Several leaders of Caritas in Veritate International were received by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at his residence in the Vatican last Thursday. They were in Rome hosting a five-day forum to discuss and understand better ways to implement Pope Francis’ "Theology of Encounter" around the world.

Founded in 2010, Caritas in Veritate is a “confederation of Catholic institutions, dedicated to recruit, mobilize and engage volunteers as a response to Pope Benedict’s call for Charity in Truth.”

Henry Capello, founder and president of Caritas in Veritate, spoke of the meeting, saying the Pontiff Emeritus “was remarkably gracious” upon receiving them.

“He received us personally into his living room and generously gave us 25 minutes of his time,” Capello said. “His health is excellent – the Pope Emeritus is as sharp as ever. He knew clearly what we were all about. He wished to encourage us in our endeavor to keep together charity and faith. ‘Faith without charity is meaningless,’ he said. ‘Charity without faith is meaningless. The two must be kept together.’”

In a statement released to ZENIT, the leaders of Caritas in Veritate said that Benedict XVI “was happy that his two Encyclicals on charity – Deus Caritas est and Caritas in Veritate – were not only being read, but realized, too, in the Church and the world.”

Also present at the meeting was Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, Vice President for Relations with Bishops of Caritas in Veritate International and Spiritual Director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Msgr. Figueiredo said that he is certain that the Pontiff Emeritus will be remembered as “the great Pope of humble wisdom.”

“When we thanked him for his inspiration to the confederation, he responded: ‘The Holy Spirit is the author of this initiative, not I,’” Msgr. Figueiredo recalled.

“What an example he is of serenity in God’s will!” he continued. “And how important this is to us priests and our seminarians, many of whom entered the seminary encouraged by his example of charity in the truth. Just like Pope Francis, we continue to love him and pray for him every day.”  

The leaders also had an opportunity to meet with Pope Francis on Friday, November 6th. The Holy Father blessed the members of the confederation who work in missions in over 80 countries around the world.

Cappello said that Pope Francis assured him of his prayers for the organization. “Pope Francis took me by the arm and held me there for a time as if he wanted me to be sure that my words were being heard,” Mr. Cappello recalled.

Wounds of the poor

The Leaders Forum, which took place from November 5th - 9th, was organized in partnership with Cross Catholic Outreach and saw the participation of over 115 leaders of NGOs, international groups and institutes involved in charity and mission. The Forum reflected on the theme of “The Culture of Encounter and Evangelii Gaudium.”

Among the speakers at the event were Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Cardinal Prospero Grech, founder of the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

Cappello told ZENIT that the inspiration for the conference was Pope Francis’ call for a culture of encounter, something crucial to continue their work throughout the world.

“The mission of the Church is to spread the good news, to introduce the person of Jesus to all mankind,” he said. “Unless we encounter Him, we cannot make Him known to others. Pope Francis is underlining this message constantly. A few days ago, when addressing the Catholic Fraternity, the Pope again emphasized the importance of coming to know Jesus. This is the mission of the Church! This is the basis of unity with all Christians brothers. This is our faith.”

Cappello stressed that this Theology of Encounter was necessary in today’s society to understand “the big questions of our origin and our destiny.”

“The Holy Father is reminding us that as we reach out to the ‘periphery’,  to the poorest of the poor, to the needy and the marginalized, and as we touch the wounds of the poor, we meet Jesus, we see and touch his brokenness, we understand more the cross, that leads to our conversion,” Cappello explained.

Regarding the fruits of the five-day conference, Cappello expressed his hope that the charitable organizations present as well as missionaries involved in youth formation and evangelization will continue to work together to ensure that charity is always accompanied with the proclamation of the Gospel.

“We also hope that our charity workers and volunteers are given the opportunity to have an Encounter with the good Shepherd, to meet the Lord daily in the Eucharist and, as they serve the poor, experience deeper the mystery of the cross of Jesus,” he said.