2-5 July 1998, a meeting was held in the Vatican at Domus Santæ Marthæ
organized by the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum".
The meeting, entitled "THE CHURCH FOR THE SALVATION OF HUMANITY:
DIAKONIA IN SOME APOSTOLIC ADMINISTRATIONS AND SUI IURIS MISSIONS IN
EUROPE AND ASIA" focussed on the charitable activity of the Catholic Church
in these territories.
Participants at the meeting, the first of its kind, included: Pontifical representatives, Ordinaries and Superiors of the
territories, representatives from the Episcopal Conferences of the United States
and Italy, Caritas Internationalis, some local Caritas Organizations, and other
organizations among which were the Church in Need, Catholic Relief Services,
International Volunteer Associations, the Knights of Malta along with Superiors
and Officials of some Dicasteries of the Roman Curia.
The priority issues addressed included formation, volunteerism, rapport
with local authorities, collaboration among Particular Churches and
international organizations. All
this was done in the hope of illuminating the third millennium with a
constellation of signs which indicate the liveliness of the Church.
The meeting represented a true gesture of communion, since these groups
face the same difficulties and have the same hopes.
Some moving testimonies were presented pertaining to pastors, men and
women religious and workers who daily accompany the life and develop of the
poorest of the poor among the population. Often
these poor are isolated in zones which are not even considered as "Third
World" in statistics. However,
it is precisely among the poorest of the poor that the Church is present with
her missionaries carrying out works of Charity.
Many local Caritas groups, along with international Catholic associations
and Church movements, are present dispensing assistance and helping to rebuild
human rapport and social respect based on Christ the Savior in areas destroyed
by ideology. The charitable
activity of the Church strives therefore to relieve the misery and reveal the
goodness of God. This is found in
the ecclesial mission and gives credibility to the proclamation of the Gospel.
This text, "Guidelines for Charitable Activity" proposes some
points for orientating, in diverse ways, the charitable activity of the Catholic
Church in the territory between Europe and Asia.
The situations are different but encounter some similar problems.
The results represent, however, a contribution for the Universal Church
and strive to be of assistance in resolving existing questions in this area.
The Theological Dimension of Charitable Activity.
The first dimension is primarily theological. Diakonia represents one of
the three essential functions of the Church. For our purposes, the term diakonia
is meant to indicate the doing of charitable activity which the Church carries
out for all humanity as children of God, and at the same time recognizing in man
the image of Christ. These acts of charity are not inspired by the Church itself
but by the love of God, a God incarnate and revealed in the person of Christ.
The Son of God, made man, demonstrates the love of the Father, as stated in the
words of John: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us
and sent his Son ..." (1 Jn 4: 10). The Church continues the mission of the
Son of God who reveals to the world the Father's love for each and every human
being. In her actions, the Church demonstrates this fundamental point according
to which she was founded and is based.
Charitable activity cannot be separated from these acts of faith. This
activity profoundly illuminates the link which exists between the essential
functions of the Church: Preaching, celebrating Liturgy and Charity. Each function is
linked to the other two, and without this link each is wanting and lifeless. By
the knowledge which comes from preaching and from living the divine love in the
liturgy, the Church becomes a witness before humanity.
Because diakonia is an ecclesial activity, the role of the Bishop or the
Local Ordinary is primary. He has ultimate responsibility for charitable action.
His responsibility is that of a father, that of fostering different charisms,
bringing together different capacities for the good of the Church, respecting
the specificity of these charisms. We must not mistake the value of these
charisms which find expression in many religious orders, institutes of
consecrated life and those of apostolic life, movements and new communities, all
of which contribute enormously to building up the Church.
The ecclesial character of diakonia necessitates the strict collaboration
of the Christian community, even where the charitable activity is undertaken by
an individual. In fact, this takes place within and through mediation of the
Christian community. The charitable activity of the Church is organized
according to certain structures. However, this does not mean that individuals
should feel excluded in living this dimension of faith. The Church therefore
encourages the doing of "corporal and spiritual works of mercy", the
duty of every Christian as a result of the gift of Baptism.
