Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased to have this opportunity to meet you on the occasion of your 21st
General Assembly. I thank Cardinal Tagle for the words he addressed to me and I
offer a cordial greeting to all of you, to the great Caritas family and to those in your
respective countries committed to the service of charity.
Coming from every part of the world, in these days you have experienced a significant
moment in the life of the Confederation, aimed not only at fulfilling statutory duties,
but also at strengthening the bonds of mutual communion in adherence to the
Successor of Peter, by reason of the special bond that exists between your
organization and the Apostolic See. Saint John Paul II wished to confer canonical
public legal personality to Caritas Internationalis, calling you to share the Church’s
very mission in the service of charity.
Today I would like to pause briefly to reflect with you on three key words: charity,
integral development and communion.
Considering the mission that Caritas is called to carry out in the Church, it is important
to always turn to reflect together on the significance of the very word charity. Charity
is not a barren service nor a simple offering to be made in order to ease our
conscience. What we must never forget is that charity has its origin and its essence
in God himself (cf. 1 Jn 4:8); charity is God our Father’s embrace of every person,
particularly of the least and the suffering, those who occupy a preferential place in
his heart. Were we to regard charity as a performance, the Church would become a
humanitarian agency and charitable service one of its “logistical departments”. But
the Church is none of this; she is something different and much greater: she is, in
Christ, the sign and instrument of God’s love for humanity and for all of creation, our
The second phrase is integral development. At stake in charitable service is the
concept of mankind, which cannot be reduced to a single aspect but involves the
entire human being as a child of God, created in his image. The poor are first and
foremost persons, and their faces conceal the face of Christ himself. They are his
flesh, signs of his crucified body, and we have the duty to reach out to them even in
the uttermost peripheries and in history’s subterrain with the sensitivity and the
tenderness of the Mother Church. We must aim at promoting the whole man and
every man so they may be authors and protagonists of their own progress (cf. Saint
Paul VI, Encyclical Populorum progressio, 34). The service of charity must, therefore,
choose the logic of integral development as an antidote to the culture of rejection
and of indifference. And in addressing you, who are Caritas, I would like to emphasize
that “the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care”
(Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 200). You know this well: “the great
majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we
must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of
the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith” (ibid.). Thus, as
the example of men and women Saints of charity also teaches us, “our preferential
option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious
The third word is communion, which is central in the Church, and defines her essence.
Ecclesial communion springs from the encounter with the Son of God, Jesus Christ,
who, through the proclamation of the Church, touches men and women and creates
communion with himself and with the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Jn 1:3). It is
communion in Christ and in the Church that enlivens, accompanies, supports the
service of charity both in the communities themselves and in emergency situations
throughout the world. In this way, the diakonia of charity becomes a visible
instrument of communion in the Church (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of
the Church, 4). For this reason, as a Confederation you are accompanied by the
Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which I thank for the work it
regularly carries out and, in particular, for its support of the ecclesial mission of
Caritas Internationalis. I said that you are accompanied: you are not ‘under’.
Taking up once again these three fundamental aspects for living out — in Caritas, or
rather, charity — integral development and communion, I would like to exhort you
to live these in a manner of poverty, gratuitousness and humility.
One cannot experience charity without having interpersonal relationships with the
poor: living with the poor and for the poor. The poor are not numbers but persons.
Because by living with the poor we learn to practise charity with the spirit of poverty;
we learn that charity is sharing. In reality, not only is charity that fails to reach the
pocket a false charity, but charity that does not involve the heart, soul and our entire
being is a concept of charity not yet fulfilled.
It is important to always be careful not to succumb to the temptation to live a
hypocritical or deceitful charity, a charity identified as almsgiving, as donation, or as
a ‘soothing pill’ for our troubled consciences. This is why we must avoid equating
charity work to philanthropic efficiency or to effective planning or to excessive and
As charity is one of the most desirable of the virtues to which man can aspire so as
to be able to imitate God, it is scandalous to see charity workers who transform it
into business: they speak a great deal about charity but live in luxury or
extravagance, or they organize Forums on charity while futilely wasting so much
money. It is very painful to note that some charity workers are transformed into
functionaries and bureaucrats.
This is why I would like to emphasize that charity is not an idea nor a pious sentiment,
but is the experiential encounter with Christ; it is the wish to live with the heart of
God who does not ask us to have generic love, affection, solidarity, etc., toward the
poor, but to encounter him in them (cf. Mt 25:31-46), with the manner of poverty.
Dear friends, I thank you, on behalf of the entire Church, for what you are doing with
and for so many brothers and sisters who are struggling, who are left at the margins,
who are abused by the forms of slavery of our time, and I encourage you to go forth!
May all of you, in communion with the ecclesial communities to which you belong and
of which you are an expression, continue to joyfully offer your contribution so that it
may cultivate in the world the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of justice, of love and of
peace. May the Gospel always nourish you and enlighten you, and may the Church’s
teaching and pastoral care guide you.
May the Lord bless you and Our Lady protect you. And, please, do not forget to pray
for me. Thank you.