Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, former president of the pontifical council, explained to ZENIT the choice of location for the retreat organized for diocesan leaders of Caritas and other ecclesial agencies throughout Europe.
"Czestochowa is a very important place for our meeting, a place where one can really engage in spiritual reflection," he said. "One must remember that our activity, the practical and technical sphere, is carried out in Europe."
The prelate continued: "However, for spiritual reflection, I wished to choose a place where it would be possible to have an encounter with Mary. That is why prayer in the chapel of the Black Virgin of Jasna Gora is very important."
Some 320 directors of Catholic charitable organizations took part in the spiritual exercises, with the presence of five cardinals and 50 bishops from 140 dioceses of 26 nations.
The Nov. 29-Dec. 3 retreat focused on the theme, "Here I Am." The meditations were led by Dutch Cistercian Abbess Theresa Brenninkmeijer.
Cardinal Cordes noted that being in the Polish shrine helped all the participants "to enter the perspective of faith."
"With Mary's help, we can reflect further on the spirituality that emanates from and is practiced in this place," he added.
According to the cardinal, "the fruits of charitable service are very important."
"We, Christians, have a special patrimony, namely, the word of Christ, but also the tradition of service to the poor," he pointed out.
"In the history of the Church we have many examples of saints," the prelate observed, "such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who teach us how to put into practice the commandment of love of neighbor."
"Our first duty as Christians is to recall the richness of this patrimony," Cardinal Cordes said. "We must recall it, but also live from it."
He underlined the importance of "the spiritual dimension of our activity, which must be lived first in personal involvement in Caritas and then be put into practice."
"The message of faith so often helps a person in difficulties," the prelate affirmed.
The cardinal stressed the importance of the Marian dimension for charitable activity.
"Looking at the history of our charitable activity, we see the great importance that the different human instruments have," he said. "All the organizations engaged in charitable activities, such as Caritas or the Red Cross, have used these instruments very well."
"However," Cardinal Cordes stated, "speaking of Caritas, one must also look to the formation of the heart. And here in Jasna Gora we see Mary's heart, which does not only include the formation of a certain human sensibility, but is the formation of a heart that expects everything from God."
He continued: "In the secularized world where there is no talk of God, we need that formation of the heart. We need to mold our heart according to Mary's heart."
Deacon Giorgio, local director of Caritas in Brescia, Italy, told ZENIT, "For the participants of the spiritual exercises, this initiative was a response to the appeal Pope Benedict XVI made through the encyclical 'Deus Caritas Est,' that is, to form hearts."
He noted that "the formation of the heart and closeness to others are Caritas' two lungs."
This gathering was the third of its kind. The first was held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in June 2008, with 500 leaders of aid agencies from North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The following year, 450 aid workers from Asia gathered in Taipei, Taiwan.
The secretary of Caritas Poland, Zbigniew Sobolewski, stated that it was "the Holy Father Benedict XVI in person who wanted Jasna Gora to be the place of our meeting."