All this must be kept in mind when accentuating Catholic identity and the
ecclesial aspect of charitable action. Only in this way is it possible, at the
same time, to take on the identity of secular institutional forms, such as NGO's,
so as to more easily be recognized in the civil society.
The charitable activity of the Church also has expression in "Caritas"
groups which are found at different levels: local, diocesan, national and -when
confederated- international. "Caritas" is an instrument of diakonia of
the Church which carries out its own activities. This instrumental character
means that it is neither the beginning nor the end of charity. In fact, it
serves in realizing charity on the part of the faithful. All this has
significant implications at various levels far
First of all, it is important that the "Caritas" Agency of a
single ecclesiastical region interacts with the international network of "Caritas".
This insertion must foster communion and collaboration which respects and helps
the growth of each local "Caritas". Caution should be exercised, in
all cases, so that the International structure of "Caritas" does not
take precedence over the needs of the local "Caritas", and does not
impose foreign models. The autonomy and uniqueness of local initiatives should
be safeguarded. Sometimes there is the risk that economic dependence takes on
other forms of dependency.
Collaboration with the "Caritas" network helps also to avoid
charitable organizations of the same type operating parallel to the local "Caritas".
In this way, the Local Ordinary's role in the coordination of the local "Caritas"
is once more emphasized. It follows that the development of structures for the
delivery of charitable assistance must be in harmony with the development of
It must also be pointed out that the presence of "Caritas" is
not meant as a substitute for public institutions and private organizations.
Precisely for this reason it is not able to answer all needs. "Caritas"
is, however, a clear sign of the care of the Church in the service of humanity.
Specific attention should be given the realities found in different
regions. The presence of the Catholic Church amongst other beliefs and religions
is also intended to be a sign. It is clearly a double challenge: on one hand,
the necessity to give signs of charity, because this is part of the
ecclesiastical mission; on the other hand is the risk that such signs are
considered as proselytism on the part of the Catholic Church. The Church cannot
but fully live her conviction of faith. The help which she gives does not
recognize ethnic or religious differences. The charitable sector therefore opens
up a fraternal and sincere collaboration. The Catholic Church, with her works of
charity makes visible, also in the social fabric, the salvation which Christ has
won for us.
The Formative Dimension
Regarding formation of those working in the social and charitable field,
a solid Christian formation is an absolute necessity. Diakonia flows in fact
from a life of faith. In this way the bureaucratization of charity and a leasing
of it to "professionals" can be avoided. The fundamental intention is
not to build a perfect organization but to have a Christian vocation. The Church
does not strive to have bureaucrats but persons who can enter into the dynamic
of the gift of themselves. Charitable activity must spread from person to person.
Today people often suffer from isolation. In the regions where communism was
imposed, people found themselves before a State which de-personalized them
because the structure was more important than the person. It is therefore
necessary to promote in the personnel of charitable organizations a profound
conviction of their Christian identity, so that they may live their task as a
service. This implies that charitable activity can not be separated from
pastoral activity, but that it takes place in connection with it. Social work
has a pastoral core, and pastoral work must be enriched by the experience of
Another element to highlight is the great formative value of charitable
activity. This is especially true of places where for years regimes have forced
a population to be indifferent, fearful and passive. Man must be made to be
active and responsible, removing from him the fear of being a protagonist in
society. Charitable work represents an excellent occasion to form the human
being. There is hence a need of formation for charitable activity, in the same
way that charitable activity is formation.
The environment in which such formation becomes particularly urgent is
the family, which in some societies is in great crisis. In this respect it
should be reaffirmed that this is one of the major areas of involvement which
awaits the Catholic Church in the present and the future, as the Holy Father has
often reminded us.
An important task of charitable organizations, under the guidance of
their respective pastors, is the care of volunteers. One must reflect on the
basic formation of volunteers, guided by the social teachings of the Church.
Formation is assisted by the exchange of information and through visits.
Collaboration with Large Catholic International Agencies
Regarding the collaboration with Catholic International Organizations and
Agencies, one must first of all take into consideration 70 years of communism
and all its consequences of the anthropological and communications level. This
has prevented a true, complete development. The opening of borders, along with
its many positive aspects, has placed the population in contact with negative
aspects of Western society. As often recalled by the Holy Father, today one must
breathe with two lungs, that of the East and that of the West. There must be a
mutual exchange of gifts.
