Part Three: TEXT OF THE SPEECH OF ARCHBISHOP CORDES, PRESIDENT OF COR UNUM, TO THE ACN DIRECTORS CONFERENCE Sept 2002
His Excelleny Archbishop P.J. Cordes
President of "Cor unum"
Part Three: What does it mean to be a Catholic charity?
MARTYRIA, LEITURGIA and DIAKONIA are the visible side of the Church's mission, her threefold face. They need osmosis - both within the overall mission of the Church and in the life of the individual apostle, notwithstanding the fact that the body of Christ has many members and the services of the Church diverge. For only the proclamation that is tangibly experienced in the service to neighbour and celebrated in the Liturgy can convey to man the all-embracing salvation.
In disregarding an appropriate ecclesiology, both the aid for the person and the mission of the Church lose considerable riches. For only a self-understanding, in faith, by the charity, and one that takes Christ and the Church as its point of reference, can bring a salvation that has regard for the earthly and eternal life of those in need. And not least, it also deepens the faith of the hundreds of thousands of volunteer helpers. The encyclical Redemptoris Missio of Pope John Paul II leaves us in no doubt: "Faith grows when it is passed on to others" (No. 2).
A chance for direct evangelisation
Here, for the charitable organisations, there is even an opportunity for direct evangelisation. Without doubt many of those who wish to alleviate the heavy lot of others do not necessarily possess a mature faith, whether they are old or young. When they express a willingness to help, their motives are often unclear, or else their interest is superficial. But it is moving to note that this voluntary service brings them closer to God. Such fruits are no mere speculation. Jean Vanier, the founder of the Arche movement, bears witness to this. He is known worldwide for his work on behalf of the handicapped and has had more experience with volunteer helpers than most of us. He puts it this way: "Whatever the motivation that prompts these volunteers to work along with the Arche movement, most of them were touched by their encounter with the mentally handicapped and by their life with the poor. Their view of man, of society and of the Church changed. Almost all of them found their way back to the Faith of their childhood. I am astonished that so many found Jesus once again in the poor, in prayer, in the Eucharist and in the Church." Quite clearly, Caritas can be a way to Christ for its helpers, if its leaders have the right spirit and find the appropriate language.
Please permit me to give you one more specific example. It may help to illustrate what I have said. Following the earthquake in Umbria in 1997 I met the priest, Lucio Gatti in Nocera Umbra. He was working there with a whole crowd of young people. In the course of our conversations I began to understand his view of this involvement. His attitude convinced me, indeed it seemed exemplary to me. And so I later asked him to write a report of his experiences, and it is with this that I wish to conclude.
Don Lucio remembered Nocera Umbra above all in the cries of anguish after the earthquake, in the grief of those who were at the end of their tether. He writes: "I still have some of these phrases in my mind. One person cried out: 'This God, whom they all say is good - just look how he has humiliated us, despite all our sacrifices... ' Another said: 'God has abandoned us, and you priests would be better to keep your mouths shut - or have you still got the nerve to tell us that God is good?' Finally, there were those who asked: 'What have we done to deserve such a thing?' How can anyone respond to such questions? I endeavoured to respond by sharing with them and helping to carry their burden. I did everything I could to be close to the people."
One day he was in a very small village. He met an old man and asked him if he needed anything. The man replied that the only thing he needed was to see other people walking in the street. Apparently, during the after-shocks, which had gone on for more than a year, he had been in great fear and longed to have someone close to him. In response to his request Don Lucio always sent him someone who was not needed for other work.
The simplest and humblest way of responding to those who cry out, to the suffering, to those who weep, consists in being close to them, in goodness and simplicity - simply giving of oneself, without any notion of being a hero.
In the emergency shelters there are no experts, but only well-meaning young people. One strives to encourage them to deeds of charity, forgetting themselves, making others the centre of their interest, helping the needy for no reward; not expecting any return for their own love - for love gives value to the one who loves. We work all day with the people, for the people, and devote our care and attention to others.
The young people also meet for relaxation and companionship. They sing and celebrate, with the people and among themselves. The days are punctuated by important religious moments, by simple and devout prayer, by the Prayer of the Church, and the celebration of the Eucharist - these are the pillars which sustain all their activities. They feel too weak to rely upon their own strength. Only one force is sufficient - a lifetime of striving for the truth.
At the end of his report Don Lucio writes:
"If we apply the gospel in this way amid the ruins, then very soon the grave breaches with our Christianity begin to resolve themselves. And indeed, in this critical situation, God has once again shown us his love and closeness through the generosity and kindness of so many young people who, by their commitment, their sacrifice, their renunciation and their love, have borne witness to the love of God."
So much for Don Lucio. His testimony demonstrates that the practice of charity makes people rich. And more than this, being grounded in God leads to its fullness this selfless service to the needy - indeed such service is ultimately an opportunity for Faith also in the life of the one who helps.