MUMBAI, INDIA – A secular Indian foundation dedicated to bridging religious and cultural divides has honored Caritas, a Rome-based federation of Catholic charities around the world, as an example of “compassion without borders” in the face of the global refugee crisis, in the spirit of the late Mother Teresa.
The Harmony Foundation held its annual award dinner on Dec. 10 in Mumbai, considered India’s financial and cultural capital. The purpose was to bestow the foundation’s annual Mother Teresa Memorial, which this year was designed to go to individuals and organizations which have been working to aid refugees with food, shelter, education and other life essentials.
“At the Harmony Foundation, we aspire to keep hope and goodness alive,” said Abraham Mathai, the group’s president.
“The Mother Teresa Memorial Awards are inspired by the saint’s amazing life and work, and we seek to honour those who take her flame of love and compassion to the darkest corners of the world,” he said.
Mathai then explained why the organization chose to focus this year on care for refugees.
“The global refugee crisis has collapsed many tottering economies and engulfed war-torn nations into an abyss of poverty,” he said. “Innocent children have fallen victims to evil acts and I feel civil society should come together to make their lives better.”
Though people displaced by war, persecution, natural disaster, drought and famine and other causes have been a constant throughout history, many experts say the scale of the refugee phenomenon in the early 21st century is virtually unprecedented. Today, one of every 113 people on earth has been driven from home as a result of conflict and persecution.
Caritas is one of the largest non-governmental suppliers of aid to refugees in the world, with active programs designed to aid Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the Middle East, Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in Asia, and virtually every other global hotspot.
Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas, thanked the Harmony Foundation for the award, extending the message in the name of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines, the elected president of Caritas. Roy said the common commitment shared by the foundation and Caritas makes them friends.
“Friends we are, even if we don’t know each other much, because we are working towards the same goal, that of promoting and defending human dignity,” he said.
Roy cited both Mother Teresa and Pope Francis as sources of inspiration, including Francis’s insistence on serving the victims of a “throw-away culture.”
“How to build a just and fraternal society, based on respect and human rights, if not by putting those neglected at the centre?” Roy asked. “They know what they need, what kind of society they want, they have hope, [and] they look for God — something the wealthy often don’t do anymore, as they have nothing special to expect from life that they don’t already have.
“You have wanted to highlight the work that Caritas has been doing for refugees across the globe,” Roy said, quoting from the language of the award, “from the Syrians to the Rohingyas, to the Rwandan refugees.”
The award said Caritas’s effort “is truly remarkable, and carries forward the organization’s mission of reaching the world’s most vulnerable people. Moreover, Caritas being an alliance with branches across continents [shows] these networks are what helps make change happen.”
“With a heart of gratitude, I accept the award in recognition of the work of our volunteers around the world,” Roy said.
Caritas Internationalis is a worldwide confederation of 165 organizations, mainly national groups such as Caritas India as well as diocesan-level organizations. It’s a central institution of the Vatican, with headquarters in Rome. Caritas promoted solidarity at the grassroots and at other levels, as well as institutionalized solidarity and advocacy.
“The Christian approach to human relationships is that we are one human family, in which all members are to live in dignity,” Roy said.
Father Frederick D’Souza, Executive Director of Caritas India, praised Roy’s leadership of the group in comments to Crux.
“Michel is committed to serving the poor,” D’Souza said. “During his tenure, Caritas across the world took a leap [forward] in the service of the poor and the marginalized, especially those affected by disasters.
“He brought out appropriate policies in the Caritas confederation ensuring the capacities of the emerging local Caritas members,” he said.