The West learns from the East the testimony of faith lived heroically.
The East receives from the West support for its own development. The words of
Tertullian are still applicable: "Sanguis martyrum est semen christianorum".
In the face of the advancing secularization in the West, the East offers room
for great hope. Without this reciprocity, which is found in all relations, there
is the danger of dependency, of paternalism, of inadequate autonomy and thus a
lack of true growth. Personal knowledge offers great assistance in pursuing this
Regarding the collaboration between international agencies and local
organizations, there are some points for consideration. Mere funding is not an
absolute priority. One must reflect on long-term programs, projects which can
help local organizations to be self-sufficient. Two concrete proposals emerged
from our meeting: local organizations should learn to work in a systematic and
organized manner; international agencies should reduce the bureaucracy and
better adapt to the necessities of the Church they serve, inserting themselves
into the local ecclesial environment. A concrete step in this direction is also
that of learning Slavic languages.
The international structure is not juxtaposed to local organizations and
does not replace them. It is there to collaborate. The international
organization strives to strengthen and reinforce local organizations so that
they may correspond fully to their tasks.
Collaboration with the "Caritas" Network and with other
charitable organizations at the national and international level, is beneficial
for receiving necessary information pertaining to the development and support of
various charitable activities. Projects are to be coordinated with the diocesan
commission, or national "Caritas", and with the competent Episcopal
Commission if one has been established. In this way, projects have the greatest
possibility of being adopted by other members of the "Caritas"
Federation or other social charitable agencies.
with Public Institutions
The Christian has a specific responsibility to the society in which he
lives. However, a distinction must be made between society and the State. The
latter does not identify with the society since the society has many more
dimensions. This should be taken into consideration because some regimes tend to
place the State at the same level as society, limiting the autonomy of citizens.
The Church is in relation with different members of society and with
representatives of the State. With respect to society, the Church has the task
of promoting the human being and his dignity. The Church knows how to serve man
in his multiple dimensions, regardless of his ethnic origin or religion. The
teaching and example of Pope John Paul II are paradigms for this.
In the societies of countries where Asia and Europe blend, the role of
the Church is still important in advocating reconciliation and in calling the
attention of leaders to those weak and in need. Massive economic development
does risk however leaving behind a large group of the population. By means of
her charitable structures, the Church stands by the growing numbers in need.
The Church undertakes this task in collaboration with other elements of
civil society without losing her proper identity, her convictions and her unique
anthropology. In particular, we find ourselves facing the grave risk of feeling
that one should provide only for the material well-being of people. In contrast
to other non-Christian organizations, the horizon on which the Church moves is
rooted in the Gospel.
In effectively collaborating with other elements of civil society, the
Church never asks for privileges, only to be able to undertake her actions
freely and according to her convictions. This must be clear also in relations
with the State. Collaboration does not mean that the Church wants to invade the
competencies which belong to the State, neither does she intend to make up for
the absence of the State. The Church does not renounce her autonomy. Such
convictions are also summarized in the concept of subsidiarity if correctly
invoked: in her field and on the basis of her innate competence, the Church
demands the possibility to undertake freely that which she knows to be her
Certainly, the manner in which the Church presents herself must be one of
patience and respect far the dynamic of institutions. Without expecting the
impossible, and without racing ahead of the times, we must strive to secure
sufficient participation to that which State institutions are able to provide.
It is clear that the charitable activity of the Church is also a stimulus for
civil society and for government departments to allow their members to carry out
work according to their conscience.
In conclusion, Catholic Organizations need to have a juridic personality,
not to undertake actions but to acquire a full capacity to act tailored to their
development. Thus, one must begin to work confidently. This is after a thorough
evaluation of possible actions, in function of available resources, of needs and
local conditions, of discernment of God's will. We must work in a way that
organizations grow in the environment of the Particular Church and as such are
recognized also at the time of legal registration. If this is not immediately
possible, one must find a form of recognition which can guarantee Catholics the
possibility to work according to their faith and their conscience.