Cardinal Parolin: Caritas gives witness to Jesus as the Christ
(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin celebrated Mass on Saturday for participants of Caritas Internationalis’ General Assembly in Rome 12-17 May. Cardinal Parolin reminded the members of the Church’s confederation of Catholic aid and development agencies that Caritas is to recognise and give witness to Jesus as the Christ.
Below, we publish the full text of Cardinal Parolin’s Homily:
Every General Assembly of an organisation, as vast and well-known as Caritas Internationalis, is like a finishing line, and this is perhaps true of this gathering in a special way. In the last four years a profound change has been experienced in the Confederation, and in a way this Assembly draws to a close a period of transformation, which arose from the necessity of adapting the nature of Caritas Internationalis to its public juridical personality in Canon Law. This gathering, therefore, represents an important finishing line, and, for this reason, I wanted to be with you to celebrate this Eucharist, which is, above all, an act of thanksgiving to God who has accompanied us and who continues to accompany us on our path in life.
The Word of God, which we have heard today, is alive with the special climate of these days and marked by the mystery of the Ascension. Today’s Gospel concludes with the words: “I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (Jn. 16: 28). These words describe Jesus’s self-awareness, the Son of God come into the world to save it from sin and from death; the Son who now returns to the Father in order still to be with us, not in the form of a visible person, but in the mystery of an invisible, but effective presence; removed from the senses, and yet palpable; transcendent, and yet profoundly historical, exercising real influence on history and bringing it to its fulfilment.
The first reading describes the story of Apollo, a disciple who vigorously proclaims Christ and shows that the presence of the Son of God has its primary expression in the Church, that is in that group of disciples who, having recognised the mystery of Christ, become his witnesses, in order to engage all people in the joy of the Gospel. I am struck by the fact that, in this passage from the Acts of the Apostles, as in other parts of the New Testament, the joy of the Gospel is summarised in a few words: “Jesus is the Christ”. The author of Acts sums up the preaching of Apollo in these words: “[he] established from [the Scriptures] that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 18: 28). Thus the self-awareness of Jesus continues in the work of the Church.
Dear friends, addressing you today I cannot but pause to contemplate this affirmation: Jesus is the Christ, the heart of the Church’s preaching. This should become flesh of our flesh; and this, above all, in our personal life.
Being Christian – professing that Jesus is the Christ – is, in the first instance, a personal attitude, matured and pondered by those who have responsibility at different levels of Caritas. A personal attitude and not an external label. It is from this intimate conviction that can flow a service that is worthy of the name we bear. We cannot do other than underline that the first objective of Caritas is to recognise and give witness to Jesus as the Christ.
This cannot ever simply be taken for granted, as if it were an obvious premise, but is rather a personal adhesion which is renewed every day. I cordially invite you to consider this Christian faith dimension of your service as the primary element which makes of Caritas a genuine Caritas Christi.
This is the wellspring that gives sense to our presence in the world: as a continuation of the Lord’s presence. It also becomes the criterion for judging the reality that surrounds us. For economic and social questions, for those of an ecological and anthropological nature, Christians have at their disposal a measure to read and interpret such reality with the eyes of Christ. As Christians these realities pose us questions, requiring an answer. We cannot simply be indifferent faced with the great needs of humanity.
In particular I think of major emergencies, such as that which has affected Nepal these last weeks, or of the major crises such as in Syria or in Iraq, for which the International Community has not been able to find a path to an equitable and shared solution.
But the real challenge our the faith is in the style of our response. How does our faith bear upon the interpretation of human needs and the response that is given to them? This is the question that should precede, accompany and complete every strategic or political consideration.
It seems to me that one of the principal characteristics of this style, which sets apart a Catholic charity organisation, and particularly Caritas, should be the personal encounter with the person who is suffering. It is striking that Pope Francis speaks not of poverty, but of the poor. Behind every social phenomenon, there are people. When the Church speaks of the centrality of the person, this also is what is meant: that our genuine point of attention be the person, before considering social processes.
Shaking someone’s hands, looking into their eyes, offering a friendly presence, saving a person from loneliness – this should be the concern of the work of Caritas: for the wellbeing of the person, created in the image and likeness of God, the privileged place in which God makes himself manifest. It is not merely by chance that Jesus identifies himself with the suffering person: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, sick and imprisoned (cfr. Mt. 25).
We cannot lose sight of the personal dimension of misery in its different forms, as well as the personal dimension of our response. It is clear that all this does not prevent an intervention on structures, processes and the major decisions. But, perhaps also at that level, our great contribution is genuinely to bring to the fore the personal dimension of every form of injustice and evil suffered by humanity.
The second dimension, on which the Word of God leads us to reflect this morning, is that of the Church continuing the work of Christ. This has a particular value also for us today. In his Encyclical Deus Caritas est, Benedict XVI underlined that the charitable organisations are an opus proprium of the Church, a fitting task for her. This clearly shows that the true subject of the service of charity is the Church herself. This is even more the case for Caritas. In the theological introduction to the decree of March 2012, with which the new statutes of the Confederation were approved, Caritas is defined as the privileged instrument of the Bishops in the exercise of the Church’s charitable activity. That being so, unlike the many commendable works born of the initiative of the lay faithful or religious, Caritas has a privileged relationship with the Hierarchy, from where it has its origin. Caritas does not exist, therefore, without a vital relationship with the Church.
This seems to me important in at least two ways. Firstly, that Caritas might grow and be welcomed within the Church, from the parish up to the international level. This helps make the whole Church more sensitive to the service of charity. In this sense, Caritas has a unique role in the community of the faithful, as a reminder of that dimension of service which is typical of every Christian life and community. What that means is that, within the Church, you have a role of witness and prophecy, to make the face of the Church ever more maternal and welcoming, so that she might live ever more fully her charitable nature. In this context, the word and example of Pope Francis are an incentive for all. The second way that this “belonging to the Church” is important is that no Caritas organisation can exist alongside the Church, considering her to be a mere partner, rather than the very subject of its activity.
Communion with the local Church is an intrinsic characteristic of Caritas, and no strategy or agreement with national or international sponsors can make us deviate from this profound communion, as it is a question of our very identity. On account of this very bond with the Church, which continues the work of Christ, it seems to me important to summarise this – the ecclesial dimension of Caritas – in terms of a double mission: (1) to make the face of Caritas more ecclesial, and (2) the face of the Church more charitable.
I would like to conclude with some thanks, which I hope will make their way to the very roots, to the countless workers who, in your name, bring relief to so many who suffer. I thank Caritas for its great witness. The Confederation is greatly appreciated, even in the secular sphere, precisely because it belongs to the Church, enabling it to intervene right up to the limits, in a direct and far-reaching manner. Thank you for being the direct witnesses to God’s love for humanity and his will to give fullness of life.
I also thank the Confederation for the collaboration shown these last years in applying the new norms approved by the Holy See. This collaboration has brought forth good fruits for the benefit of all, and I am sure that many more will blossom, because our strength is indeed ecclesial communion. Thus it is my wish that, also in the years to come, such collaboration with the Apostolic See might continue, in particular with the Secretariat of State, and with the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which is the competent Dicastery in this regard. To this end I offer my best wishes to the new, freshly-elected, President of the Confederation, and to the other organs which will be elected in these days.
To Christ the Lord, of whom we are humble witnesses, and to his Virgin Mother, we desire to faithfully entrust our work, for the good of the Church and for the whole of humanity. Amen.