The president of Caritas, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, was with the group to present to the Pope its campaign against hunger, which will be launched soon.
The Holy Father said that Caritas is “an essential part of the Church” and that it “institutionalizes love in the Church."
He reflected that Caritas has two dimensions: action, and a divine dimension “situated in the heart of the Church."
“Caritas is not just for emergency situations as a first aid agency," Francis said. "In the situation of war or during a crisis, there is a need to look after the wounded, to help the ill … but there is also a need to support them, to care for their development."
"Caritas is the caress of the Church to its people, the caress of the Mother Church to her children, her tenderness and closeness," he added.
Leaders from Caritas organizations are in Rome for the annual Representative Council meeting.
Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said to Pope Francis “We are your Caritas to be guided by you.”
The cardinal said that Caritas member organisations from around the world had signed up to a campaign to end hunger and asked for the Pope’s blessing. Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Michel Roy present the Pope Francis with a basket of bread to symbolise the campaign.
Caritas representatives from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America and Oceania were also able to give accounts of the challenges facing the poor in their regions.
Sr Leonie Dochamou from Caritas Benin asked the Pope for guidance in how to best serve the poor. “We in Africa have the potential to work for our own development,” she said. Pope Francis replied that one way to promote development was the example of Don Bosco, to give children the tools they need through education.
The Pope stressed the importance of “tenderness," saying that at times the Church has lost sight of this.
“The Church is fundamentally mother. The spirituality of Caritas has to refer to this,” he said.
Pope Francis said that Caritas must “go to the peripheries to cure and promote the human being” and to bring to the Church “tenderness.”
On the crisis in Syria, the Holy Father noted that one million people have left Syria. “They have lost everything and are on the street. I mention this as an fundamental example,” he said. “We have refugees in all countries, those who are smuggled, those whose passports were taken away and are forced into slavery. There is great need for the presence of the tender touch of the Church.”