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Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Deus Caritas Est" and the Identity of Caritas Internationalis - Reflection of the Confederation's Ecclesiastical Adviser

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 12, 2006 ( Monsignor Nelson Viola, the ecclesiastical adviser of Caritas Internationalis, made this reflection on the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" and the identity of the Catholic federation of charitable agencies.

* * *

Reflection on the ecclesial nature and spirituality of Caritas Internationalis
in the light of the first encyclical of Benedict XVI

Rather than commenting on the text of the encyclical, which has been widely commented on by highly authoritative figures, starting with Pope Benedict XVI himself, I would like to draw attention to the essential and historic significance that this first doctrinal document by the new Pope has for our Caritas Internationalis, a modern confederation of Catholic organizations that do charitable and social work on behalf of the universal Church. These associated organizations are present in the vast majority of dioceses and parishes in more that 200 countries and territories around the world.

The text of the encyclical is of vital importance for an in-depth understanding of what Caritas is and the value of the many social and charitable activities that the organization carries out in fulfilling its mission "to spread charity and social justice around the world."

For the first time -- it has been said -- an encyclical approaches the theme of Christian love.

For the first time, "the central core of faith" is the thread of a document in which the new Vicar of Christ ponders the outlook and sets the course of Peter's boat in response to Jesus Christ's command "duc in altum, mar adentro" in this surprising start to the third millennium.

He outlines "a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence," and consequently, "this message is both timely and significant."

The course to be firmly and decisively adopted is also very clear: "For this reason, I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others."

In a deep, yet clear and simple and almost preliminary and non-exhaustive reflection, which has explicit unity of thought and structural style, Pope Benedict XVI encompasses God's Love and human love, sacred and profane love. He thereby proposes a unique perspective and a unique and concrete ecclesial conduct, God's love and love towards him, in the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of sacraments and the triple exercise of charity in today's world: personal, associated and institutional.

His explicit wish to call forth in the world renewed energy and commitment in the human response to God's love leads Pope Benedict XVI to emphasize some essential facts concerning the love which God mysteriously and freely offers to humankind in Jesus Christ and the inseparable relationship between love for God and love of one's neighbor, which is so closely interlinked in Jesus Christ, God and true humankind. Indeed, an assertion that you love God is in fact a lie if you close yourself off to or hate your neighbor, if you do not discover "the Other" in all other people. Indeed, we should see with the eyes of the Samaritan, from the perspective of Jesus Christ who considers any good that is done to one's neighbor, whether near or far, as an act done to his person.

God's Love and love towards him, which are both manifested in love of one's neighbor, are the fundamental core of the Church; they give unity of perspective and unity of conduct to the entire ecclesial community. As well as being a duty for every Christian, it is likewise for the entire ecclesial community, which in its charitable activities should reflect Trinitarian love, the Love of God that unites us with God until in the end God shall be all within all of us.

Pope Benedict XVI says that there can be no authentic Church of Christ without proclamation, celebration and institutional witness. These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. Together they make the Church a Community of Love, an appreciable sign of God's Love for all humankind.

Moreover, exercising the ministry of charity, according to the encyclical, "has had a constitutive relevance in the Church from the beginning. 'Diakonia,' the ministry of charity exercised in a communitarian, orderly way, became part of the fundamental structure of the Church."

Currently, "the Church's charitable organizations, beginning with those of Caritas (at diocesan, national and international levels), ought to do everything in their power to provide the necessary resources, following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, as Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations...."

In a general audience held on 18 January 2006, after the catechesis, Pope Benedict XVI announced the imminent publication of his first encyclical entitled "Deus Caritas Est" which focuses on Christian love.

In a brief commentary on the encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI mentioned the institutional love of the Church, and as an example he expressly referred to Caritas. These were his words: "... I also endeavor to show that the very personal act that comes to us from God is a unique act of love. It must also be expressed as an ecclesial and organizational act. If it is true that the Church is an expression of God's love, of that love God feels for his human creature, it must also be true that the fundamental act of faith, which creates and unites the Church and gives us the hope of eternal life and of God's presence in the world, gives rise to an ecclesial act.

"In practice, the Church must also love as a Church, as a community, institutionally.

"And this so-called Caritas is not a mere organization like other philanthropic organizations, but a necessary expression of the deepest act of personal love with which God has created us, awakening in our hearts the impulse to love, a reflection of the God-Love who makes us in his image."

In order to express God's love, the Church, institutionally speaking, has the duty to love by proclaiming the Gospel, celebrating sacraments and exercising charity.

Due to this institutional practice of charity, the blessed Pope John Paul II granted Caritas Internationalis recognition of public canonical legal personality. Namely, that as an institution the Caritas Internationalis Confederation officially acts "on behalf of the Church." With its works it puts into practice, constantly and everywhere, the Gospel of charity as the outcome of, and in intimate connection with, faith and the worship that the Catholic Church professes.

Caritas is the modern organization of one of the basic duties of the Church. It is not an "option" within the Church. It is not possible to have an ecclesial community organized around the Word and Divine Worship that as a community is not also organized in terms of this third dimension of the Church's mission, namely, through works of charity to bear faithful witness to the Good News that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ throughout history and to the ends of the earth.

Once again, and henceforth, in the light of Pope Benedict XVI's thinking in "Deus Caritas Est," Caritas is an organization of the universal Church with an official mission to exercise one of the three duties of the Church: to bear witness before the world through its works to the Word that proclaims faith and celebrates the liturgy.

The confederation's statutes and rules, approved by the Pope, establish its nature and give evidence of its identity as an organization that officially acts "on behalf of the Church," and thereby without discrimination and proselytizing, and with no limits or borders.

Therefore, Caritas is an institution of the Church hierarchy which, through its actions and works, proclaims Christ's Gospel independently and beyond the spirit with which its workers operate.

In and for itself Caritas Internationalis is an appreciable sign in the world of a state of faith: Christ's Charity which exhorts the Church to exercise his love.

Caritas -- without words -- evangelizes.

And for its identity to be what it is, it possesses a spirituality that comes from Christ, its source and example. Kenosis (self-emptying), "diakonia" (service) and "koinonia" (communion) comprise the spirit that animates its essentially operative nature and inspires and generates in its workers the way of the acting, or the style, which identifies and distinguishes Caritas around the world.

In order that those who take on this duty, which belongs to everyone, do not diminish the essence of Christian charity, the Holy Father points out the need to:

-- rely on the experience of a personal encounter with Christ, whose love has touched the hearts of those he has created, giving rise within them to love for their neighbors;

-- be independent of parties and ideologies. The Christian's program is a heart that sees. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly;

-- not to use charity as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends.

As a preliminary conclusion of the reflection offered to us by "Deus Caritas Est," I propose one in the form of an instruction: There should be no ecclesial community in the universal Church that has not organized the exercise of charity and, furthermore, no member of the community should feel alienated from a local institutional charity organization through which he or she is incorporated within the Church's universal network of solidarity, the true internet of Christian communication of goods.

Rome, 31 January 2006

Monsignor Nelson Viola, CI's Ecclesiastical Adviser

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