Deus Caritas Est The Church's Charitable Work and the Active Helpers
Cor Unum XXVII Plenary Assembly
28th February – Rome
Deus Caritas Est – The Church’s Charitable Work and the Active Helpers
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Reverend Monsignori, fathers and Religious, ladies and gentlemen:
I would like first of all to thank His Eminence, Cardinal Cordes and Cor Unum for the kind invitation to take part in this 27th Plenary Assembly and to contribute to this discussion.
I would also like on behalf of Caritas Internationalis to express our gratitude for your enormous contribution towards the understanding and ongoing analysis of Deus Caritas Est, which not only graciously acknowledges the leading role Caritas plays in the Church’s charitable works, but which also offers such profound insights into the raison d’etre for our work.
Pope Benedict sets out very clearly how he sees our role:
Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc. The Church’s charitable organizations, beginning with those of Caritas (at diocesan, national and international levels), ought to do everything in their power to provide the resources and above all the personnel needed for this work. (31a)
Providing the right personnel for this work is certainly one of the biggest challenges we face. As Cardinal Cordes points out in his paper, overcoming human poverty requires expertise in various fields, political ecological, medical, anthropological and administrative. In these respects, we need to be guided by professional qualifications in our choice of personnel. When it comes to personal qualities, we can be guided by Pope Benedict’s words:
We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. (31a)
“Heartfelt concern” is one of the most important qualities we seek and I like to think that it is a quality that typifies the Caritas worker as well as what moulds our work ethic.
Caritas workers, however, rarely arrive ‘perfectly formed’, either professionally or personally. We all benefit from an ongoing process of education and formation. Many of our Caritas organisations state clearly in their strategies that they aim to be learning organisations. Moreover, as workers in the Church’s charitable organisations we are blessed with some of the finest teachers – in the people, notably the poor, we serve.
My own experience in international development, living and working in some of the poorest countries in the world, has had a profound influence on my faith. Working alongside the poor, whatever their own religion happens to be, teaches us much about the core of what it means to be a Christian: humility, hope and love.
For me, one of the most powerful messages in DCE is the following passage:
The Christian's programme — the programme of the Good Samaritan, the programme of Jesus — is “a heart which sees”. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly. (#31b)
This passage encapsulates how Caritas strives to deliver humanitarian assistance in the many varied situations in which we find ourselves working. In fact, our Operational Plan for the next four years, adopted at our Executive Committee meeting in December is entitled “From the Heart”, inspired by these words.
Caritas works in some 200 countries around the world. A vital requirement for our workers is sensitivity to the rich diversity of peoples we seek to serve. This sensitivity is of course partly a factor of their professional competence, but it also comes from the heart, from “heartfelt concern”. The heart sees and acts accordingly.
Working with people of other faiths requires a special sensitivity and respect. As Pope Benedict says in DCE:
Those who practise charity in the Church's name will never seek to impose the Church's faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak.(#31)
The Pope calls on charitable organisations such as Caritas to reinforce this sensitivity and awareness in our members, “so that by their activity—as well as their words, their silence, their example—they may be credible witnesses to Christ.”(#31c)
This aspect of Christian witness – witnessing through our activity, witnessing through our silence – is a central component of the Caritas ethos. And it always has been. I therefore welcome this opportunity to discuss ways of reinforcing this understanding, and the importance of faith, of the “heart which sees”, alongside reason, which needs to inform that faith, and vice versa.
The rich diversity of experience of ‘faith in action’ that exists within our 162 member organisations gives Caritas a unique resource for this enterprise. And our hands-on, grassroots activity alongside the poorest and most vulnerable, those lying wounded in the ditch of whatever race or creed, gives Caritas a privileged space where the history of salvation happens as an experience of liberation. Our workers in Darfur, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Burma, Nepal, Somalia, Chad, Iraq and Lebanon embody the love of God to all humanity, and where our concern is the integrated development of the whole person.
In the spirit of subsidiarity that is one of Caritas’ guiding principles, I therefore plan to invite all of our member organisations to contribute their experiences, and their theological reflections on our work, which can be shared among us and form the basis of a programme of renewed formation in the faith that guides us. Our current Caritas leadership is well equipped to develop this theology of charity rooted in our reflection and learning with and alongside the poor.
In his stimulating paper, Cardinal Cordes points out the importance DCE places on the role our experience in delivering humanitarian aid plays in our formation and learning. As Cardinal Cordes says:
“The encyclical… sees the opportunity that charitable engagement offers collaborators for human maturity and education in selflessness.”
This is an important point and I believe it is just as relevant for our full-time employees as it is for volunteers.
Engagement in charitable work is in itself an essential part of the process of education and of “formation of the heart” of which the Holy Father too speaks. It is a ‘virtuous circle’ in which our concrete professional action and experience of service to those in need nurtures the “unselfish love” that is an essential requirement for those engaged in charitable work. This love derives from our faith : “faith which becomes active through love” (#31a)
To end, I would like once again to express my gratitude for this opportunity to say a few words about the centrality of faith for Caritas in everything we do. I am excited by the prospect of working with our numerous and highly diverse member organisations on this project of spiritual renewal and I look forward to sharing the results with you all. And as Secretary General of Caritas I will welcome your contributions and comments in this important endeavour enormously.
Secretary General CI
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