Living Charity in Caritas: Curia Officials Address Meeting

And Father Cantalamessa Reflects on Gift Before Duty

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ROME, MAY 27, 2011 ( Cardinal Peter Turkson, Cardinal Robert Sarah and Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa were among those addressing the Caritas general assembly meeting in Rome this week, illustrating various facets of the Christian call to love.

Speaking on the opening day of the assembly, Cardinal Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, recalled the Gospel account of the Good Samaritan, describing it as the earliest and greatest field report of Caritas in action. 

The 62-year-old Ghana native outlined for the assembly the necessary requirements for the work of Caritas to succeed. 

Firstly, the Church’s charitable organizations, from the local to the international level, must make a strong effort to provide the resources and personnel required, he said. Secondly, those caring for the needy should be professionally competent and committed to care. But thirdly, and most importantly, the cardinal emphasized, Caritas personnel need humanity, heartfelt concern, and «a formation of the heart.»

«The program of the Good Samaritan, the program of Jesus,» Cardinal Turkson explained, «is a heart which sees.»

«The turning-point,» he said, «is found in compassion, it is the experience of ‘suffer with,’ just as mercy, misericordia, also is both divine and human.»

Just as Jesus instructed the lawyer who first heard the parable of the Samaritan, we too must «Go and do the same» by carrying out Jesus’ mission, the Vatican official affirmed.

Beautiful witness

The president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Holy See office that coordinates Catholic charitable organizations including Caritas, continued with this theme in his address Monday. 

Cardinal Robert Sarah, another Curial official from Africa, spoke of the witness of Caritas as a counter to the «humanism without God [that] seems to have become an integral and lasting part of the prevailing culture,» and the «silent apostasy» spoken of so often by Benedict XVI. 

«Since the beginning of his papacy,» the 65-year-old Guinea native told the participants, «Pope Benedict XVI has considered this ‘religious indifference’ and ‘silent apostasy’ as the major challenge the Church has to take up today in her relations with the modern world.»

«Therefore,» Cardinal Sarah continued, «he is more determined than ever to make our minds more aware and our faith more visible and more active, in order to show the world that the Church’s mission is deeply rooted in faith in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.»

Caritas is a visible manifestation of that faith, the cardinal declared. «By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.»

But, he asked, «how can we help faithful laypeople and religious engaged on the front lines of emergency situations … to know how to ‘say’ every day, in a credible way, the freshness of the evangelical proclamation in what they are and what they do?»

«All those calling themselves disciples of Christ won’t find a neutral space in the work of serving other people,» the cardinal answered, «or even less a hindrance to this unique Love, but rather will be able to see within it a concrete fulfillment of their personal encounter with Jesus, and the spread of their faith and love for God.»

The cardinal concluded by describing Benedict XVI’s encyclical «Deus Caritas Est» as the «reference and guidance document for all the charitable activities of the Catholic Church today.»

In the encyclical, the Holy Father points out that the source of charity is God, whose incarnated Son reveals the charity of the Father. The Church’s sole mission, Cardinal Sarah elaborated, is to continue the mission of Jesus. 

«The Church makes the light of her faith shine before us so that we may see her good works and glorify God,» he said. «The witness of charity, the privileged way of the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus, takes place through the shining of the beauty of the heart in the actions of Christ’s disciples inwardly transfigured by the Spirit.»

Loving first

The preacher of the Pontifical Household offered another reflection: Christians do not set out telling others what they must do to be saved, as with other faiths, but rather by proclaiming «what God has done for them.»

«Gift,» he observed, «comes before duty.»

The Capuchin addressed the assembly on different meanings of the expression «love of God.»

One meaning speaks of the «duty» to love God, another of the love «of» God. 

«The most important thing, when speaking of the love of God, is not, therefore, that man loves God, but that God loves man and that He loved him ‘first,'» said the preacher. 

This knowledge of the primacy of God’s love for us, the principle of Christian charity, affects the way we Christians carry out our «duty» to love our neighbor. 

Father Cantalamessa offered the assembly a theological reflection on the relationship between the Gospel and the social sphere in order to better understand the task of those who work in Caritas Internationalis. 

«It is not only to let the poor hear the voice of the Church,» Father Cantalamessa explained, «but also [to] make the voice of the poor heard in the Church.»

«The first thing to do in relation to the poor is to break through the double glazing, to overcome our indifference and insensitivity,» he said. «We need to let our defenses down and be overwhelmed by a healthy anxiety in face of the fearful misery there is in the world.»

One of the priority tasks of Caritas, the priest continued, «is to remind us all of this call to conversion, and to be ruthless in breaking through the security of our ‘double glazing.'»

Charity workers are only able to fully realize that job if they love from the heart, the preacher reminded, or, as St. Paul says, «Let love be genuine!»

«The first ‘charity’ we are called upon to give to our neighbor, even when distributing food and medicines,» Father Cantalamessa told the Caritas representatives, «is to transmit to them the love of God. This is impossible, unless we ourselves are filled with that love, or at least strive to grow in it. The fundamental vocation of a Caritas worker is no different from that of any other Christian: a vocation to holiness!»

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