During an informal audience at the Vatican on Thursday May 16, Pope Francis received executives from the Caritas Internationalis network. He reminded those gathered that “a Church without charity does not exist,” and underlined the “dual dimension” of the initiative that is Caritas Internationalis, that is, the dimension of social action joined with the spiritual dimension of “giving oneself, going outside oneself and being at the continuous service of people living in extreme situations.
The Pope said: “Caritas is the caress of the Church to its people, the caress of the Mother Church to her children, her tenderness and closeness. The search for truth and the study of the Catholic truth are other important dimensions of the Church, which are carried out by theologians and are then turned into catechesis and exegesis. Caritas is the love inside the Mother Church that approaches, embraces and offers love.”
He added that “Caritas is not just for emergency situations as a first aid agency. In the situation of war or during a crisis, there is a need to look after the wounded, to help the ill…but there is also a need to support them on an ongoing basis, to care for their development.” Regarding the financing of the social action of the Church, the Pope declared that, “If that is too expensive...we'd even have to sell the churches to feed the poorest of the poor.”
Development and Peace Executive Director expresses his concerns for North America to the Pope
Regional representatives of Caritas (from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America and Oceania) were invited to give short accounts of their work and share their hopes, challenges and concerns with the Pope. Michael Casey, Executive Director of Development and Peace and North American President of Caritas Internationalis, took part in the meeting and explained that North America is the smallest region since it only has two member nations: Canada and the United States.
“Although our countries have significant wealth, and devout Catholics express their solidarity with their brothers and sisters by supporting our work, there is nevertheless increasing inequality in our societies, reflected in the growing gap between the rich and the poor. The governments of both of our countries are gradually turning away from the concept of integral human development in order to put more emphasis on trade and investment. In this context, we believe our role includes speaking up for the poorest and most oppressed so as to make promoting human dignity and the needs of the most vulnerable a focal point of our governments’ international aid policies,” Mr. Casey explained.
A rewarding exchange with various Caritas representatives from the world over
During the hearing, the Pope initiated a question and answer exchange with various representatives of Caritas Internationalis. Caritas Africa President Bishop Francisco João Silota of Mozambique said his continent faced many problems and much sadness, but is also a region full of joy.
Sr Leonie Dochamou from Benin asked the Pope for advice on how best to serve the poor. Recalling the work of Don Bosco, Pope Francis replied that giving children the tools to escape their poverty through education was one way.
Caritas Middle East and North Africa President Joseph Farah spoke of the conflict in Syria, where tens of thousands of people have been killed, healthcare and education services have collapsed, hunger and disease are growing, and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes.
Houda Muasher of Caritas Jordan, whose country has received more Syrian refugees than any other country, said that the region was looking with great hope to the papacy of Francis.
Caritas Europa President Msgr Erny Gillen said that Europe faces an economic as well as a spiritual crisis and asked for guidance on how we should react to these crises. “Man is suffering the consequences of his instability,” said the Pope."Humanity is in danger, the human person, the flesh of Christ," he said. "Caritas' job, above all, is to realize this."
No to the culture “where whatever isn't useful gets tossed out in the trash”
The Pope said that today materialism has blinded us to the fact “people are still dying of hunger.” Instead of safeguarding and promoting creation in a way that improves and brings happiness to humanity, the world has established "a culture of disposal" where whatever isn't useful "gets tossed out in the trash." Those designated as useless include the poorest of the poor, children and the elderly, who are tossed aside "with this hidden euthanasia."
Lastly, the pope addressed the spiritual perspective of Caritas, stating that “at times our seriousness ‘over the pastoral’ causes us to lose this idea, which is the maternity of the Church. The Church is fundamentally ‘mother’ and for me, recovering this tenderness for the Church is the core to which the spirituality of Caritas must refer. The Church has always ended up with deviations, sects and heresies when it got too serious, that is, when it took things here too seriously and forgot about embracing and tenderness.”