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COR UNUM Apr-18-2013 (800 words) With photo. xxxi

Vatican office works to create community of 'one heart'

By Lauren Colegrove
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Traveling deep into the Amazon basin in a canoe filled with medicine, food and young missionaries to visit remote villages sounds like an extraordinary adventure, but for Father Peter Bui, it was part of a journey to share the love of Christ with the poor.

Born in Vietnam in 1971, Father Bui moved to the United States at the age of 6 with his parents and nine siblings "as boat people," part of the mass flow of refugees following the Vietnam War.

Father Bui said his strong family ties helped him discern a call to priesthood, which led him to South America where he worked with high school students. He returned to the United States to serve as a priest in the Diocese of Phoenix, which he describes as "the perfect calling," and was called to join the staff of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum in 2011.

According to Father Bui, someone from Rome must have asked one of his acquaintances, "'Can you think of someone that could really work here and help us love the poor?' That person proposed me."

The council was established by Pope Paul VI in 1971. He said the name "Cor Unum," meaning "one heart," reflected the council's purpose to be "a heart that beats in rhythm with the heart of Christ, whose pity for the hungry multitudes reaches them even in their spiritual hunger."

The council assists the pope in carrying out special humanitarian initiatives and gestures, such as Pope Francis' recent donation to the Archdiocese of La Plata in Argentina in response to flooding. The council responds to both natural and man-made disasters, and works with local Catholic foundations to build schools, house refugees and provide spiritual and corporal aid to victims of war around the world.

In 2012, the council donated $2 million for disaster relief in 19 countries and $1 million to development projects in 30 countries. The John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel, which focuses on issues of drought and desertification in Africa, and the Populorum Progressio Foundation, which serves poor farmers in Latin America, each received more than $1 million as well.

"We are different from any other NGO in the sense that our motivation and the reason why we do it is different," Father Bui said. "That is, we do it in the name of Jesus, we do it because we want to show to those who suffer the loving presence that God is with them and God is helping them through us."

Father Bui said many organizations want to be partners with Cor Unum because of the council's streamlined efficiency. "When it comes to emergency relief, natural disasters and conflict, there is no time for bureaucracy because if there is bureaucracy people suffer from it -- innocent people."

One of the challenges the council faces is responding to Pope Benedict XVI's call to foster and maintain the Catholic identity of Catholic charities. As part of that process, Pope Benedict gave Cor Unum greater oversight of Caritas Internationals, the umbrella organization for national Catholic charities around the world.

Father Bui said the council has been focusing on the role of prayer in serving the community and has created spiritual exercises for the leaders of charitable organizations to "renew the reasons why they give of themselves to the poor."

"Charity is acting in the name of the church to bring the love of God to those in need," Father Bui said. "We don't give just material things... we give with heart."

Father Bui said Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of his predecessors by promoting the two pillars of the new evangelization -- 'confessio,' meaning witness, and 'caritas,' meaning love -- by leading through example.

"Pope Francis shows such simple and humble aspects of the church," Father Bui said. "The way the church can give to people, I'm convinced, is through our charitable work."

Families and individuals can share Cor Unum's mission by doing charitable work in their parishes and "can also act in the name of the church to bring the compassion and love of God to people who are in need," the priest said.

Though he has traded his jungle canoe for a writing desk, Father Bui said when he is doing administrative work, discussing funding or attending meetings, he often thinks of the people he is helping even though they may be oceans away. "You can make of your desk an altar, to make an offering to the Lord," Father Bui said, which is something that any worker, not just those at the Vatican, can take to heart.

"There is a saying of Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata -- 'doing an ordinary thing with extraordinary love,'" Father Bui said. "I think that is what it is about here."


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