Building on a Foundation of Love

Interview With Msgr. Dal Toso, Secretary of Cor Unum

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 7, 2011 (Zenit.org).- If society is to survive the winds, rains and storms of life, it must build its structures on the solid rock of authentic love, says the secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, who was named the secretary of the Church's charity dicastery last June, says the key to promote authentic charity in society is to foster a greater understanding of Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est."

In this interview with Msgr. Dal Toso, the secretary comments on the future of the dicastery and the Church's charitable work, as well as his thoughts on the ongoing conflicts in North Africa and why Pope John Paul II could be considered the "Pope of Charity."

Q: Monsignor, what are your thoughts about the conflict now taking place in North Africa?

Msgr. Dal Toso: Beyond the political considerations, the Church has already made it her duty to assist the victims of this real and pressing humanitarian emergency. I am certain that these peoples, thanks also to the support of the international community, will find a way forward. However, the integral formation of the human person is the path to follow in order to strike at the roots those structures that continue to perpetrate injustice. In this, the Church has a fundamental task: to form consciences through the Gospel.

Q: After the nomination of Cardinal Sarah as the new president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, with his many years of experience at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and also the appointment of a new undersecretary, what are the priorities for the "new team"?

Msgr. Dal Toso: Continuity, especially in line with the indications given by our Holy Father. Beyond the people themselves, we are concerned with the mission of the Church. For this reason, the pontifical council will not interrupt, but rather foster more and more an understanding of Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," which sets out with clarity, depth and precision the work of Cor Unum and charitable organizations.

Second, to ensure that Cor Unum can offer support to all Catholic organizations of charity, making it a real reference point in the Holy See for all those who, in the Church's name, are on the frontline of helping those in need. Concretely, this means our presence on behalf of the Holy Father in the various emergency situations in the world and wherever there is a call to carry a message of hope and material aid.

Q: You have just returned from a mission trip to Burundi with Cardinal Sarah, where a school dedicated to Benedict XVI was inaugurated, built thanks also the charity of the Holy Father. Can you share something about your visit?

Msgr. Dal Toso: This very morning, we returned from Burundi, a country with a painful history, which now seeks to turn over a new page. Through this wonderful gesture of the Pope, the Church wishes to underline the importance of education and how she wants to offer her contribution, and thus help to build a new society. The school "Benedict XVI" was greatly appreciated for this reason. At the inauguration, almost the whole episcopal conference was present, as well as a substantial government representation.

Q: The world of Catholic charitable initiatives is really very varied. What do you say about this presence, this witness of the Church?

Msgr. Dal Toso: Indeed, the world of those faithful who are dedicated, in the name of the Church, to helping the needy is very diverse and effective. In this variety, we should not see something negative. On the contrary, the variety is a richness. In his recent visit to Haiti, on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the terrible earthquake there, our president was able to see firsthand how the massive, differentiated work on the ground of different Catholic organizations and Caritas Haiti, are for the people of this devastated land a bright light, a reference point, almost the sole source of concrete hope to emerge from a seemingly hopeless situation.

It is essential that, alongside our material assistance, we show the love God has for each and every person. This has been underscored in these very days in the lineamenta for the next General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization: Real charity is to enable the love of God to arrive to the heart of man. Our presence cannot be limited to providing concrete, material aid, however necessary this is, but must carry that something "else," which the Pope speaks about in "Deus Caritas Est." Man also has a soul that longs to know Christ!

Q: What is the thought of the pontifical council regarding the list of candidates for the position of secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, recently presented to the Secretariat of State?

Msgr. Dal Toso: There really is nothing else that can be added to what has already been said. Cardinal Sarah, in the course of the press conference Feb. 22 for the presentation of the Holy Father's Lenten message, responded to a question, reminding us that the present secretary-general, Lesley-Anne Knight, having completed her four-year mandate, put forward a request for reelection. The statutes of Caritas Internationalis -- which the confederation itself asked for -- foresee that the Holy See confirms or denies with a "nulla osta" the candidates presented. Following much reflection together with the Secretariat of State, it was considered opportune to seek another profile for the next four years. In no way was this meant to take from the work accomplished by Knight. On several occasions and publicly, her achievements have been recognized with appreciation.

The practice of granting the "nulla osta" is to provide a necessary instrument in order that those ultimately responsible for an organization may address in the most convenient way those decisions to be taken, for the good of the organization itself. The next four years envisage Caritas Internationalis engaged in important themes concerning its mission, including the revision of its statutes and internal reform.

Q: In an interview recently granted by Knight, she criticized the workings of the Secretariat of State and recognized the differences between her personal agenda, the timelines, and the Vatican’s way of seeing things. What do you say?

Msgr. Dal Toso: After four years of dedication and serious professional work, one can understand how Knight has taken the institution to heart and feels it to be her own; however, looking toward the future, should imply not fearing a renewal of the various responsibilities and the approval of the new statutes through a wider consensus. This entails authentic dialogue with the opportune bodies. On the other hand, her declarations on the lack of communion with the Holy See might damage seriously the prestige of Caritas Internationalis, especially among the faithful.

In terms of the method, to utilize the communication media to discuss questions related to matters of the governance of Caritas Internationalis does not seem to me the best way to treat the various positions. This is one-directional communication -- not dialogue. It would be easier to draw upon the channels in place to hear and expose one's own opinions: Caritas Internationalis has its headquarters in Rome, just 10 minutes' drive from the heart of the Vatican; it has a representative from Cor Unum present at meetings, as Knight indicates in her interview, and the confederation's president is a cardinal, who is in close contact with the cardinal secretary of state. The channels for discussion are not lacking, nor our willingness to dialogue, as Caritas Internationalis knows very well.

Q: May 1, 2011, will see the beatification of John Paul II. How do you see this event?

Msgr. Dal Toso: John Paul II would have full right to the title "Pope of Charity." His pontificate was marked by a double aspect: his concrete witness of charity was always accompanied by the explicit announcement of the Gospel message. Only Christ has the power to reach the heart of man! The late Pope was very clear about this need, the urgency to lead contemporary, secularized, far away man back to God, in order to find happiness, fulfillment, completeness. It was thanks to John Paul II's encouragement that the Pontifical Council Cor Unum was entrusted with two foundations, which, for over 20 years, have supported the integral development of the disadvantaged, exploited and marginalized peoples of Latin America (the Foundation Populorum Progressio) and of the Sahel countries in Africa (the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel).

Our dicastery still has fresh in its mind the meeting, which the Pope wanted with charity workers from throughout the world in 1999. On that occasion, Cor Unum gathered in Rome representatives from the various religious congregations and ecclesial realities, who offered in St. Peter's Square their concrete testimony of divine charity active in their lives: how it was possible to forgive, love, rebuild, do good for the other.

We come back always to the evangelical call to build our house, a microcosm of society, on the solid foundation of authentic love, which is the love of God. Otherwise, the structures -- as the Lord himself told us in last Sunday's Gospel -- do not resist the wind, the rain, the storms of life.