ROME, JULY 14, 2011 (Zenit.org).- As Church leaders are examining the Catholic identity of the Church’s charity services, the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum has used the dicastery’s anniversary as an occasion to recall that the witness of charity is more than just doing social service — it “is a state of being.”
Cardinal Robert Sarah, the 66-year-old Guinea native who took over the Church’s charity council last October, reflected on the foundations of service in a L’Osservatore Romano article marking Cor Unum’s 40th anniversary.
It was on July 15, 1971, that Pope Paul VI’s letter “Amoris Officio” established the pontifical council.
“The celebration of these first 40 years merits a glance at what the council has meant for the Church, and even more to outline the major challenges ahead today,” Cardinal Sarah wrote.
He noted the social context in which Cor Unum was born: a time in which the Church was giving “an even greater attention … to social questions.” There was a “backlash against cultural models which were thought to be outdated.” And though an “enthusiasm for creating a world more to the measure of man was welcomed,” there was also the danger of “excessive adulation of earthy reality.”
Thus, Cardinal Sarah observed, Cor Unum was founded in “a climate of questions about the nature of Christian witness in the world.”
The name Cor Unum — “one heart” — was no accident, the cardinal said. Taken from Acts 4:32, the title “already contains diverse indications: it is the communion of the Church which is at the foundation of charitable witness; this, before an activity, is a state of being. It is in the communion of the Church where attention to the different members of the same body is nurtured, in reciprocal care (cfr. 1 Corinthians 12:25); it is thanks to the communion of the Church that the intention of a more unitary, incisive and universal presence in the world is carried out.”
So Cor Unum was entrusted with the task of coordinating various Church charity organization, responding “to the growing needs of humanity in a common effort, under the direct inspiration of the Holy See.”
Getting it right
Cardinal Sarah said that already Paul VI anticipated some of the misunderstandings that would come to threaten a correct view of charity in the Church.
He highlighted three, which even recently have been at the heart of discussions on Catholic identity, for example at the general assembly of Caritas Internationalis in May.
“The witness of charity finds its measure in Christ,” the cardinal listed; and “the search for justice does not exhaust the duty of charity; preaching of the Gospel, which is not proselytism, is an integral part of charitable activity.”‘
Cardinal Sarah noted that Pope John Paul II, too, was quick to emphasize the link between the Gospel and charity. He cited the Polish Pontiff’s 1978 speech when he visited Cor Unum for the first time: “We must also take care to set advancement carefully in the context of evangelization, which is the fullness of human advancement, since it proclaims and offers man’s full salvation.”
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On ZENIT’s Web page:
Archbishop Chaput on charity work and proselytizing (June 24): www.zenit.org/article-32928?l=english
Archbishop Nichols addresses national Caritas (June 11): www.zenit.org/article-32827?l=english
Benedict XVI’s address to Caritas general assembly (May 27): www.zenit.org/article-32690?l=english