By Ann Schneible
ROME, NOV. 26, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) celebrated its 50th anniversary last week with Mass and a reception at the Venerable English College in Rome.
Bishop John Arnold of Westminster was the principle celebrant of the Mass at the Venerable English College (VEC), which was attended by several ambassadors to the Holy See, as well as members and benefactors of CAFOD.
Earlier in the day members of CAFOD attended an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, during which CAFOD director Chris Bain presented the Holy Father with a book written to commemorate the aid agency’s 50 years of service.
CAFOD began in 1960 when a group of women organized a “Fast Day,” a day in which participants would donate the money to charity that they would otherwise have spent on a meal for themselves. That same year bishops from England and Wales met at the Venerable English College (VEC) in Rome where they officially established CAFOD, inspired by the work done by the initiatives of the initial group of women. Its current mission is to provide sustainable development resources, humanitarian support, education, and to engage in advocacy to mobilize world leaders in providing aid where it is needed.
CAFOD director Chris Bain spoke with ZENIT about CAFOD’s 50th anniversary celebrations, looking ahead to the next fifty years.
There are three dimensions in the challenge of tackling extreme poverty, he said. The first of these pertain to the need to care for the environment. “We can no longer think about development without thinking about environmental sustainability. We cannot keep using the planet and abusing the planet.”
The second is in regard to global inequality between peoples. “There are about 6 billion people living in the world today, and you have a billion of which we’re part of who are living very well – have all the benefits, have all the education, the health, the good lives. You have a billion living in absolute poverty, and then you have the group in between those two extremes. That extreme has been growing… We have to start finding ways in which we can provide the basic needs to the poorest of the world to remove much of that inequality.”
The final dimension pertains to the growing consumerism in wealthier parts of the world. “More than ever,” Bain said, “those of us living in the rich parts of the world, will have to start thinking about ourselves and our lifestyle… We have become a consumer society: we’ve created this sense of hedonism where some people have everything. And we, as the Catholic community, have got to start thinking about how we can live more simply: eat less, consume less, and require less gadgets.”
With the anniversary of CAFOD coinciding with the Year of Faith, Bain explained, there is the opportunity to demonstrate with confidence the work that the Church does in places where there is need.
“If you see the work that is going on in Africa, Asia, Latin America,” he said, “we are the ones providing the schools and healthcare and the welfare system. We’re supporting the orphanages. We’re dealing with people suffering from HIV and AIDS.”
Bain continued: Catholics should be confident in proclaiming that “there is more to life than acquisition, then hedonist individualism. We’re about relationships, with God and with others.”
Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, also participated in CAFOD’s anniversary celebrations. Of all the British Embassies throughout the world, the British Embassy to the Holy See has a particular relationship with CAFOD via its work with global Catholic networks such as Caritas Internationalis (of which CAFOD is a member).
Ambassador Baker spoke with ZENIT about the role which faith-based aid agencies such as CAFOD in helping to promote development and provide humanitarian aid throughout the world.
“As a development [agency] rooted in faith,” he said, “they have a strong sense of the motivating factor of faith in international development work.”
It was significant, moreover, that the 50th anniversary celebrations should take place in Rome as well as in Britain, Ambassador Baker continued. ” CAFOD was created on the back of the Second Vatican Council. We’re commemorating and celebrating the Second Vatican Council this year, and it is always useful… to remind ourselves of very specific fruits of that Council. And CAFOD, its existence and its work, flowed directly from that, and from Paul VI’s later encyclicals on international development issues.”
Moreover, it was fitting that the celebrations in Rome be held at the VEC, which began 650 years ago as a hostel for pilgrims from England and Wales coming to Rome before being converted into a seminary during England’s reformation. “The college itself is one of the symbols of the relationship between England and Wales and the Holy See.”
The VEC reinforces “that link between an English agency, which was founded by bishops from England and Wales (many of whom studied here at the VEC)… and this English institution in the heart of Rome.”
Baker continued: ” It is important to remember that CAFOD was created by a combination of support from bishops, enthusiasm and creative ideas from other religious people, inspiration from the Vatican Council, and of course energy from lay people. It is a good example of the different aspects of Catholicism coming together.”