20th General Assembly
12 – 18 May 2015 – Rome
Committed to the ministry of the Church in service to poor, vulnerable and marginalized persons, 424 women, men and youth from 140 countries and representing 165 national member organizations, gathered in Rome, Italy for the quadrennial General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis. From the beginning of his papal ministry, Pope Francis has acknowledged Caritas as “the caress … to those suffering … being at the continuous service of people living in extreme situations.”  The members of Caritas Internationalis strive to fulfill that promise by touching the lives and supporting the wellbeing of millions of people in need each day.
Pope Francis was a source of profound inspiration and blessing for us as he presided at the Opening Mass for our Assembly, the first time such an honour was bestowed on our Confederation. He noted that “Caritas is a reality of the Church in many parts of the world and must still seek a greater expansion in the different parishes and communities, to renew what took place in the early days of the Church.” He urged us always to be mindful that “Whoever lives the mission of Caritas is not a simple charitable worker, but is a true witness of Christ.” The Holy Father also encouraged us to pray for “the grace to understand that ‘Caritas’ is always to be found in the peripheries, in each particular Church.”
During the past four years, we have taken action with courage and determination in response to complex humanitarian emergencies and to the crush of extreme poverty. During this Assembly, our hearts, minds, and prayers are focused, in particular, on the suffering, pain, and loss experienced by our sisters and brothers in the Middle East, Ukraine, Central African Republic, Burundi, Colombia, Fukushima (Japan), Philippines, Nepal, and many other places of the world where violence, destruction, and environmental degradation prevail.
We pray in a special way for all those subjected to religious, racial, and ethnic persecution, throughout the world, including Christians in Syria and Iraq. Their communities and churches are being targeted, and continuing Christian presence in their homelands is being undermined. We assure our solidarity to all who are trying to survive in a context of fear and anxiety, to those displaced in their own countries, or who have sought refuge, in huge numbers, in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt.
We call attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of other migrants – women, children, and men – suffering unspeakable privations, abuse, and even lose their lives in pursuit of a life of dignity and freedom. We urge governments to build safe havens and humanitarian corridors, rather than fences, walls, or programmes of interdiction at sea.
We are inspired by the courageous response by our Caritas colleagues and other people of good will who, in the face of such great despair and inhuman treatment of human persons, respond with love and take action to build a world founded on justice.
Integral human development is at the heart of Caritas and is centered on the empowerment of individuals, families, and communities to fulfill their God-given potential. While great progress has been made to ensure that all people enjoy the same rights and opportunities, growing inequality threatens a truly global prosperity, including the considerable gap remaining between men and women, which must be addressed with deliberate intention. In the words of Pope Francis, “the feminine genius is needed in all expressions of the life of society.” Caritas acknowledges women as a strong and important force in promoting development in their families and communities and is committed to supporting their ability to make their voices heard, including within our own Confederation.
Two years ago, Caritas launched the One Human Family, Food for All Campaign, with the goal of making hunger history by 2025. The campaign received global support from Member Organisations, mobilizing advocacy from the halls of the United Nations as well as national and regional Parliaments, to communities spanning the globe, building a living network of global solidarity. The advocacy and international representation work of Caritas, at all levels of the Confederation, is respected and listened to, from Washington, D.C. to Brussels, from Peru to Tonga, from Bangkok to Amman to Addis Ababa, because it is informed by on-the-ground, real-life experiences across the globe, professional expertise, and clear moral and ethical values.
This year, 2015, will mark a significant milestone for the future and common good of the human family. Governments and other stakeholders will review and update global processes of Financing for Development. National leaders will approve and launch new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to orient our global collective efforts for the next fifteen years. In this regard, Caritas remains convinced that these goals must promote full realisation of universal human rights and values by addressing the structural dimensions of inequality and increasing access to basic entitlements and quality of life for all. We further insist that no target should be considered as met unless achieved for all income and social groups; this fundamental, person-centered strategy must be central to every SDG.
During 2015, we also will witness further negotiations for a global plan to face and confront the serious challenges posed to our world as a result of climate change. As Caritas, we attach great importance to “protecting our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.” In this same regard, we look forward to further enlightenment when Pope Francis releases his much-awaited encyclical on this urgent topic. We further urge governments to look beyond their own borders and to recognize the moral imperative that is inherent in care for creation. In the words of Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who addressed our Assembly, “Progress towards sustainability requires a fundamental openness to relationship or, in other words, justice and responsibility, opening up new avenues of solidarity. Citizens of wealthier countries must stand shoulder to shoulder with the poor, both at home and overseas.”
As we leave Rome at the end of this Twentieth General Assembly, we are determined to promote greater cooperation across the Confederation and stronger unity while we implement our Strategic Framework 2015-2019, which was oriented by Pope Francis’ teaching in the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, and includes the following objectives:
- Uphold the Catholic identity of Caritas as an essential service of the Church to the poor;
- Reduce the impact of humanitarian crises by enhancing disaster risk preparedness;
- Eradicate poverty in all its forms by empowering people and transforming unjust systems and structures;
- Address the causes of extreme poverty through reinforced communication, education and mobilization and enhance the visibility of Caritas;
- Build a stronger confederation based on professional and effective members and mobilize more resources
These goals, developed in broad consultation with the women and men, young and old, associated with our Confederation, reflect the hopes and dreams of so many beyond our membership: all of our sisters and brothers who work tirelessly on behalf of the Church to serve others and all people of good will who put the common good above personal gain. We are deeply grateful for the direct engagement of youth in our Assembly and for the expression of their strong desire to continue meaningful involvement and sharing of their dynamic energy in the service of Caritas. At the centre of our attention and action are our sisters and brothers who live on the periphery of society and simply wish to be recognized as equals and given the opportunity to live to their God-given potential.
Pope Francis will initiate a special “Holy Year of Mercy” on 8 December 2015. This offers Caritas a unique opportunity to renew and intensify its witness of love and inclusion of all people, but particularly those who are excluded and forgotten. Several times during our Assembly, we have thanked God for the selfless witness left to us by Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, who gave his life as a martyr in defense of the dignity of poor and marginalized persons in his own country and throughout the world and who, during this General Assembly, was proclaimed a patron of Caritas Internationalis, along with previously proclaimed patrons, St. Martin de Porres and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
We express deep gratitude to Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, for his tireless service in presiding over the Confederation for the past eight years. We welcome Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as our new President as well as our new member organization, Caritas South Sudan.
We know that God sends us forth accompanied by abundant grace and love to do our utmost to deliver on the promise of our collective mandate to work for a better world. In that spirit, we remind ourselves constantly that: “ ‘God has loved us first (1 John 4:19) and he alone ‘gives the growth’ (1 Cor. 3:7). This conviction enables us to maintain a spirit of joy” in pursuing with relentless commitment our desire to create One Human Family: Caring for Creation.
NOTES: Pope Francis, Address to Representative Council and Staff of Caritas Internationalis, 16 May 2013, Vatican City.  Pope Francis, Homily for Opening Mass of XX General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis, Vatican City, 12 May 2015.  Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, #103.  Position Paper, “Caritas Internationalis Perspectives on the Post-2015 Development agenda: Our ‘non-negotiables’ ”, Vatican City, not dated.  Pope Francis, Address to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, Vatican City, 22 March 2013.  Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Address to XX General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis, Human development in a changing environment, 14 May 2015, Rome, Italy.  Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #12.