Spanish Charity "Manos Unidas" on Papal Lent Message

«From the Source of Baptism Springs the Water of Charity»

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2011 ( Here is a translation of the address delivered today by Myriam García Abrisqueta, the president of the Spanish charity «Manos Unidas» (United Hands), at the press conference that presented Benedict XVI’s 2011 message for Lent.

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First of all, and with absolute humility, I want to thank the Lord for being here for the presentation of the message of Benedict XVI to the universal Church in preparation for Lent 2011. It is a great honor for Manos Unidas that the Pontifical Council Cor Unum chose us on this occasion to accompany you, and I do so with the joy and emotion I feel to be able to share the treasure of our faith with you.

As the document points out, Lent is a time to revive — to live again or to live more intensely — the grace of baptism in us. From the source of baptism springs the water of charity — of gratuitous and selfless love — that through so many charitable associations of the Church distributes the gifts, goods, longings for justice and talents of the faithful among the poorest of the whole world. And I would like to give witness to this.

Man was created by God with an immense dignity, and has made us brothers of one another, his children, and that condition has also given us a heart sensitive to the needs of those nearest to us. He has given us a compassionate heart (which has the ability to move with genuine passion for the other). It is by keeping this bond of being children of God, this being anointed and chosen by baptism, and our being gifted with the gift of love, which enables us to explain the birth of Manos Unidas, which was born as a commitment that springs from the Christian vocation.

More than 50 years ago, the women of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), cried out for attention to hunger in the world. In a beautiful expression of the «feminine genius» in the Church, they published a manifesto in which they joined in a masterly way their natural desire and God’s action of love in them. Thus they saw themselves moved, by their nature and as mothers, to give and protect life, and as Catholic women called by Jesus Christ «to give witness of a universal and effective love for the human family.»[1] As a consequence of this manifesto, the women of Spanish Catholic Action initiated «the campaign against hunger,» which eventually became Manos Unidas.

They could not remain at peace seeing the suffering of men who lived and died without the right to full dignity to which they had been called.

And they began to work with a true spirit of sacrifice and service to make possible in Spain a greater awareness of love for one’s neighbor. They never thought they were doing something unusual other than what was expected of them in their condition of daughters of God, and so we continue to think like this today.

From the beginning they understood that they had to fight against the hunger for bread, the hunger for culture and the hunger for God; that they had to do so through the sensitization and education of our rich society, without forgetting the importance of small things, from domestic actions to cooperation with international organizations and to do so, at the same time, through concrete actions of development, where the dimension of love would always be present, as always, from our origin, we have thought that authentic development happens when a person is loved.

Since then, this association has continued to grow, and today it is a beautiful reality, in which thousand of men and women participate. Always united to the Church, in which it was born and to which it belongs.

Over time we have strengthened a profoundly ecclesial spirituality, because we wish to serve the Church, we wish to be an instrument to take the truth of Christ and of the Gospel to the world through the mission that the Church in Spain has entrusted to us: to foster the integral and authentic development of developing peoples, united to those who in one way or another participate in our work, apostolate and service.

Thus, this organization of the Church in Spain has been able to be by the side of men and women of more than 60 countries through some 25,000 development projects.

I would like to stress that what makes our work possible in so many projects and countries — collaborating with missionaries, local Caritas, religious Orders, local NGOs and grass-roots organizations — is the baptismal life that is developed in the Christian communities, as our work has its origin primarily in the gratuitousness of thousands of volunteers distributed in diocesan delegations, and by small collections made by the faithful in parishes and schools throughout Spain, in an infinity of small gestures of persons that, as the widow of the Gospel, in giving the little they have give everything.[2]

In fact, Manos Unidas is an institution made up of volunteers, given that, although there are professionals who work with us, the weight of the responsibility is that of the laity who in a gratuitous way, with a simple spirit of dedication, collaborate as volunteers in all the fields in which it is necessary to be present to carry out the mission entrusted to us. We can say with joy that in all the parishes and dioceses there are volunteers that, according to their capacities and possibilities, contribute their time, their knowledge and their sacrifice. Thus we join all persons of good will that share our dream of gratuitous commitment, especially in this year 2011, which the European Union has dedicated to volunteers and which marks the 10th anniversary of the United Nations’ Year of Volunteers.

With a spirit of faith and with great trust in Divine Providence, Manos Unidas has strengthened the spirituality of its volunteers rooted in our baptism which makes us be witnesses of a greater love, God’s love for men. A love that was expressed and materialized in the incarnation of the Word, assuming the condition of man, but who was not satisfied with that but wished to identify himself with those who have the least; «for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me.»[3]

This is the consequence of what the Holy Father calls «the joyful and enthusiastic adventure of the disciple.»[4] It is a clear example of the operating charity born from baptism. It is charity that is not lost in an intense but fleeting emotional act, but it is sustained by Grace over time.

Our work, discreet and certainly secondary in the charitable institutions of the Church, has no other purpose than to help the man of today to encounter Christ dead and risen, so that they discover that all, each in his own concrete situation, without distinctions of race, sex, color, culture, age, or formation, are called to live the life of Christ.

Manos Unidas, with the other institutions of the Church dedicated to charity, can help the man of today by opening channels for them to direct their good resolutions, their desire to serve and their authentic vocation. Charity, the Holy Father has told us, is «the best witness of God in whom we believe and who stimulates us to love.»[5]

When detachment, service, generosity, the desire to give oneself to one’s neighbor, are fostered in man’s heart, what is being fostered is rejection of that life that was buried with baptism, which is the life of sin and self-sufficiency that is borne within us.

I conclude these words, which I was asked to address on the occasion of the beginning of Lent of this year, thanking His Holiness for his teachings which help all of us to put things in their place, to rediscover the need to live the Gospel with simplicity and humility, but also with generosity and selflessness. His last encyclical letter on integral human development in charity and in truth, «Caritas in Veritate,» has been a new encouragement in our daily work to make this world more beautiful, where Christ can make himself present.

I hope that
this Lent will bring us the desired fruit: the resurrection and eternal life that the Lord has won for all on the cross, in his redeeming sacrifice.

I place at the Lord’s disposition our united hands and hearts, the work of all of us who are at the service of charity.

Thank you very much.


[1] WUCWO manifesto, July 2, 1995[2] Cf. Mark 12:41-44[3] Matthew 25:35ff[4] Homily on the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism, Jan. 10, 2010[5] «Deus Caritas Est,» No. 31

[Translation by ZENIT]

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