By Fr. Pierre Cibambo Ntakobajira, Ecclesiastical Assistant to Caritas Internationalis
This week Caritas is eagerly awaiting Pope Francis’ encyclical, ‘Laudato Si‘, the Care of our Common Home. It seems many other people around the world are also very interested in this document. It’s like there’s an urgent need for global leadership as those who have been elected stewards of the environment and promoters of human ecology have been ineffective and there is anything but harmony in the world.
One of the core themes of Caritas’s work is helping communities to respond to and be prepared for the impact of climate change, but our work goes far beyond environmental issues. It’s about redressing imbalances in the world and creating harmony in God’s creation.
When you damage the environment you damage everything. We need air to breathe and food to eat. How do we survive if we attack what sustains us and the rest of creation? Just as we’re one as humanity we also need to be at one with our environment. It’s about lifestyle but also about restoring our relationship with God and Christ his beloved son who is living in the communities which are being battered by meteorological, economic and social injustice while much of the world turns its back on them.
Caritas’ mission is to serve, accompany and defend the poor, just as Christ did. Looking after creation means looking after the people on the margins, people who have no access to food, education and healthcare, those who suffer from oppression and discrimination. We not only save lives but as the Pope said, this isn’t enough, and Caritas works to ensure people can take their destiny in their own hands. We build resilient communities able to prevent or mitigate disasters – many of which are caused by climate issues such as floods, droughts and hurricanes. We promote the voices of the poor in our advocacy, not just by denouncing systems which hurt those in poverty but also by sharing and promoting best practices including in the fight against hunger and the protection of our environment.
Our strategic vision for the next four years is One Human Family, Caring for Creation. This came about because we have felt a strong and continuous call from Pope Francis. He took his name in honour of St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation”. In Evangelii Gaudium he reminded us that our mandate as Christians is to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” and to restore our relationship with God because we’re not just beneficiaries but stewards of creation.
The Bible frequently draws our attention to lifestyle. For example it talks about how to eat. It teaches us to share and says that we mustn’t live “on bread alone”. We are also guided by the lives of the first Christian communities and how they shared resources in our work to restore global harmony.
The work of Caritas is about contributing to human flourishing. It’s about paying attention to future generations and fighting against what threatens life. The Holy Father has warned us again and again against the culture of waste and the ‘globalisation of indifference’ towards our neighbours. We cannot be Caritas without listening to this voice as we work in communion towards a globalisation of love and solidarity. We serve the poor whose Christ identified himself with! By serving the poor we serve our Master. We deliver a message of hope, just like Pope Francis will do with his encyclical and has been doing ever since his election. In this way, we are truly Caritas.