An Instrument for the Pope's Charity

Interview with Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis

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By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, MARCH 27, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Caritas Internationalis (CI) embraces 162 national Caritas, which in turn coordinate the diocesan Caritas, thus reaching parishes and institutions at the local level.

In this interview the secretary general of Caritas Internationalis explains the work of the organization.

--ZENIT: Why is Caritas needed?

--Roy: Often an organization is needed, as it’s not enough that one person gives to another, something methodical is necessary, for example, at the parish level.

And it must also be done at the higher levels. In a diocese between poor and rich neighborhoods, the mission of a bishop is to encourage the Christian community to be charitable and capable of loving, as the early Christian communities were, as noted in the Acts of the Apostles.

There are also inequalities between the dioceses, and here the national Caritas helps the dioceses as an instrument of the Episcopal Conference.

In turn, the national Caritas make up Caritas Internationalis, which is a federation, with independent members, which were confederated 61 years ago when there were only 27 Caritas in the world. The first one began in Germany at the end of the 19th century.

Caritas Internationalis is an entity of the Holy See. As International Caritas we are the Pope’s charity. Our ecclesiastical superior today is Benedict XVI. As our dicastery of reference we have Cor Unum in the Curia, which supports our work.

--ZENIT: How are the members of Caritas Internationalis chosen?

--Roy: Its president is elected by the general assembly of 264 members that meet every four years. The president has always been a cleric, priest or monsignor, although we have also had cardinals. The president can also be a lay man or woman. For its part, the Holy See has the right of veto over the candidatures. In addition, the assembly elects the secretary general and the treasurer.

--ZENIT: Why is it an instrument of the Pope’s charity?

--Roy: The Holy Father has several instruments, such as Caritas Internationalis, which is a small organization, in total some 30 persons. We are the Pope’s charity, the local Caritas are of the Episcopal Conferences.

There is also Cor Unum which manages two instruments of charity: the Populorum Progressio Foundation that works in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel.

When the Pope receives money from the faithful he uses it to help in different ways, among which is Caritas Internationalis for the greater emergencies.

--ZENIT: Specifically, how do you work?

--Roy: Last year, for example, we responded to 30 major emergencies -- for a total amount of more than 42 million euros --, directly or indirectly through the national Caritas. We want to respond with quality, as it isn’t simply giving; it must be done in a responsible way.

We seek integral human development and our added value is to facilitate the relationship between the members who have experience in the field with those who wish to support. We have experts in many sectors, such as in the sector of immigration and trafficking of people, of women, young children who are alone, migrant workers.

Another field is climate and food security. Suffice it to think of the Horn of Africa and what is going to happen in the Sahel, but also the promotion of peace and reconciliation. The voice of the Church must be taken to the United Nations, for example, in regard to conflicts.

We also work in the area of sicknesses such as AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, pandemics. In the case of AIDS, there is also pastoral work.

--ZENIT: How do you address the struggle against poverty?

--Roy: The struggle against poverty is addressed in a more global way, beginning from objectives such as education, health, etc. Meanwhile, the point is that for us it’s not the community that has this or that problem, but individuals who have problems. The struggle against poverty must entail guidance, as they are persons, and the spiritual aspect is important.

Hence, in October of 2013 we will launch a global campaign against poverty at the moment the United Nations addresses the problem of the millennium’s objectives, which weren’t attained.

--ZENIT: And at the level of spiritual objectives?

--Roy: As Church we want each one in his community to grow to the level that God expects from each of us. We were created as children of God in his image and likeness, and the environment must give conditions of dignity, of fraternal relations. And poverty impedes these relations. And we must do so together, inspired by the Social Doctrine of the Church, which enables us to change this world in a more just way.

--ZENIT: And Caritas’ network?

--Roy: When I speak with representatives of the United Nations in Geneva or New York, for them Caritas’ network is very important because it operates not only at the national but also at the local level, which touches the poorest. They know us and appreciate us in our expectation that they are prepared to hear what we wish to say. Ours is the voice of the poor, of the local Churches.

--ZENIT: And the statutes?

--Roy: As Caritas Internationalis we are in a process of greater integration with the Holy See. Our new statutes were approved by the Executive Committee in November; they are now in the Secretariat. And we are awaiting a decree of the Holy Father on the approval of the statutes ad experimentum.

--ZENIT: What changes with the new status?

--Roy: In 2004, Pope John Paul II granted Caritas Internationalis public, canonical, juridical personality, which makes us an entity of the Holy See, which before was a private juridical personality. And in John Paul II’s  letter says that when Caritas speaks publicly it speaks in the name of the Church, in other words, a very great responsibility, which integrates us more with the Church.

Caritas brings to the Holy See the reality of the poor and here we have to reinforce the mission of the Church, both doctrinal and pastoral. It is an important exchange. The new statutes are the re-affirmation of the mission of Caritas Internationalis  and of the national Caritas to spread charity and to promote social justice.

[Translation by ZENIT]