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Pope urges Caritas to work more closely with bishops

Benedict XVI greets participants at the general assembly of Caritas Internationalis (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Caritas Internationalis must be guided by bishops and the teaching of the Church in its work promoting development and helping the needy, Pope Benedict XVI has said.

The Vatican is responsible for following the activities of Caritas and “exercising oversight to ensure that its humanitarian and charitable activity, and the content of its documents, are completely in accord with the Apostolic See and the Church’s magisterium”, the Pope said on Friday during a meeting with delegates to the Caritas general assembly.

Representatives of the 165 national Catholic charities that make up the Caritas Internationalis confederation met in Rome for five days last week. The general assembly’s agenda included work on new statutes that would strengthen Vatican oversight of the organisation’s operations, reflecting Pope Benedict’s teaching on Christian charity and the fact that in 2004 Caritas Internationalis was given a special juridical status by the Vatican.

Pope Benedict said that with the new juridical status, Caritas “took on a particular role in the heart of the ecclesial community and was called to share, in collaboration with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, in the Church’s mission of making manifest, through practical charity, that love which is God himself”.

Caritas, he said, was called to bring the Church’s message to international political and social discussions. However, he said, “in the political sphere – and in all those areas directly affecting the lives of the poor – the faithful, especially the laity, enjoy broad freedom of activity.

“No one can claim to speak ‘officially’ in the name of the entire lay faithful, or of all Catholics, in matters freely open to discussion,” Pope Benedict said. “On the other hand, all Catholics, and indeed all men and women, are called to act with purified consciences and generous hearts in resolutely promoting those values which I have often referred to as ‘non-negotiable,’ ” he said.

The Pope has used the term in reference to the obligation to protect human life and to support the traditional family based on the lifelong marriage of a man and a woman open to having children.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, who was re-elected president during the assembly, told Pope Benedict: “Wherever a sign of God’s love is needed, Caritas is there.”

Caritas, the cardinal said, “is a faith-filled answer” to people’s cries for help and was an advocate for the dignity of the poor and their human rights.

“We have dreamed and continue to dream of a world formed by one human family and with zero poverty,” he said.

Pope Benedict told members that because their confederation was able “in a certain way to speak and act” in the Church’s name, Caritas had “particular responsibilities in terms of the Christian life, both personal and in community. Only on the basis of a daily commitment to accept and to live fully the love of God can one promote the dignity of each and every human being.”

For Catholics, “charity is understood not merely as generic benevolence, but as self-giving” designed to help each and every person come to know the love of Christ, he said.

As a global confederation helping millions of people in dozens of countries each year, Caritas increasingly is listened to in international forums, the Pope said, and he thanked Caritas for being an advocate of “a sound anthropological vision, one nourished by Catholic teaching and committed to defending the dignity of all human life”.

Pope Benedict said that without recognising that human beings were created by God and are called to eternal life, “we risk falling prey to harmful ideologies” that do not advance the good of the whole human person because integral development includes the person’s spirituality and eventual salvation.