REMARKS OF THE XXIV PLENARY ASSEMBLY
At the end of our Plenary Assembly, I would like to try to give a
synthesis, however inadequate relative to the experiences and ideas shared in
First of all, let me express my thanks to you who have taken the time to
participate in this important meeting in spite of the many responsibilities you
have in your own countries. The
theme which we chose actually told us a lot and I would like to say that, given
your contributions, we have really hit the target.
Volunteerism, as the Spanish-speaking group indicated this morning, is
truly a "sign of the times", one of those spoken of in the New
Testament (Mt. 16:4).
1. As to the rest, this is not the first time that our Council is
2. Allow me, briefly, to comment on the positive aspects of this
experience, of which Jean Vanier has spoken sufficiently, thanks to his activity
with the disabled. That some would
freely focus their attention on them, reveals the true value that they have.
Volunteers become faithful friends of the disabled and this friendship
allows them to grow in maturity, in integrity, and in their faith in Jesus.
In this way, they discover the Mystery.
Also the numerous testimonies from various countries have helped us
remember the value of this experience.
It is good to admit into our reflections the fact that the volunteerism
of which we speak is that which, mostly seen in the form of an organized
community, works in the area of assistance and help to those in need.
In the English language group, we heard today a few specific points which
The area of our competence is diakonia.
But, obviously, there are many forms of volunteerism which exist in other
areas: for example, I believe that we can say that almost all catechesis in
parishes and many services, as such, which parishes offer depend on the
contribution of volunteers. To them we can therefore apply by analogy a few reflections
which we have considered here, in particular regarding the spirit which must
3. I must also offer a few words on the relationship between Catholic and
non-Catholic volunteerism and public authorities.
By itself, there seems to be a general appreciation, even a tendency by
governments to favor volunteerism. We were given first-hand information and
analyses which raise concern for development which often remains unseen.
The presence of so many volunteers signifies a greater participation of
citizens in public life. In this sense, it is interesting to note a certain change in
perspective. While in past years
the participation of citizens was channeled overall through the larger
structures of parties and unions, these have considerably diminished in terms of
their social influence.
As such, many initiatives for intervention into the public sector have
been created, relocating mostly in local aggregations, with a precise and
limited focus, almost spontaneously. Volunteerism
is an expression of this desire to participate in the social life, beginning at
its base. For this, such a
phenomenon must be evaluated as an effective interest shown by the citizens
toward social problems, also if they are in a new form.
I believe that also on the part of the Church, there must be the best
possible favor and appreciation of this change toward smaller participation
because it is a sign of a living society. I
would say more: it is important that these forces, less structured, less
fashioned by the state, should have an enlarged space in which to grow.
The Pope, in His letter on volunteerism, point number three, writes that
society must be helped "to promote the many forms of volunteer work that
are the sign of growth in social awareness."
Here rests the temptation for governments to serve themselves by
absolving responsibility which the law has given them, and leaving it to be
completed by volunteerism. I am
happy that it was clearly said in this room that it is not the work of the
Church, per se, to guarantee the well-being of citizens and, therefore, our
volunteer organizations cannot assume all the responsibility.
This is not to say that the Church is not present where poverty exists,
on the other hand, often preceding the intervention of all the other social
actors. But, this supplement cannot
be an entire substitution for the responsibility which the state and
society have towards their citizens.
The purpose with regard to the presence of Catholic volunteerism in the
civil ambit, I am happy to say, accords with what is expressed regarding the
work of "Cor Unum" about favoring a common action between the
principal Catholic agencies for the promotion of some of the undeniable values
which we have particularly at heart.
4. Going more into the merit of the question, we have seen that a
fundamental aspect obliges us to reflect profoundly on the anthropology which inspires
us. Volunteerism originates from a
natural desire in man to help another; we
all know that a call to love is innate in man and that man finds, therefore, his
realization only when he gives himself. In
this terrain, many volunteers find a starting point, which must be gathered by
groups and by leaders who have experience.
On this purely human base, much volunteerism is constructed.
The Church appreciates this free initiative also by persons who dedicate
themselves to others without having the motivation of faith, but simply in the
name of man and for the attention to those in need.
Also, if today the institutional presence of the Church is less, there
remains a cultural legacy: the Christian spirit is passed also to
society and has left its traces: for this we must be grateful.
I would like to note two overall dangers.
The first is that infact our institutions are being marginalized: there
is no longer a need for the Church because
much of the good also comes from outside of it.
Society, in fact, sees the Church merely in its social function.
For the greater part of the public, it is one of many philanthropic
institutions. Its work is measured
according to humanitarian categories. And
both the state and society expect
it to be limited to this work. As
such, man is reduced to an "intelligent animal".
Religion and transcendence in the common mentality no longer have any
prophets. As well, the supernatural
contribution in favor of man in his integrality and the historical contribution
of Christianity are silenced, as in the new
preamble of the European Constitution, for example.
5. The hidden secularism, or even that which is manifested, obliges the
associations of volunteers as well as charitable agencies to be vigilant; if
there is ingenuous adaptation to the dominant tendencies, their Christian spirit
In other words - and this is a very pragmatic argument - in the large and
always growing army of NGOs, the Christian connotation gives an unmistakable
identity to ecclesial groups.
To remain faithful to Christian heritage and to give attention to a
deepening of the faith of all adherents, contributes, then, eo ipso to
overcoming all of the misunderstandings which can arise from collaboration among
and recipients: respect for the ultimate responsibility of the pastors ordered
toward the ecclesial diakonia; the collaboration with other confessions and
other religions; the financial equilibrium between institutional functionaries
and local collaborators; all of the elements which create an unfailing trust
and recipients. "Guidelines"
were also mentioned, which "Cor Unum" must
eventually propose. In all this, we
must never omit that help is never a one-way street.
The countries of the so-called first world have much to gain from
countries which find themselves still on the road to development: integrity of
anthropology, sensitivity, recognition of creation as the work of God, respect
aged, a sense of belonging to family and society.
6. Unfortunately, another highly diffused danger is the belief that
Christian experience can be substituted, and therefore the personal encounter
with Christ, with activity under the insignia of personal good will. There is a risk, therefore, of
retaining the idea that man is good by himself and can do good by his own strength,
which means he is no longer in need of both redemption and salvation.
It is that which we call the "buonismo" in Italian - "Gutmenschen"
in German - the sentiment that we are good and can do good, the temptation to
make everything disappear in a presumption of original harmony. The Catholic aid institutions
resist this "Pelagian" mentality, on the basis that the redemption comes
as a result of our works. It is a
horizontalism which exalts the capacity of man,
saying in reality that he has no need of God.
7. In this regard, as far as concerns volunteerism within our Catholic
institutions, these seem to me to be some important points.
We take account that volunteerism keeps organizations alive and dynamic.
Thus, where there is volunteerism, which means that there are persons who
put themselves at its disposal, there is still a will to act and, therefore,
Further to this more sociological point, it is necessary that we
A) Faith in Christ motivates the doing of good.
The activity of Catholic volunteerism fundamentally originates with
believing - and this is an unavoidable historic
fact. It is in the name of Christ
that the Church does good, because from Him
has been taken the fundamental law of revelation and of love ending with the gift
of self, the love particularly toward the little ones, toward the needy, toward
those who seem to merit it least.
B) In the poor themselves Christ is encountered.
In this way, whoever volunteers can find themselves rediscovering faith.
In fact, Jesus himself indicates
that by his incarnation he is present to us in every needy person.
knows how to see well, recognizes that in the poor Jesus himself is served.
This is a great mystery which maybe cannot be adequately explained in
words, but can be well known by experience, because suffering introduces us to
the knowledge of the truth, the which uncovers for us the profound limits of
man. And it is there that Christ who is
the truth appears.
C) Finally, but perhaps the most important aspect, is that the
relationship of the volunteer with Christ is manifested in the fact that only
the Son of God who has
taken upon himself human suffering gives also an explanation of this suffering.
How can a volunteer who sees so many problems resist the scandal of sorrow,
is he does not know Christ has died and risen to redeem man from his sufferings?
Thus, the volunteer must be directed to encountering the cross as the
mystery of salvation. Allow me to
illustrate this thinking in reference to the Holy Father.
His sufferings do not impede the exercise of his ministry, but they also render
it more fruitful in a certain sense. Most of all there is an eloquent message in
His person for a world that wants everyone to be strong.
It teaches us that the cross
of Christ gives to suffering a sense which is otherwise obscured.
To guarantee this vision of faith in volunteerism, it is necessary to
find the forms of spiritual encouragement for the volunteers themselves.
It is necessary to form
them even more in the profound motivation for their actions, as was emphasized
this morning. We must, therefore,
flee the temptation of believing that
the action of volunteers is enough in itself.
One must continually work on the motivations
of the volunteer and his sense of faith, so that his service is always more
applicable. I would like that this
conviction be particularly present in those who
have the responsibility for the internal leadership of our Catholic agencies, but
also in the Bishops upon whom so many volunteers count within their parishes
and movements. The Spanish group
also recalled the importance of integrating
volunteers from outside into the local Church.
We cannot forget that young
people have a great potential, available and generous.
The attention to spiritual accompaniment can be one of the concrete
fruits of this Plenary Assembly.
City, February 8, 2002
Paul Josef Cordes