Unum": 30 Years of History and the Challenges of Today
We and our contemporaries, with a little sensitivity, cannot avoid seeing the
suffering of many people. It is
evident, both near and far from us, when it manifests itself in poverty and
catastrophes, in suffering and in need, in youth and in old age.
Over thirty years ago, the Pope himself was compelled to intervene by
undertaking a new initiative. In
accord with the aid activities of many Catholic agencies and works, Paul VI
created an instrument to act in his name for specific emergency cases and to
foster the coordination of the various charitable institutions of the Church.
On July 15, 1971, he founded the Pontifical Council "Cor
Unum" with the Letter Amoris Officio.
This document shows the intent of Paul VI:
"We therefore think it opportune to set up a special
Council which would, so to speak, offer to all the People of God the
possibility of coming together to deal with the above-mentioned questions
concerning the promotion of human society and development."
its foundation, the Popes, in order to make this intention tangible, by the
end of 2001 had channeled aid in the amount of US $87,510,201 through this
Dicastery. As you know, most
recently "Cor Unum" was entrusted and charged with taking care of
the collection which the Holy Father proposed concomitantly with the day of
fast on December 14. By January
31, more than 2 million euro had been given.
The thirty years that have passed give "Cor Unum" an occasion to
reflect upon and consider its orientation towards its origins.
For its Anniversary, "Cor Unum" has published Ars Caritatis.
It gathers together all of the speeches of the Popes to the members of
our Council, along with an historical description of the same.
Added to this are two sections on the Foundations entrusted to us,
namely, the Jean-Paul II pour le Sahel and Populorum Progressio for Latin
America. Along with these historically oriented articles, we have
included a glossary of key concepts regarding the most significant terminology
in the sectors within our competence. I
would like to emphasize that this section would seem to be of particular use,
perhaps even for the work of journalists.
We all know that the imprecise use of terms can confuse concepts and
therefore give a false understanding to reality.
Looking back, we must recognize that "Cor Unum" was not to be simply
a philanthropic institution. Our
purpose was not to be merely an emergency service, which is seen well over the
past years. In fact, all of us
need something more than bread and a roof.
As such, our attention cannot be limited to the material needs of men
and women. To substantiate this,
it is enough to read the Lenten Message, which the Pope has addressed to the
Universal Church, and to which, as always, "Cor Unum" has given its
contribution. There is certainly
a calling once again to assist those in need.
The Pope makes an appeal for "generosity toward the poorest of our
brothers and sisters!" But this is not limited to a call for financial
aid. It must be underlined that
the gift a member of the faithful offers should be an expression of his own
gratitude. This year's Message
has as its fundamental conviction the fact that we have received much.
The traditional Lenten collection thus becomes an occasion to go back
to God and to the works He has done for us.
The collection acquires, therefore, a transcendent significance and
leads to a revitalization of our faith. In
an age in which man wants to live in a totally autonomous manner, the Pope
recalls the attitude which deceives us: "...the capabilities we now have
to improve the quality of life can lead us to think that man is the
"master" of life. The
achievements of medicine and biotechnology can sometimes lead man to think of
himself as his own creator..." This
is the presumption that we can be self-sufficient and not have need of another
person. This growing temptation
is decisively countered in a reflection often repeated by John Paul II, which
is found in Gaudium et Spes (n. 24): "Man cannot fully find himself if
not through a sincere gift of self."
As a result, the situation of suffering for so many people in our time
can become an occasion to go beyond oneself, a challenge of gratuitous giving.
Along this line, the answer to gifts received implies, in the end, a
stimulus for each individual to give himself, even though one may fear that
this stimulus may be a threat to oneself.
The pontifical document, which we present today, takes up all of these
catechetical urgings in the affirmation: "Giving thanks to all those who,
throughout the world, render witness to charity."
This element also leads us to consider another theme, which we cannot ignore.
Last year was proclaimed the Year of Volunteers by the UN.
At the request of "Cor Unum", Pope John Paul II sent a
message to the countless volunteers who are willing to put into practice the
teaching of loving one's neighbor. The Church is proud of them.
The numbers speak for themselves.
In Italy, for example, the "Misericordie" alone account for
650,000 members. Another example
is the Spanish organization "Manos Unidas", which sends help to the
third world for nearly $40,000,000 per year, almost exclusively through its
volunteers. On the other hand,
the statistics as of May 31, 2001, speak for themselves, in that the UN
accounted for 3,067 volunteers in their service.
The volunteers are extremely important for the mission of the Church.
In fact, each believer is offered the opportunity to systematically
live out the call to love one's neighbor.
At the same time, this contributes to strengthening the Church's
writes the Pope to volunteers, "represents the most eloquent form of
evangelization because, responding to corporal needs, it reveals to man God's
provident and fatherly love, concerned for each one" (n.2).
Beyond this, the work of volunteers is a path of education for each one
of them, and even more meaningful because it is a school of gratuitous giving.
