Vatican City, Nov 13, 2014 / 00:02 am
Cardinal Robert Sarah has stressed the link between charity and preaching the Gospel, saying that while the practical needs of the poor are important, Christians can give something more essential: Jesus Christ.
Cardinal Sarah, citing Benedict XVI, told CNA that "charity is very linked with the proclamation of the Gospel, and doing charity is not only giving food, giving material things, but giving God too. Because the main lack of man is not having God."
The cardinal heads the Holy See's Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which oversees Catholic charitable organizations and humanitarian relief agencies. He offered his comments during the leadership forum for the new confederation Caritas In Veritate International, held Nov. 4-9 in Rome.
The confederation is inspired by Benedict's encyclicals "Deus Caritas Est" and "Caritas in Veritate." The organization is made up of several Catholic communities, international groups and charitable institutions which are involved in missions in 80 countries throughout the world.
Cardinal Sarah addressed the conference about "Caritas in Veritate." The cardinal explained that the worst discrimination against the poor is not refusing to give them food, but rather to give them only food and refuse to give them the Gospel.
"It's very important to express that the hunger we are suffering today is not having God in our life, in our society," the cardinal said Nov. 7. He explained that Benedict XVI's encyclical insists that charity is the way we express our faith. Although giving food is necessary, "the main food is God."
He recounted a story from one of his two trips to Syria to visit refugees. He met a small child who asked him: "does God really exist? Why did he let my father be killed?"
This child had everything, the cardinal observed, including food and medicine, but still lacked the most essential thing, which is the assurance that God exists and is close to him.
"(So) charity today is not only to act for social work, for material assistance, but really to bring the Gospel to the people."
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household, also spoke to the leadership forum for Caritas in Veritate International. He offered some reflections on love that were taken from talks he has given to Popes throughout his time as the papal preacher.
Fr. Cantalamessa was appointed as preacher to the papal household during the pontificate of St. John Paul II in 1980. In this role, he preaches a meditation to the Pope, cardinals and the Roman Curia every Friday morning during Lent and Advent.
He said that the presentation of the truth is essential alongside the giving of charitable aid.
"We could translate 'truth' as 'Jesus Christ,' because he said 'I am the truth'," the papal preacher told CNA Nov. 7.
Fr. Cantalamessa explained that for this reason Benedict XVI often says that being a Christian doesn't mean adherence to theories or a specific doctrine or system. Rather, it means adherence to a person, Jesus, who identified himself as the truth.
Charity always needs to be connected with the truth, otherwise it is only social assistance, he said. While this is good, it can be done by everyone.
"Christians have an additional reason to be close to the poor and the needy, and it is because Jesus identified himself with these people when he said 'you have done it to me'," the preacher continued, alluding to the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
Works of charity and evangelization should always go hand in hand, Fr. Cantalamessa observed, because they always were united in the life of Jesus, who preached the good news but also healed the sick and fed the hungry.
Cardinal Sarah voiced hope that the conference participants will go and proclaim the love of God through solidarity in giving food and giving the Gospel. He explained: "when we are baptized, we have the light of God, so we have to be the light of God seen in the world."
"So I hope that these people going back home will be real evangelizers, bringing the Gospel to the people, not only food."
The Pontifical Council Cor Unum's projects include the organization of aid efforts in Syria, giving particular emphasis to assisting families without houses or food.
Many Syrian families are still in this situation, he said. He explained that the goal of Cor Unum is to bring food as well as the consolation of God, "because when man is suffering, God is very near to him. So this too is very important, to give food and the proximity of God to the suffering."