ROME, DEC. 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Thanks to its 700,000 benefactors around the world, the international Catholic organization Aid to the Church in Need helps one out of every six seminarians in their studies for the priesthood, but the charity has been hard-hit by the current economic crisis.
Nonetheless, Secretary-General Pierre-Marie Morel remains hopeful.
In this interview with ZENIT, Morel talks about his first year leading Germany-based aid organization and his response to the current economic turmoil.
Q: Last January you gave up your post as vice president of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company in order to take over as secretary-general of Aid to the Church in Need. What were the broad lines of your work during the past year?
Morel: For the past year I have set myself to understand the issues involved. I began by listening, by systematically interviewing everyone who works for Aid to the Church in Need, not only in the central headquarters in Germany but also in our 17 national offices. This time that I spent with each individual has enabled me to form a preliminary idea of the priorities.
With its 300 full-time staff, assisted by numerous volunteers, both clerical and lay, our co-workers are one of the great strengths of this organization, with their commitment, their faith and their professionalism. This workforce is a treasure that we need to take good care of. That is why most of the actions we have taken relate to the staff and the means that are placed at their disposal.
Another of the major areas of our work during 2008 and one that should be completed in 2009 has been the establishment of a common IT system for our national offices. This is so that we can better understand our benefactors and better respond to our needs. Our benefactors are extraordinary. They are loyal and generous, for they know what is at stake and know the needs of the Catholic Church around the world. Today there are some 700,000 of them, and they support the pastoral mission of the Church through their faithful prayers. Every 27 seconds the Mass is celebrated somewhere in the world for their particular intentions, and in this way they support the great prayer of the Church, united with the Church in Heaven, in her prayer of supplication to make known the Good News of the Gospel, to bring peace and unity to the world and the relief of suffering.
Thanks to them, one seminarian in six around the world is able to train for the priesthood, the ordinary faithful can pray in chapels, and priests and religious can assume their pastoral mission. Thanks to them, we are able to respond positively to over 5,000 requests for help each year. I thank God for their loyal support.
Q: As secretary-general you are in a privileged position to witness the sufferings of the Church around the world, are you not? Is that not discouraging?
Morel: As we know, Christ gave his life for each one of us. The victory has already been proclaimed and it lies at the end of our journey. All the sufferings that we witness at first hand are the very soil and the seed of the Church. We are called upon to pray and adore in the name of and on behalf of those who cannot do so. We are at the heart of the mystery of the communion of the saints, and this is a powerful weapon against despair. At the social level, daily Mass and adoration recall us personally to this responsibility.
In hope we were saved, as St. Paul says to the Romans.
It's worth reading the encyclical "Spe Salvi" of our Benedict XVI. In Chapter 3, writing about Josephine Bakhita, he says: "The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time." Josephine was born in Darfur, Sudan. Kidnapped by slave traders, beaten till she bled, sold several times, she finally came to know a totally different Master and so was able to encounter God. "Now she had 'hope.'" the Holy Father tells us -- "no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: 'I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me -- I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.' Through the knowledge of this hope she was 'redeemed,' no longer a slave, but a free child of God." And so, discouraging? No! In hope! We are nurtured by the witness of St. Josephine Bakhita, and also of all the saints of today who are giving their lives for Christ, as we can bear witness at first hand.
Two weeks ago we were in Nairobi with my wife, Anne, for the congress of the African Family Life Federation led by its president, Danièle Sauvage. We were deeply impressed by the strength and the depth of the witness given by the representatives from the 17 countries involved, who were willing to work together to safeguard family values in line with the teaching of the Church. So there is hope for life.
In Palestine we met with Christians who command our admiration by asking nothing more than to be allowed to remain and pray on their own soil and thus to stay on as a sign of peace between all the communities. This is hope for peace.
In October I was in Lisieux with Anne for the beatification of Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. What an example they are for all parents in the world who choose life and who embrace the Lord's will in their day-to-day lives! Here is hope for the family.
In London's Westminster Cathedral I met with Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman of Bagdad and drew great hope from him, despite the precarious situation of Christians in Iraq. This is hope against all hope.
What great riches there were likewise in our meeting with the episcopal conference and the apostolic nuncio in Russia, who need our aid so that they can continue to advance their pastoral programs. This is the hope of those who trust.
After Gethsemane, after Good Friday, there is the resurrection!
Q: For some months now a grave economic and financial crisis has befallen the world. What consequences do you envisage for Aid to the Church in Need?
Morel: Faced with such events, we have two options. Either pessimism, turning in on ourselves and giving up; or else the response of those who know that from every evil God can draw good. This is my response. Last month I launched the program Cape 2012, in order to mobilize all our forces within Aid to the Church in Need to confront this crisis. This program was put to the directors' committee and to the General Council of Aid to the Church in Need which met in Rome last week. For if the economic crisis is affecting the major industrialized nations, then we know well that it is the poorer countries who are the first victims of it.
We estimate that by 2012 we are going to need €100 million ($144.12 million) in order to meet all the needs. We have a shortfall of €20 million ($28.82 million) per year. The growth in donations will come from our existing national offices, but also from new offices wherever Christians are able to take part in this extraordinary movement of solidarity.
Faced with this urgent need, I call on all our benefactors to pray. And I ask them, from 2009 onwards, to give €1 ($1.44) per month extra and each of them to find one new benefactor and explain to this person just why there is this great need.
In parallel with this, we are instituting a program for cutting our expenses, so that we can devote the maximum possible amount of funds to the projects. In this way, by the grace of God who has never abandoned us, we are facing the future with confidence, and with this unprecedented mobilization of forces we have high hopes of meeting the demand.
Q: You spoke of new offices. What particular countries are you thinking about?
Morel: There are numerous and complex factors to be taken into account in regard to establishing new offices. First of all the existing national offices have plans to develop. After that, new countries could become d onor countries in the coming years.
We are currently studying a number of potential countries.
Q: It is said that after the death of their founder, organizations always go through a difficult period. How has it been with Aid to the Church in Need since the death of Father Werenfried?
Morel: That is true. As with every organization in the world, the loss of its founder is a painful period and overcoming it involves humility, commitment and prayer.
Aid to the Church in Need has had the good fortune to have been raised by Pope John Paul II to the status of a public association of the faithful, attached to the Congregation for Clergy. Under the guidance of our new president, Father Joaquin Alliende Luco, this close bond with the Church has been and remains a determining factor in the fidelity of Aid to the Church in Need to the original charism of its founder and the unity of its members within the bosom of the Catholic Church.
Finally, its financial independence makes Aid to the Church in Need an organization that is totally free in the service of the universal Church.
Q: We are now coming to the end of this interview. Is there anything you would like to say to us for this New Year?
Morel: This is the year of St. Paul. For Aid to the Church in Need it is interesting to note that the community to which Paul remained the most attached was that of the Philippians. Although imprisoned there, and then released, St Paul retained numerous contacts with those who had organized financial support to help him in his work of evangelization. Our benefactors are the Philippians of today! Let us hear again the words of St. Paul to the Philippians in Chapter 4: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
May these words of St. Paul to the Philippians be the program for us all in 2009 so that we can remain the messengers of hope that the world needs.
A happy Christmas feast and a good and holy New Year 2009 !
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