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La Curia Romana  



Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso                      
Secretary of the                                                         
Pontifical Council Cor Unum 

                                               Rome, May 13, 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,

I am pleased to have this opportunity to address this gathering of the General Assembly, where Caritas Internationalis (C.I.) members from around the world convene to strengthen mutual communion and adherence to the Successor of Peter and to render more effective the ministry of charity in the Church in the service of humanity. This General Assembly takes place for the first time since the official release of the new Statutes and Internal Rules of the Confederation in 2012. Indeed, this important historical event in the life of Caritas has attributed to it the necessary canonical basis to reach its full potential as an entity expressing and implementing the charitable mission of the whole Church.

This process has enjoyed a close collaboration among different actors thanks to a spirit of cooperation present among Caritas and the competent bodies of the Holy See. In particular, I wish to express my gratitude to the president, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the Secretary General Michel Roy and the papal appointees Archbishop Bernard Anthony Hebda of Newark, Archbishop Paul Yembuado Ouédraogo of Bobo-Dioulasso and Maronite Archbishop Youssef Antoine Soueif of Cyprus, along with the other members of the Executive Board. Their efforts and hard work throughout this important process has led Caritas to become a generous instrument of God’s providence and of his merciful goodness towards the suffering and poor. We are also very grateful to the Support Commission and especially to Msgr. Osvaldo Neves de Almeida for their valuable dedication and contributions throughout these years.

1. The Poor is Primarily a Human Person

Before describing the juridical work done, I would like to focus on the person that we serve. As we are entering into the third year of this Pontificate, we can see the continuity between the Pontificates of Benedict XVI and Francis. Pope Francis is insistently inviting the whole Church to enter into a dimension of profound service to humanity, especially the poor and suffering. He is helping us to rediscover that the service of charity, the love towards the poor and marginalized, is part of the integral mission of the Church. As you know, Pope Benedict began his pontificate calling our attention to the love of God who moves us towards service in favor of humanity. Therefore, God’s Providence has provided us through Benedict XVI with an adequate theological and canonical foundation for the conversion of hearts towards the service of charity, for the fulfillment of which Pope Francis is setting an example and calling the whole Church. In this endeavor, Caritas has the task of assisting the Church to be attentive to the cry of the poor and bear witness to the charitable mission that Jesus has entrusted to the Church.

In fact, the poor has been a theme that continues to be in the forefront of Pope Francis’ papacy since his election. He affirms: “for the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one” (EG n. 198). It impresses me that when the Pope speaks, he does not mention poverty but the poor. He does not consider the structures or the phenomenon of poverty per se, but the human person afflicted by poverty. This has also been your daily experience when you confront in your work with so much suffering and loneliness. Behind poverty, there is always a human face. It is not just a concept, but it touches the lives of real people. Our mission is to discover the face of Christ in the suffering, the poor and the abandoned. We serve these people and in them the Son of God, who wanted to be poor in order to save humanity. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). But, which person do we mean? Let us listen again to Pope Francis, “I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith” (EG n. 200).

2. The Historical Path

Since this is the first General Assembly after the new Statutes, I have the duty to inform you, who are the first body of the Confederation, regarding the work that was accomplished. It has not been easy to reach this result, since from the beginning there was the need to keep in mind some different yet complementary basic features, which attributed to C.I a common dynamism. In fact, C.I is an institution of the Church, but has a great effect in the world, also because of its involvement at the international level. It is inspired by charity but also engages for justice. It is connected to the Holy See without being a part of the Holy See. It was necessary to take all this into account. Particularly, the concept of confederation is a key concept because it illustrates this dynamism between the center and the outskirts. In fact, the concept of confederation expresses that several autonomous agents come together to achieve common tasks. But, individual entities do not give up their autonomy. Therefore, it is not a centralized system with offices in individual countries. On the contrary, individual countries are coming together to tackle common problems. This principle is fundamental to understand the structure of Caritas, an international body with national members. Obviously, this principle is balanced by the other fundamental one, which is the authority of the Holy Father. These concepts of confederation and ecclesial nature articulate the essential points of the identity of Caritas Internationalis, and were helpful to find the correct canonical structure for the Confederation.

