Pope Benedict XVI has given his backing to the reorganization of the international Catholic charity Caritas, which will see the organization work more closely under Vatican guidance in a bid to enhance its Catholic identity.
“Since Caritas Internationalis has a universal profile and is canonically a public juridical person, the Holy See is also responsible for following its activity and exercising oversight to ensure that its humanitarian and charitable activity, and the content of its documents, are completely in accord with the Apostolic See and the Church’s Magisterium,” the Pope told representatives of the organization at an audience in the Vatican May 27.
This week has seen 165 national affiliates of Caritas gather in Rome for the organizations general assembly. It’s been a week of turbulence and change.
In his opening address to the Caritas general assembly on May 22, Cardinal Robert Sarah of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum – the Vatican body responsible for Caritas – hinted at concerns over the charity’s lack of Catholic identity. Interestingly, four of Cardinal Sarah’s key concerns were almost identically echoed by the Pope today.
Just as Cardinal Sarah said in his opening address for the charity’s general assembly, Pope Benedict stated today that “Caritas Internationalis differs from other social agencies in that it is ecclesial; it shares in the mission of the Church.”
“This is what the Popes have always wanted and this is what your General Assembly is called forcefully to re-affirm,” the Pope said May 27.
The way Caritas carries out its work is different from humanitarian or philanthropic organizations, the Pope continued. “For us Christians, God himself is the source of charity; and charity is understood not merely as generic benevolence but as self-giving, even to the sacrifice of one’s life for others in imitation of the example of Jesus Christ.”
Pope Benedict built upon the importance of Caritas having a “transcendent foundation” that appreciates man’s eternal destiny, saying that without that solid mooring charities “risk falling prey to harmful ideologies.”
In May 22 remarks to CNA, Cardinal Sarah said that "the future will be very brilliant" for Caritas if it follows "the indication given by Pope Benedict XVI in 'Deus Caritas Est.'"
This was also the pole star for Caritas action offered by the Pope today. “In my first Encyclical, ‘Deus Caritas Est’, I reaffirmed how critical the witness of charity is for the Church in our day. Through such witness, seen in the daily lives of her members, the Church reaches out to millions of persons and makes it possible for them to recognize and sense the love of God, who is always close to every man and woman in need.”
Yesterday Caritas elected the 56-year-old Frenchman, Michel Roy, as its new general secretary. He follows in the footsteps of Lesley-Anne Knight, who was prevented from running for re-appointment to her post by the Vatican earlier this year. Meanwhile, the charity’s governance is also being revamped to give Vatican officials more control over its work.
Roy will now serve alongside Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras who was re-elected for a second term as Caritas International’s president.
Caritas International is a confederate of 165 relief and social service organizations operating in over 200 countries and territories worldwide.