At the invitation of Cardinal Robert Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, I attended the XXIX Plenary Assembly of Cor Unum in Rome, January 17-19, 2013. This was one of my first official duties as the new President, and proved to be very timely for me in terms of being very formative and spiritually nourishing. I was supported at the assembly by the guidance and expertise of Mr. Gilio Brunelli, Director, International Programs department. Copies of the agenda and many of the presentations made during the assembly are available. There is much information available for the Vatican website on the history and work of Cor Unum. What I will focus on in this report are some of my personal impressions and personal lessons learned. I will leave it for others, much more qualified than me, to comment on the theological and real implications of the key messages and topics discussed.
The assembly was opened on Wednesday morning by Cardinal Sarah, who presided over our gathering. It concluded on Saturday with a Eucharistic celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by an audience with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who also addressed the assembly. (Read his message or watch the video.)
I learned that Cor Unum is Latin for “One Heart”, the heart of God or the heart of Christ. As members of the Catholic family carrying out the mission of the church through caritas, we all act with one heart – the heart of Christ. Caritas was defined as the love of God, and our mission, though the work we do is to bring this love to others. While Caritas is often translated into English as “charity”, it does in fact mean much more than charity, and can include all the work we do for others in response to the Gospel.
Catholic organizations carrying out the mission of the Church – caritas- bring the love of Christ to others in the world. In order to bring this love of God to others, we must nourish the personal love relationship God has for each of us. The love of God we share is a love nourished by an encounter with Christ; centred on Christ and strengthened by our faith, we bring the love of Christ to the world. In the context of the New Evangelization, we are not necessarily asked to preach the Gospel message, but to live it, and by living it we are witnessing to God’s love and bringing it to others. I think of it as St. Francis said, “Go out and preach the Gospel; used words if you have to.”
During the assembly we heard presentations and had discussions on a number of topics. We discussed how humans rights have evolved in the world and different countries over the years. We were informed, that working within the new global ethics, even with the best of intentions, our work must be in harmony with our Catholic values. Society would have us support and cross thresholds, that must not be crossed or supported by Catholic organizations.
We were encouraged to strengthen the bond, or communion, of all involved in the Church’s mission of caritas. A communion that in a diocese revolves around the Bishop. The strengthening of this relationship is supported by the new Apostolic Letter from Pope Benedict XVI, issued Motu Proprio, On the Service of Charity. The latter also strengthens the responsibility of Bishops in carrying out the three-fold responsibility of the Church: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments and exercising the ministry of charity.
Personally, I found the assembly to be very informative and spiritually nurturing. Our days were lived in community where we celebrated the Eucharist together, worked together, and ate together. I experienced a real sense of our universal Church while at the same time discovering how small the world is, when it comes to our Catholic family working together to meet the needs of those living in poverty. It was a privilege to meet so many of our brothers and sisters from similar organizations from around the world. I met many members of our Caritas Internationalis family, and CIDSE (the network of Catholic development agencies).
Our assembly was provided with much food for thought and prayerful reflection. No doubt we can expect to learn more from the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, as we move forward in communion with the Church, our new Holy Father, and our Bishops. We will also be called upon to learn more about the new Motu Proprio referred to above, and work faithfully with our Bishops in implementing it with the Catholic Church in Canada.
I pray that we may truly be of One Heart – Cor Unum – as we continue to respond to the Gospel, particularly the preferential option for the poor.
In faith, peace and solidarity,
Pat Kennedy, President of the National Council