C.I. was founded in 1951 by the desire of Pope Pius XII to address the humanitarian needs at the end of World War II, both in the assistance of the victims of conflict and for family reunification. In that same year, the organization held its first General Assembly, which brought together the 13 founding members. On July 19, 1976, with the initiative of Pope Paul VI, C.I. was granted a civil juridical personality of the Vatican City State. In the early 2000, in order to clarify the relationship of the organism towards the Holy See and the Italian State, Caritas Internationalis made the request to obtain a public canonical legal personality. At that time, a small commission consisted of four members from the Secretariat of State, Caritas Internationalis and Cor Unum was established to examine and study the proposal. As a result of their work, on September 16, 2004 the pontifical Chirograph “During the Last Supper” was published. In it, Pope Saint John Paul II granted public canonical legal personality to C.I. and indicated some basic guidelines for the activity of Caritas Internationalis and its relationship with the various Dicasteries of the Holy See, in particular with the Secretariat of State and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. As a follow-up to this new status, there was already the provision of revising the statutes of CI to conform to the requirement of such a status. In fact, according to Canon Law (Can. 116), such new legal status recognized that Caritas carries out its charitable activity in the name of the Catholic Church and as a consequence functions under ecclesiastical authority.

Already at this time, the Catholic Church was giving a greater focus and importance to her charitable mission. The Church is well aware that it is through the charitable witness of her members that she reaches out to millions who are able to recognize and sense the love of God. For this reason, the work of revising the Statutes is to be seen as part of a greater reflection to renew and give impulse to the charitable activity of the Church. A major element that pointed to this direction was the publication of the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est in 2006. For the first time, an encyclical was dedicated explicitly and completely to the theme of the service of charity in the Church. This document, which contains essential theological guidelines, gave new light to our work and continues to do so. Because of this, I was encouraged by Pope Francis to hold a congress commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the publication of the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est to renew the message of this important document. This congress will probably take place on the 25th and 26th of February 2016 with the participation of representatives of the Episcopal Conferences and the Church’s charitable organizations. Another fruit of the reflection on charity was the Motu Proprio “Intima Ecclesiae Natura”, published in December of 2012, which gives “an organic legislative framework for the better overall ordering of the various organized ecclesial forms of the service of charity, which are closely related to the diaconal nature of the Church and the episcopal ministry” (Introduction IEN). Given Pope Francis’ focus on charity in the life of the Church, I cannot stress enough how this is a great opportunity for the Bishops to use this instrument in order to place the service of charity at the center of the life of the Church as one of her essential tasks. In view of this, I suggest that the Bishops’ Conferences review the Statutes of their Caritas in the light of these documents, which a number of them have already done so. All this is to reaffirm that the attention given to C.I. with the new Statutes is to be considered part of a greater picture, which is the Church’s reflection on the subject of charity in the last years.

Now, going back to C.I., but keeping in mind this broader perspective, the revision process began in 2007 as a necessary follow-up to the new legal status of C.I. The work of revising the Statutes was conducted in a climate of constant dialogue between the C.I., who had formed a special committee for legal affairs, the Secretariat of State, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and other entities of the Holy See. This long and fruitful dialogue, of which I am a witness, culminated on the 2nd of May 2012; the then Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, handed the texts of the new legislation to the President of C.I., Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga.

3. The Implementation of the new Statutes

As the competent Dicastery of the Holy See for C.I., the Pontifical Council Cor Unum is striving to follow the Holy Father’s indication of accompanying, supporting and assisting C.I. in carrying out the norms stated in the General Decree since its promulgation. Throughout these years, much has been done with the collaboration of the Support Commission established with the new Statutes. Even though it has been a long process, I am pleased to acknowledge that this was done between Cor Unum and C.I. in a spirit of collaboration and fraternal communion, which I believe has only increased with time. What are the results of this collaboration? On the same day of the publication of the Statutes, a new Ecclesiastical Advisor was appointed – Fr. Pierre Cibambo. We are grateful for his important work. Since then, C.I. has been working on implementing the content of the Internal Rules, especially on issues concerning the structure of its government and the employment of staff. Last January, the Management Standards of governance were adapted among the Caritas members for a trial period of four years. They are designed to give its governance a structured and reliable legal framework as well as greater transparency and accountability towards the public. In particular, the norms regarding personnel labor standards and the duties of the members have now been adapted to the functions and organizational standards of the Roman Curia, in compliance with Canon Law and Vatican legislation, that ensures the protection of health and pension coverage. As an ongoing work, we are also accompanying the Regions in the revision of their Statutes and Internal Rules, which are at present being submitted and will be studied in collaboration with the Executive Board. We have also agreed with a procedure of submitting to Cor Unum documents of doctrinal and moral guidance from C.I. intending for publication. This will also help in the application of such norm for the regions.