It helps each of them to open his eyes to witness the action of God in
society and in history. Whoever
undertakes charitable activity soon realizes that evil is rooted in distance
from God. Evil reigns where God and His will are despised or
misunderstood. This is why the
fight against human misery undertaken by the Church is not merely a
the most profound, and therefore theological, dimension of human suffering,
lies the common denominator for the activities that we present here today:
that answer to our search for happiness is found only in the love of God.
The activities we highlight today are the initiatives of "Cor
Unum" throughout its history, the Lenten Message of the Holy Father, and
his Message to Volunteers.
The bountiful goodness of God is constantly present throughout the history of
His relationship with mankind. The
name of the Messiah is Jesus, which means "God is salvation" (see
Luke 1:77). Jesus is announced as
the one who is going to free his people from sin.
In this sense, a good example is a verse from Matthew's Gospel (cf.
9:2): Jesus heals illness and frees from sin.
This teaches us, therefore, that there is a link between sin and
illness, and even if this is not true for every specific case, Jesus
highlights this fundamental law. We
find this also in the Gospel of John, when Jesus orders the paralytic whom He
healed: "...do not sin any more." (5:14).
In fact, only the final coming of the Lord will put an end to our
temporal condition marked by physical and spiritual evil (see Rev. 21:4).
I wanted to quote the Scriptures to highlight the truth that comes to
us from life itself, a truth that each of us can learn very well by committing
ourselves to those who suffer. One case, for example is that of Agnes Neuhaus.
She was in the forefront of charitable activities in Germany and the
first person to devote herself specifically to abused and harassed women.
She is the foundress of the "Sozialdienst katholischer Frauen"
(1899). Another prominent personality of the social movement in
Germany was Helen Weber, a trade union member and a parliament deputy, who
spoke of Agnes in these terms:
"We must not distort things and ascribe ideas that are modern into the
thinking of Agnes Neuhaus. Her
starting point was not the work undertaken by the law, humanitarian
philanthropy, the state of need of the population, but the desire to save the
souls of man, of each single person.
can be said of Agnes Neuhaus that she was repulsed by sin, by the idea of man
far from God, which is a strong affirmation and can have a deep impact on our
times. Today, who can say this of himself or herself?
She made and perceived the call of God to diffuse His Reign into the
souls of women, who were destroyed or fallen either through their own fault or
that of others."
We have with us one of the great initiators of Catholic volunteers of our day:
Jean Vanier. He is a well-known
personality, a Canadian living in France, who in 1964 founded the first group
of L'Arche. Today, there are 117
such communities in 29 different countries.
They seek to be places of acceptance and integration for the mentally
ill. The purpose of the
foundation is this: to give a family, a community to whomever has a mental
handicap, in order to enable them to learn as much as possible, to be
independent in every-day life, when working and living in communion with
others and meeting God. In his
spiritual experience of closeness with the most weak, Jean Vanier has been
able to gather thousands of people into the "Faith and Light"
movement. In particular, his
witness conveys that good works do not aim only at alleviating suffering or
making a person happy. Rather, the most important feature of charitable work
is that for someone it turns into a path for discovering God.
City, February 5, 2002.
Paul Josef Cordes
Pontifical Council "Cor Unum"
of Jean Vanier, Founder of L'Arche in France
am always impressed by the way
John Paul II, day after day, proclaims a way of love, a vision of the "civilization
of love". Is this just a dream? Is this civilization possible? We live in
a world filled with conflicts, inequalities, a world where selfishness, hatred
and violence so often seem to overshadow the works of love. What can each one
of us do to change things and to bring hope to our world?
his message for Lent, the Holy Father calls us to "give freely",
because we "have received freely". He calls us in a special way to
welcome each person regardless of their qualities or defects, and to accept
responsibility for the sick, the marginalized, the poor and the exploited.
37 years now I have had the
privilege of living with men and
women with learning disabilities who have often known the pain of being mocked,
rejected and excluded. People with mental handicaps are amongst the
most oppressed people; they are not wanted in our stressful world of
competition.. Many consider them a nuisance, a disturbance, less than human,
having no real value. A recent survey in France has shown that 96% of the
women who know that the child within their womb has a handicap, seek an
abortion. I would like to bear
witness here however to the "power" of these so called "powerless"
people, their capacity to open hearts, to help people become more truly human,
to lead people into the mystery of the gospels and a meeting with Jesus.
cannot however ignore that children born with a severe disability are a
scandal, humanly speaking. Maybe it is only the gospel message that can help
us to enter into the mystery of their lives.
know that each person is important, unique, precious for Jesus. People with learning disabilities have a special
importance for Jesus because in all their apparent incapacities, they are more
open to love. They may not be able to develop their intellectual capacities
but they are people of the heart, people yearning for relationship. That is
why Paul affirms in his letter to the Corinthians that God has chosen the weak
and foolish in the eyes of the world in order to confound the strong and the
so called clever; that those who are weakest, "the least presentable"
are necessary to the church and should be honoured (cf 1Cor 1:21; 1Cor 12 ).
