VATICAN CITY, 27 MAY 2011 (VIS) – This morning Benedict XVI received 400 participants of the General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis, with its president, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The Pope recalled that that agency, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, was founded by Pope Pius XII after the horrors of World War II “to demonstrate the solidarity and concern of the entire Church in the face of so many situations of conflict and emergency in the world”. Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II strengthened even more the ties linking the various national Caritas associations to one another and to the Holy See, granting public canonical juridical personality to Caritas Internationalis. “As a result, the international agency took on a particular role in the heart of the ecclesial community and was called to share, in collaboration with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, in the Church’s mission of making manifest, through practical charity, that love which is God himself”.
“Through such witness … the Church reaches out to millions of persons and makes it possible for them to recognize and sense the love of God, who is always close to every man and woman in need. For us Christians, God himself is the source of charity; and charity is understood not merely as generic benevolence but as self-giving, even to the sacrifice of one’s life for others in imitation of the example of Jesus Christ”.
Caritas Internationalis, the pontiff explained, “differs from other social agencies in that it is ecclesial; it shares in the mission of the Church. This is what the Popes have always wanted and this is what your General Assembly is called forcefully to re-affirm. It should be noted that Caritas Internationalis is basically made up of the various national Caritas agencies. In comparison with many Church institutions and associations devoted to charity, Caritas is distinctive. Despite the variety of canonical forms taken by the national agencies, all of them offer an outstanding aid to Bishops in their pastoral exercise of charity. This entails a particular ecclesial responsibility: that of letting oneself be guided by the Church’s Pastors. Since Caritas Internationalis has a universal profile and is canonically a public juridical person, the Holy See is also responsible for following its activity and exercising oversight to ensure that its humanitarian and charitable activity, and the content of its documents, are completely in accord with the Apostolic See and the Church’s Magisterium, and that it is administered in a competent and transparent manner. This distinctive identity remains the strength of Caritas Internationalis, and is what makes it uniquely effective”.
Then referring to the important role of that agency at the international level, the Pope affirmed that, thanks to the experience gained in these years, the Caritas members have learned to be “advocates within the international community of a sound anthropological vision, one nourished by Catholic teaching and committed to defending the dignity of all human life. Without a transcendent foundation, without a reference to God the Creator, without an appreciation of our eternal destiny, we risk falling prey to harmful ideologies”.
Caritas Internationalis is “an organization charged with fostering communion between the universal Church and the particular churches, as well as communion between all the faithful in the exercise of charity. At the same time it is called to help bring the Church’s message to political and social life internationally. In the political sphere – and in all those areas directly affecting the lives of the poor – the faithful, especially the laity, enjoy broad freedom of activity. No one can claim to speak ‘officially’ in the name of the entire lay faithful, or of all Catholics, in matters freely open to discussion. On the other hand, all Catholics, and indeed all men and women, are called to act with purified consciences and generous hearts in resolutely promoting those values which I have often referred to as ‘non-negotiable'”.
“It is within this greater horizon, then, and in close collaboration with the Church’s Pastors who are ultimately responsible for her witness of charity, that the national Caritas agencies are called to continue their vital witness to the mystery of God’s healing and transforming love made manifest in Jesus Christ. The same holds true for Caritas Internationalis, which can rest assured that it will enjoy the assistance and support of the Holy See – particularly through the competent dicastery, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum – as it strives to carry out its mission”.