Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, can serve as a guide to Catholic charitable organizations around the world in how to live out their Gospel mandate of helping those in need by striking a proper balance of religious formation and professional training throughout the organization’s culture, according to Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.
Delivering the keynote address at the 28th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum at the Vatican last week, Father Snyder shared how Deus Caritas Est, which means God is love, can impact the work of the charitable arm of the Church, stated a press release from Catholic Charities.
“When our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, promulgated his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, he gave the Church an incredible gift while at the same time issuing a significant challenge to those who labor in charitable works sponsored by the Church,” said Father Snyder. “The gift is a theological and philosophical, yet at times even poetic, reflection on the virtue of caritas that places acts of charity squarely in the essence of the mission of the Church. The challenge given to the practitioners of organized charity is to be faithful to the sacred trust given them by honoring the Catholic identity that should be the foundation of their work and should define the unique contribution they make.”
According to Father Snyder, the Pope’s profound encyclical not only stresses the importance of providing services in a professional manner, but it also demands that organizations specifically commissioned to carry out the charitable works of the Catholic Church must not be just another philanthropic organization. Catholic identity and its inherent values must permeate throughout Catholic charitable ministries and how they deliver services.
“Even if we provide the best professional services possible, we will have not fully lived out our commission of diakonia, [service],” Father Snyder said. “As the encyclical points out, charitable workers in the name of the Church must first of all be bearers of God’s love to those experiencing need and frequently a lack of hope.”
For Father Snyder, the practical implications of Deus Caritas Est must be applied to the organizational culture as a whole, including all Catholic charities leaders, staff, board members, and volunteers.
“[F]or they are all representatives of a Church-sponsored organization and they are all implementing the social and charitable mission of the Church,” said Father Snyder. “The Gospel is intent in mandating not only that this ministry to the poor and disenfranchised be done, but also mandates how it should be done.”
Referencing his experiences in leading both a local Catholic Charities agency—Catholic Charities of St. Paul-Minneapolis—and Catholic Charities USA, Father Snyder also outlined for his Cor Unum colleagues very practical efforts—in the areas of staff, board, and leadership training and orientation—that a Catholic organization can use to develop a culture that is permeated with faith and the fundamentals of Catholic social teaching.
“This comes from my deep belief that our faith is the greatest asset and gift that we have to offer,” he said. “Given our current social situation, we have an opportunity to witness to this great tradition alive from the early Christian community until today. The Gospel after all does not present us with a valiant proposition but rather a clear mandate: to manifest Christ’s love in the world.”
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named Father Snyder to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which oversees the Catholic Church's charitable activities around the world.