Officials of Church's Charity Reflect on Volunteer Work

Cor Unum President Presents Summaries of 2011 Meeting

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By Salvatore Cernuzio

ROME, APRIL 17, 2012 ( Some 140 million people, a large number of whom are Christians, are involved in different ways in volunteer work in Europe. This was the first fact that Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, wished to emphasize in an address Friday at the presentation of the volume, “The Holy Father and European Volunteers.” 

Also present at the press conference were Michel Roy, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, and Monsignor Giampietro dal Toso, secretary of Cor Unum.

The objective of the text is to reach all individuals engaged in volunteer work, with their associations and organizations, to have them relive the meeting that took place in the Vatican on November 10-11, 2011, with bishops and directors of Catholic organizations of the whole of Europe, on the occasion of the European Year of Volunteers.

The book includes the most important interventions in the meeting, beginning with the Holy Father’s address to volunteers, and that of the European Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, the numerous guests who shared their experiences, and concluding with the final report on the structure of charitable activities, explained Cardinal Sarah.

The volume is part of a series of projects undertaken by the dicastery of charity, still in the phase of projection and of “wide scope, given the number of realities involved,” said the cardinal.

The objective is “to help associations and structures concerned with charity, not only from the point of view of effectiveness, but especially on their journey of spiritual growth and identity,” through concrete instruments that guarantee greater support.

The cardinal explained that this objective can be attained  thanks to collaboration with the greatest possible number of organizations and actors involved in this “race of charity,” but especially thanks to the synergy between Cor Unum and Caritas Internationalis (already operating with the joint organization of the Pope’s first appeals during the crisis of the Horn of Africa), always “promoters of Christian charity inspired by the teaching of the Gospel and the Magisterium of the Church.”

In this connection, the cardinal stressed the centrality of Christian witness as the first way of aid to the other. “To carry out their mission faithfully, the volunteers must keep their sight fixed on Christ and act expressing their own Catholic identity,” he said.

“All the activities of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum must be an expression of that charity of deeds, so that the proclamation of the Gospel, which is the first charity, does not run the risk of drowning in the sea of words to which present-day society exposes us daily,” he specified.

“This is very important, because we have noted, especially in the European Caritas, some tendencies to secularism. We must not convert anyone by force, but we must express our Catholic identity and act in the sense of the Gospel,” he continued.

In regard to the frequent accusations against volunteer work of being a “veiled way of proselytism,” the cardinal mentioned the case of Orissa, in India, where “to speak of volunteer work is a problem, because there is fear that Christianity will invade Hindu society, structured in castes, where there is no concept of ‘gratuitousness’ and volunteer work is seen, therefore, as ‘a way of evangelizing.’”

However, this is not the only motive of concern for charitable organizations, but also all those persons who are “victims of poverty, conflicts, disasters, injustices and oppressions.” In particular, the close to 500,000 volunteers of the Caritas Internationalis network, said secretary Roy, “do not accept witnessing the dehumanizing of the human person that the loving God, in whom they believe, has created in His image.”

Hence, the primary mission pursued by Caritas, added Roy, is to “radiate charity, promoting social justice, mobilizing, and being committed, building fraternal relations, witnessing the Gospel, and this includes taking God to anyone who suffers or is disoriented.”

This focus, specified the secretary general, is “respectful of all persons and all faiths,» its only aim being to make “the respective societies of each creed more human and conscious of the poor and of the least ones.”

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