Pope: Authorities Shouldn't Distort Christian Charity Work

Warns If Spiritual Roots Are Lost, Whole Society Will Suffer

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 11, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Public authorities have a duty to acknowledge the role of Catholic volunteer work without distorting it, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope’s words, delivered to a group of bishops and representatives of European volunteer organizations, come at a time when the Catholic identity of the Church’s social services is under attack in places where legislation is increasingly at odds with Church teaching.

Christians, the Holy Father said today, should «take an active part in the life of society, seeking to make it ever more humane, ever more marked by authentic freedom, justice and solidarity.»

«Nowadays, volunteer work as a service of charity has become a universally recognized element of our modern culture. Nonetheless, its origins can still be seen in the particularly Christian concern for safeguarding, without discrimination, the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God,» he said. «If these spiritual roots are denied or obscured and the criteria of our collaboration become purely utilitarian, what is most distinctive about the service you provide risks being lost, to the detriment of society as a whole.»

Human grandeur

The Pontiff’s address noted the roots of Christian volunteer work, saying it is not «merely an expression of good will,» but is «based on a personal experience of Christ.»

«He was the first to serve humanity, he freely gave his life for the good of all. That gift was not based on our merits,» Benedict XVI reflected. «(…) The experience of God’s generous love challenges us and liberates us to adopt the same attitude towards our brothers and sisters.»

The Pope said that Christ’s love helps the person «discover within ourselves a human desire for solidarity and a fundamental vocation to love. His grace perfects, strengthens and elevates that vocation and enables us to serve others without reward, satisfaction or any recompense.»

«Here we see something of the grandeur of our human calling,» the Holy Father noted, «to serve others with the same freedom and generosity which characterizes God himself.»

Acknowledging that Catholic volunteer work cannot respond to every need, he said that still, there should not be discouragement.

The little that we manage to do to relieve human needs can be seen as a good seed that will grow and bear much fruit; it is a sign of Christ’s presence and love which, like the tree in the Gospel, grows to give shelter, protection and strength to all who require it.»

Solidarity in suffering

The meeting with the Pope was held in the context of a conference organized by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, marking the European Year of Volunteers 2011.

The two-day congress gathered 160 participants, bishops and representatives of the European bishops’ conferences, in addition to directors of national and international volunteer organizations.

During the presentation meeting on Tuesday, Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, described the conference as a sign of «communion and solidarity in the midst of suffering.»

Monsignor Giovanni Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, said the conference was Benedict XVI’s wish.

Speaking with Vatican Radio about the initiative, the monsignor stressed the special attention Benedict XVI has given from the beginning of his pontificate to the world of charity.

Monsignor Dal Toso referred to the motivations that animate Catholic volunteers and that, in the new evangelization, must be maintained and promoted.

«These profound motivations stem from faith,» he noted, stressing that historically, volunteer work is «a phenomenon born from Christianity as an expression of charity, of the faith that animates us.»

«I think that our sector is inscribed in the great mission of the Church to proclaim faith in Jesus Christ and to live it» and that, «in the context of this new evangelization, the ministry of charity has an important significance,» added the prelate.

As the Pontiff noted, today’s meeting coincided with the memorial of St. Martin of Tours. In «Deus Caritas Est,» Benedict XVI described the saint as almost an «icon,» who shows «the irreplaceable value of the individual testimony to charity.»

[Isabelle Cousturie contributed to this report]

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Full text of Pope’s address: www.zenit.org/article-33815?l=english

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