In a recent meeting, the Holy Father, responding to a need expressed in C.I., gave the possibility of adding a derogation to the Statutes of C.I. The Executive Board would no long be made up of 7 members, but instead will consist of 8 members. The addition is to reflect the need that each region in the Confederation is well presented at the Executive Board. With this in mind, the Representative Council will now elect 4 instead of 3 members to the Executive Board.

In short, thanks to this process of implementing the General Decree with dedicated work and mutual collaboration within the family of Caritas, today Caritas is integrated in a strong communion with the Holy See. With Pope Francis’ greater interest on the Church’s dedication to charity, the legislation helps C.I. to become an effective instrument of the ministry of charity within the Church, and on an international level, to be a respected partner as an important faith-based organization.

4. The Special Mission of Caritas Within The Church

In following this path, we can see that all the steps taken towards this new juridical structure clearly expressed that the Popes have always perceived that the Confederation shares in the mission of the Church when it exercises its Diakonia in the Church and for the world. The Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, based on the divine origin of charity and on the experience of the early Church, also puts charity in its original context next to the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments as the Church’s own action. Pope Francis has mentioned this aspect yesterday in his homily. “Word, Sacrament and service refer to and nourish each other, as can already be seen in these testimonies of the early Church.” Therefore, before being considered as pertaining to the social order, the Church’s charitable activity has a prominently ecclesial character. This is a very important point that we need to reflect more and more. In a meeting with the Executive Committee of Caritas Internationalis on May 16, 2013, Pope Francis stressed this character of belonging to the Church: “Caritas is the caress of the Church to its people, the caress of the Mother Church to her children, her tenderness and closeness”.

For the Church, the point of departure of all her charitable activity is the experience of God who inspires charity and helps us to serve every human person as God has served him. Of course, there is a need for Christians to reflect on and find solutions to the many problems of poverty and exclusion; this is a requirement of justice. But, if we only consider as important the expected effectiveness of our service, we risk losing the Christian character of our work. Above all, the Church’s response to human suffering and poverty is a service that incarnates the mercy that is at the heart of the Gospel’s message. This gives you an important role within the Church. In fact, Caritas has a distinctive identity in comparison with many other Church institutions and associations. In the introduction to the Statutes, it is stated that Caritas at the diocesan level is the instrument of the bishop for the apostolate of charity. This distinguishes Caritas from other groups that are born from the initiatives of the faithful. This implies a special bond between Caritas and the local community. All this affirms that the special position of Caritas in the Church is aimed at making the whole Church more responsive to God’s call to be a community of love. You have an indispensable role in raising the awareness of all Christians to live their Christian love to its fullness so that Christ’s words may be fulfilled: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

4. Conclusion

As we continue to journey on this path marked out for us, we renew our commitment and collaboration. Our first aim is to foster the charitable witness and mission of the Church so that people can experience God’s compassionate love. Caritas can offer a remarkable contribution to this task. Following the desire of Pope Francis, Caritas can help the Church’s charitable service to be more ecclesial and the Church herself to become more charitable.

To conclude, I wish to avail of this opportunity to express once more our deepest gratitude to the president, Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga and the Treasurer Professor Juerg Krummenacher for the valuable and esteemed collaboration that they have provided to the Caritas Confederation throughout these years. Some of the seven Regional Presidents will conclude their mandates in this General Assembly. I would like to also express my sincere gratitude to them, knowing the big challenges that some of our Regions have to address. This is also an occasion for me to offer my sincere congratulations and welcome to the soon-to-be elected bodies and assure them our prayers, collaboration and support in their service to the Church and humanity.

Thank you for your attention!