institutions do not have. Our work on climate change must be integral to our humanitarian and development programmes. It poses ethical questions which I believe we as the Church and our global confederation have an obligation to address.
Pope Benedict XVI at the World Day of Peace on 1st January this year said: “Humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the link between natural ecology and human ecology. Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human co-existence.”
Our action must be grounded in the belief that humankind has a duty of stewardship towards nature; most critical of all, in securing a socially just balance of responsibility between rich and poor. I believe the Caritas Confederation needs to assume its responsibility in nurturing these values. To this end, in close collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, we will need to develop and implement a Caritas policy on Environmental Justice.
On Building Sustainable Peace: Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes our era as a time of “radical brokenness”. War and conflict in failing states are still the cause of 50 percent of all deaths in Africa. The promotion of peace building needs to become the core competence of the Church and of Caritas.
Pope Benedict reminds us that the Church cannot remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. “She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice cannot prevail and prosper” (Deus Caritas Est # 28).
Caritas organisations should be known for our conflict transformation programmes and human rights monitoring. These need to challenge any cultural, local and national governance structures which undermine the ability of our communities to live sustainable and just lives. Furthermore, as pointed out by Benedict XVI, the role of working for a just society is properly in the hands of the lay faithful. “The mission of the lay faithful is to configure social life correctly, respecting legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competencies and fulfilling their own responsibility.” (Deus Caritas Est #29)
I believe, furthermore, that a crucial role of the Secretary General will be to co-ordinate the strengthening of advocacy capacity in the Caritas regions on good governance in peace building. We must promote Caritas links with civil society groups, ensuring work is sensitive to cultural and gender issues, involving poor people across rival ethnic and faith divisions in decision making.
There is also a role for Caritas in coordinating peace building and advocacy at international level, and promoting inter-faith dialogue and global campaigns on specific conflict issues.
Finally, on Adapting Structures, Processes and Finances of the Confederation: In the rapidly-changing operating environment of the 21st Century, the Secretariat in Rome needs to assess to what extent systems, procedures, structures, both financial and governance, are ‘fit for purpose’. Coordination is the primary role of the Secretary General and Secretariat staff. For this to be effective, financial and human resources and competencies need to match the demands being made on the Secretariat. We must have a clear mandate and well defined roles and responsibilities. Here my focus will be four-fold:
As I said before, there is much work to be done. It is an inspiring challenge. And after meeting so many of you here this week, I am more confident than ever of the strength of our Confederation, the richness and diversity of talents held within its Member Organisations, and above all, the love and commitment that drives it.
I also know that I shall be joining a highly committed team here in the Secretariat in Rome. I look forward to forging fruitful partnerships with our new Bureau and the Executive Committee, to whom I must say thank you for the trust you have shown in appointing me. I look forward to working with you all, and with all our regional secretariats, international working groups and commissions. During the next four years I hope to get to know many of you better and to see at first hand the important work that you do.
As this General Assembly draw to a close, I would like to reflect briefly on one of the lasting impressions I shall take away with me – and that is how we have shown so successfully this week the capacity for dialogue to create unity among diversity. At coffee breaks, meal times, in the corridors, there has been a real buzz of reaching out and engaging. Through conversation we build a world of shared significance – through the process of listening to another, sharing another perspective, we build trust and mutual respect. We don’t necessarily have to agree, but when we are willing to listen to one another, when we listen with the ear of our hearts, we often discover those universal values that unite us in our diversity. This offers us a vision of hope for what might be achieved if we could only reproduce this in the wider world. Through dialogue we recognise the love that makes us one humanity; we become ‘witnesses of charity’. And that recognition is the foundation upon which we can build peace.
The challenge for us now, as part of this great confederation, is to hold on to that unity when we return to our own individual parts of the globe – to maintain those bonds that have been rediscovered, renewed and strengthened during the course of this week. For it is all too easy to lapse back into the habits of self-interest and mistrust that separate us. Human beings need one another, we have an in-built need for community. But all too often that is translated into a narrow view of community that divides rather than unites us. Through dialogue and participation we can become aware of the bigger picture – the unity of humanity.
So as a starting point, let us continue the conversations, and the participation, that we have enjoyed this week. As your new Secretary General, I recognise that the participation and contribution of all our member organisations is our great strength and I shall do everything in my power to maintain that spirit of co-operation and dialogue that we have seen this week.
I appeal to you not to go back home and wait for Caritas Internationalis to deliver – this is our joint venture. We need one another. As I said in my presentation to you earlier in the week, my commitment to you as your new Secretary General is to promise that I shall do everything I can to ensure that when we gather here again in 4 years time you will be able to feel your talents have been multiplied.
I have found our celebrations of the Eucharist particularly moving this week and I would like to end with a few lines from the beautiful prayer from Campinas used by Msgr. Ntep in his homily.
“Dieu seul est la lumière mais tu peux la faire briller aux yeux de tous.
Documents Secretary General's Annual Report (June 2008) Caritas Europa 5th Migration Forum UNHCR High-Level Side Event on the Mexico Plan of Action Caritas Internationalis 18th General Assembly Catholic-inspired NGOs Forum Rome, 30 November 2 December 2007 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering International Plenary Speech by Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Deus Caritas Est The Church's Charitable Work and the Active Helpers