1. - From Christ's commandment given to his disciples to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34) to the Apostolic Letter Amoris 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.
2. - 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 (Â379) in Asia Minor, Francis of Assisi (Â1226) in Italy, Elizabeth of Thuringia (Â1231) in Germany, Martín de Porres (Â1639) in Peru, Vincent de Paul (Â1660) in France, Frances Xavier Cabrini (Â1917) in the United States, and Josepha Bakhita (Â1947) in the Sudan.
3. - 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.
4. - 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.
5. - 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."
6. - 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.
7. - 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."
8. - 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.
Vatican City, July 15, 2001
ARCHBISHOP PAUL JOSEF CORDES
President of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum"