As Caritas’ identity is refined, new slogan called unrealistic

Caritas General Assembly May 23 2011 CNA World Catholic News 5 24 11 Lesley-Anne Knight, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, and Cardinal Robert Sarah speak at the Caritas meeting in Rome

The goal of a new slogan adopted by the Vatican’s official charity is being called “unrealistic” by the Church official charged with overseeing the organization.

Cardinal Robert Sarah said he doesn’t understand Caritas International’s new theme – “One Human Family – Zero Poverty,” which was unveiled at the charity’s annual meeting this week in Rome.

“I think it would be wise not to follow some unrealistic slogans. But, I'm very hesitant to understand what zero poverty means, because Christ said we will always have the poor. So, what is a realistic way we can fight the poverty? But, it's difficult to absolutely cancel out poverty,” he told CNA May 22.

The slogan is both the theme for this week’s conference and for the organization’s strategic document for the next four years.

The cardinal’s comments come at a difficult time for Caritas. The organization faces criticism from Cardinal Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, and others for a perceived lack of Catholic identity.

Earlier this year, the Vatican blocked Caritas’ current general secretary, Lesley-Anne Knight, from running for re-appointment to her post. The charity’s governance is also being revamped to give Vatican officials more control over its work.

Cardinal Sarah alluded to these concerns in his opening remarks at the Caritas meeting on Sunday, which was attended by roughly 300 delegates.

“I believe it is important to understand that our charitable organizations are located within the Church and not alongside her,” he said.

“A Caritas that wasn’t an ecclesial expression would have no meaning or existence. The Church cannot be considered as a partner of Catholic organizations. They are the organizations that take part in her mission.”

He also stressed that the agency’s work is “not merely philanthropic” but above all “entails giving back to human persons all their dignity as children of God.”

Cardinal Sarah’s comments came only moments after both the charity’s slogan and the work of its current general secretary had been praised by Caritas president, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga.

Cardinal Rodriguez said the new slogan represents a “will to fight injustice and poverty. It is a simple expression of our understanding of the world.”

“Zero can be conceived as a ‘condition of possibility’ for all the numbers,” he added. “It is an analogy for equality. We cannot negotiate about 2 percent or 20 percent or 0.7 percent of poor people.”

He acknowledged that the Vatican’s handling of Knight’s reappointment had “caused grievance” in the organization, especially for female Caritas workers.

This week’s meeting in Rome marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of Caritas. The organization is currently in talks with the Vatican’s Secretariat of State to create new statutes that will enhance its Catholic identity.

Cardinal Sarah thinks that "the future will be very brilliant" for Caritas if it follows "the indication given by Pope Benedict XVI in 'Deus Caritas Est.'"

"Caritas must follow the steps of Jesus, expressing the compassion, (and) the love of God with humility," he said. The way forward for Caritas should be the teachings of the previous Popes, "starting from Pius XII and John Paul II and Benedict XVI."

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