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CCCB-CHARITY Sep-26-2013 (900 words) xxxi

Charity must begin at parish level, Caritas head tells Canadian bishops

By Deborah Gyapong
Catholic News Service

SAINTE-ADELE, Quebec (CNS) -- Charity needs to begin face-to-face, at the local parish level, the president of Caritas Internationalis told Canada's bishops.

"Every Christian community must have a 'heart which sees' the miseries which, tragically, persist around it and can attend to them," Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of the Vatican's charitable federation, told the bishops' plenary meeting Sept. 24.

The cardinal, who is archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, told the story of a priest in Brazil who, during the annual Lenten campaign for the poor, wondered how many poor people attended his parish.

The priest did a survey and discovered 15 families in extreme poverty. Instead of always asking for money to help the poor, the priest realized something had to be done for the families in his own parish, the cardinal said. The priest gathered parishioners, and one said he could offer work to one of the families. Others stepped forward with offers.

"They were organizing and it was beautiful," said Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga.

"We need more organized pastoral reaction," he said, noting this comes from "knowing the reality" and acting on this.

"It's very important for the work of Caritas to start at the local level," he said. At the same time, bishops must examine how the church exercises charity on a national level through episcopal conferences, and at the universal level through the Holy See.

He warned the church is "living through a time of grave crisis."

"It's not just an economic crisis, nor is it only a cultural crisis; nor is it a crisis of faith. Today, humankind is in danger. Today, the body of Christ is in danger," he said. "As Pope Francis said, 'Our civilization has established a throwaway culture. If it's no use, throw it away, into the garbage: children, the elderly and outsiders. This is the crisis we're living through.'"

"The challenges we are facing are real, and sometimes daunting," the cardinal said.

"Dear friends, the mission of Caritas Internationalis is to serve the poor, and even more the poorest of them first," he said.

"For many people in need, Caritas is the loving face of Christ who brings relief and comfort, respect and recognition," he said. "As Caritas we are called to witness his love, and we do it with enthusiasm. We know that God is love and we know and believe that he has created every single person in his image."

"Therefore we can't afford to lose one single person from our one human family without losing our own destiny. We would lose a brother or a sister in Christ, who made himself equal to all of us," he said.

The cardinal said among the challenges the church faces is ensuring Caritas is at the heart of the church and not merely a fundraising nongovernmental organization.

Many times Caritas is "seen as a source of employment," he said. People have asked him, "Now that you are leading this, couldn't you get me a job?"

But Caritas "works mainly with volunteers," he said, noting that Spain has one of the best Caritas organizations in the world -- 62,000 volunteers, organized out of 6,000 parishes. As Spain experiences a crisis of unemployment, with millions of people out of work and austerity measures, Caritas Spain is serving a million food packages a day, he said. Donations keep rising and the agency is "the most respected institution in all Spain."

"When there is a motivation of the people of God, Caritas is growing," he said.

Archbishop Brendan O'Brien of Kingston, Ontario, asked the cardinal about the makeup of other Caritas organizations.

"In Canada, and perhaps in other parts of the world, while we have local Caritas organizations in each diocese, we don't really give aid to ourselves," the archbishop said.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said part of the problem came from Caritas' growth "as an external part of the body, and not an internal part of the body." He said it is important "to develop the local part of Caritas to respond to their own needs." Otherwise, groups might appeal to big organizations like Caritas Germany for funds rather than look after their own needs if possible.

"We cannot think the money will come from somewhere," the cardinal said. "We are co-responsible for our own poor."

Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver, British Columbia, asked the cardinal about what the bishops' response should be when, for example, schoolchildren are taking part in fundraising drives for non-Catholic agencies that may also advocate for "reproductive rights" in the Third World. The children may be raising money to building houses, Miller said, but we "know from other sources they (organizations) do engage in other activities."

"I believe it is necessary to present the teachings of the church in an adequate way, even to small children," said Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga. He said he was confronted with a similar problem at a conference promoting social justice in Germany. A group of children came to him asking for him to sign their cards. The first one he saw read: "I support the use of condoms."

"Can you imagine this with small children?" he said. When he asked why they were giving him that, they replied, "For the good of humanity."

"We think social issues should not be addressed to the small children that are preparing for the first Communion," he said. Instead, the teaching on the social doctrine of the church should start "at the very beginning."


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