these last 37 years I have also met and accompanied a number of young
and less young volunteers who have come to
l'Arche and to Faith and Light. In our 120 l'Arche communities they
share their lives, living and working daily, with men and women with
disabilities. In the 1,500 Faith and Light communities they meet regularly
with people with disabilities and their parents. Some have become faithful
friends of people with disabilities, committed to them. And I can testify to
how this friendship with the weak has led them to growth in maturity and
wholeness and in faith in Jesus.
is a young man with severe mental and physical disabilities. He had an
incredible, beautiful face and a capacity to touch hearts. When you called him
by name, his face would light up. Many of us regarded Antonio as our "teacher",
because so many of us have trouble accepting ourselves as we are. We may be
able to walk and talk and learn, but our handicaps are more interior, we have
difficulties with relationships. We are often filled with prejudices, closed
up behind protective inner walls or barriers. We have difficulty forgiving
others when they have hurt us. We frequently want power over others who
quickly become rivals. Sometimes
we are angry or in depression. Antonio showed us how to accept our limits and to work with
them so that we become more whole. If
you had visited Antonio he would have touched you by his smile, his self
acceptance, his thirst for love and friendship. You would also have been
touched by the young volunteers along side of him. If you had asked them:
"Is it difficult to be with Antonio and to care for him?" You might
have been surprised by their answer. "I
had been taught to be strong, assertive, aggressive so that I could get a good
job. Later, at work, I had to struggle, to be the best, in order to climb the
ladder of promotion and have more money. Antonio has led me into a completely
different world: the world of community, mutual listening, of growth in
compassion, where each person is important however weak, able or disabled."
can witness that many young volunteers who come to our communities live an
experience of transformation. Jesus is waiting for them in the poor and the
weak. They discover something fundamental about being human and about being a
follower of Jesus.
of all, they gradually discover their own hearts, their own deepest self.
People with learning disabilities are crying out for affection, faithful
friendship and understanding. They have a mysterious way of breaking down
barriers around peoples' hearts. They awaken what is deepest within us: our
hearts and our desire for relationship. We see in the parable of the "good
Samaritan", how the wounded Jewish man left lying in the street somewhere
between Jerusalem and Jericho touched and awoke the heart of the Samaritan who
was passing by.
other young people today want to go to poorer areas of the world, to share
their lives with people in the slums, in refugee camps, in schools for
disadvantaged children. They also live an experience that transforms their
lives. They realise that they can do something beautiful with their lives just
by being with people, learning to love them intelligently. They also realise
how closed and prejudiced they
were before, how they were only concerned about their own immediate family or
group or religion or culture and they begin to understand how richer cultures
oppress the poorer ones. This shared experience with suffering and weak people
helps them to discover what it means to be part of the human family. They
discover that to be human and to be Christian means to love people.
Things and projects are important but should always be orientated towards
people. Martin Buber, the Jewish Philosopher says that when societies put too
much emphasis on acquiring things, they tend to lose the importance of
relationships. And yet the treasure of we human beings is precisely
relationships, the heart. The road to conflict
resolution and justice can only come
through dialogue, relationship and love..
young volunteers come to our communities wanting to do good to the poor, but
what they discover is that it is the weak and the poor who are healing and
transforming them, leading them into compassion. Many discover or deepen their
faith through compassion. It is a road to Jesus. They discover that God is
waiting for us in the poor and the weak. Then they discover that Christianity
is not first of all a theology, a catechism or moral laws, but a relationship
with a person, the person of Jesus. Isn't that what John, the beloved disciple,
reveals when he says in his letters:
let us love one another because love is from God and whoever loves is born of
God, knows God." (1Jn 4)
if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need yet closes his
heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1Jn 3:17)
our broken world, many young people feel confused. Some, when they
discover the chaos in the world and in themselves, in their own
violence and disordered sexuality, can fall into a life of chaos. Others just
want to do what everybody else is doing. They seek to ignore the chaos, not
question the values of society and just want security, money and success.
Still others see the chaos which can make them insecure. They look for strong
groups which give them security. They need to feel that they are strong and on
the right side.
others take the rather insecure road of compassion. They want to be with the
broken of our world. But they discover also how broken they themselves are. To
grow in love they need help. Through compassion they discover community and
their need for a deep, personal relationship
with Jesus. They discover the meaning of
Eucharist and the washing of the feet. They discover the church, a
community of believers, and they begin to cry out for unity amongst all
followers of Jesus and of all of humanity.
our world of confusion and brokenness, L'Arche and Faith and Light are like
schools of relationship, schools of the heart. We learn through moments of
hardship, when we touch our own violence, how much we need help in order to
love intelligently. We need the
support of community and good spiritual accompaniment to grow to greater
wholeness, maturity and union with Jesus.
compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge and you will not
be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will
be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you." (Luke 6:36-38)
Office, Vatican City, 5 February 2002