- From Christ's commandment given to his disciples to "love one
another as I have loved you" (John 13:34) to the Apostolic
officio of July 15, 1971, through which Pope Paul VI established
the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" for Human and Christian
Promotion, the Church has given herself numerous and varied instruments
for the concrete application of the Commandment of Love.
- Throughout the course of history, charity has found expression
in the lives of the great saints and witnesses in the Church.
Outstanding lay people, men and women religious, and pastors have
promoted and practised the queen of virtues, first in a personal
capacity and then in their communities.
It is easy to recall the examples of Basil of Caesarea (†379)
in Asia Minor, Francis of Assisi (†1226) in Italy, Elizabeth of
Thuringia (†1231) in Germany, Martín de Porres (†1639) in Peru,
Vincent de Paul (†1660) in France, Frances Xavier Cabrini (†1917) in
the United States, and Josepha Bakhita (†1947) in the Sudan.
- Particularly after the Second
World War, the witness of charity gradually became better organised.
This period has seen the rise of diocesan and national Caritas
agencies and the establishment of Caritas Internationalis, the birth of
organisations dedicated to Advent and Lenten fund-raising campaigns, the
proliferation of associated forms of charity throughout the world, and
the growing charitable commitments of parish communities.
All of these express the great fruitfulness of the Christian
response to love as Christ commanded.
- In response to the myriad of social and charitable initiatives
that have arisen in the Church, Pope Paul VI accepted the proposals made
by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council and established the
Pontifical Council "Cor Unum".
He did so to promote the co-ordination of these initiatives and
to ensure the use of available resources with greater efficiency.
During the first thirty years of its existence, the Plenary
Assembly of "Cor Unum", composed of cardinals, archbishops,
bishops, clergy, religious, and laity, either as individuals or
representatives of Catholic organisations, has met twenty-three times.
On each of these occasions, the Holy Father has addressed the
members, indicating the main principles and methods that should inspire
"Cor Unum" in pursuing its most important objectives.
At the Second Plenary Assembly on December 1, 1972, Pope Paul VI
declared, "Now, responsibility for the testimony of Christ belongs
to the Church, and the testimony takes on its full significance only if
it is borne in the name of Christ in the Church...But your competencies
do not assume all their Christian significance unless you exercise them
in the dimensions of the Body of Christ, the Church."
On October 27, 1979, Pope John Paul II said, "Two
perspectives guided my predecessor, Pope Paul VI, when he set up the
Pontifical Council "Cor Unum".
First of all, a realistic view of things...But the second aspect,
the more important one, consisted in a keen awareness of the ecclesial
implications of the evangelical exigency of charity for all men."
- Christ, moved by compassion, fulfilled in his own Person the
parable of the Good Samaritan. By "doing good and healing" (Acts 10:38), he
wished to confirm by his works the value of his message and to arouse
faith in his Person. His
"signs", of which the Gospel of John speaks, bear witness to
the love of the Father, of whom he is the messenger.
- In the same way, the Church, through her charitable action,
presents Christ as the only valid model.
In a world which, thank God, does not remain indifferent to human
misery, she always tries to fix her gaze on "Jesus, the forerunner
and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2) and to safeguard
the Christian nature of her charitable mission. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said to her followers, "What
matters is to unite our thoughts with his thoughts, unite our prayers
with his prayers, unite our actions with his actions, our life with his
life...All our words will be of no avail if they do not spring from the
depths of the heart. Words
that do not spread the light of Christ increase the darkness."
- I therefore invite you to read the discourses of the Popes
cited above and the attached lexicon of biblical and theological
concepts on the various expressions of charity gathered together in this
book. I trust that careful
meditation on these pages will protect us from the risk of reducing our
charitable mission to mere philanthropy and will reinforce in us the
vision of faith, which is the foundation of our dedication to the poor
in every circumstance.
City, July 15, 2001
PAUL JOSEF CORDES
of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum"