DENVER, Colorado, JUNE 24, 2011 (Zenit.org).- As the Vatican calls the Church’s international charity organization, Caritas Internationalis, to a deeper and more visible Catholic identity, some have suggested that Church leaders are indicating that social work — if it bears the title Catholic — has to be gloved in proselytizing.
That’s not the case, says Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, who addressed a meeting of the Catholic Social Workers National Association on Tuesday.
Though the 66-year-old prelate did begin his address with a clear affirmation of Catholic identity, he went on to say that this identity has nothing to do with forcing the faith on the needy.
“Everything in Catholic social ministry begins and ends with Jesus Christ,” he said. “If it doesn’t, it isn’t Catholic. And if our social work isn’t deeply, confidently and explicitly Catholic in its identity, then we should stop using the word ‘Catholic.’ It’s that simple.”
Archbishop Chaput proposed that Christian charity is always a material and a religious act.
“To be authentic, Christian charity must be free and must be motivated to share God’s love with others, in addition to offering material aid,” he said.
Where does sharing the faith come in?
Archbishop Chaput proposed that “Christian charity doesn’t require that we proselytize, that we speak out loud about our love for Jesus Christ and his love for us, in every circumstance. Sometimes, for prudential reasons, this is unwise. And Christian truth, even when openly professed, should never be offered in a coercive way.”
“But,” he added, “where possible and fruitful, acts of Christian charity should clearly witness our Catholic faith and our love for Jesus Christ.”
The prelate spelled this out in two of the nine characteristics that he offered as distinguishing marks for Catholic charity work.
“Every Catholic social ministry, along with providing material aid, should allow for the possibility of verbally professing the Gospel, as prudence permits,” he said.
But, “and this should be obvious,” Archbishop Chaput added, “no Catholic charitable worker should ever engage in coercive proselytization. He or she should always embody respect for an individual’s freedom and be governed by humility and common sense.”