ROME — Pope Francis encouraged people to take part in a new global campaign launched by Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based umbrella organization for national Catholic charities.
The three-year campaign aims to bring people together, especially on the grassroots level, to combat poverty, restore dignity to the marginalized and protect nature, as part of putting Pope Francis’ encyclicals, “Laudato Si'” and “Fratelli Tutti,” into practice and responding to his call for integral ecology and a new kind of solidarity.
Titled, “Together We,” the campaign was launched Dec. 13 as part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of Caritas Internationalis; the celebration including an online and onsite conference in Rome reflecting on the confederation’s mission and how it can move forward in a continued spirit of synodality.
Pope Francis extended his “best wishes to Caritas Internationalis” after praying the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 12 and encouraging the confederation to grow “and get stronger.”
Throughout the world, local Caritas organizations represent “the church’s loving hand outstretched to the poor and most vulnerable, in whom Christ is present,” he said. He invited Caritas members to “carry your service forward with humility and creativity so as to reach the most marginalized and to foster integral development as the antidote to a ‘throwaway’ culture and indifference.”
The pope also asked the Caritas Internationalis confederation, which helps coordinate the 162 autonomous, national Caritas organizations operating in 200 countries and territories, to “continue your work in streamlining the organization so that the money doesn’t go to the organization but to the poor. Streamline the organization well.”
The pope encouraged everyone to take part in Caritas Internationalis’ new “Together We” global campaign, which is “founded on the strength of the community in promoting the care of creation and the poor.”
“The wounds inflicted on our common home have devastating effects on the least. But communities can contribute toward a necessary ecological conversion,” the pope said.
Caritas Internationalis was founded in 1951 as a response to Pope Pius XII’s wish to create a coordinating body to address the humanitarian needs that emerged at the end of the Second World War and assist the victims of the conflict.
The confederation invited several speakers to its half-day conference at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome to reflect on its seven decades of work, particularly in fighting poverty.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and president of the confederation, said Caritas has “witnessed the pain of suffering and degradation” over the years as well as “the transforming power of caring, communion and compassion.”
In fact, the new campaign will focus on creating or strengthening “communities of caring for the poor and the earth, witnessing to human and ecological friendship,” he said.
Aloysius John, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, said today’s poverty cannot be solved with just economic responses because it is “a multidimensional poverty, which is economic, social, cultural, spiritual and also environmental.”
“Caritas is determined to promote a future where ecology and concern for the human family must resonate together and converge,” he said. “Collective action is needed, more than ever before, in order to restore, protect and renew access to the God-given gifts of our common home,” including land, food, water and ecosystems, with the aim of upholding human dignity and restoring justice.
Things can change, but it requires listening to those who suffer, discerning, moving toward conversion and contributing one’s unique gifts in collective, creative action for the common good, he said.
“This is what we’re aiming at through this campaign”: to motivate and mobilize everyone to become an agent of change, and to build communities of care — “groups and networks of people from the grassroots upwards who will create more and new concrete measures to care for our common home and for the poor,” John said.
Cardinal Soane Mafi of Tonga, president of Caritas Oceania, said communities play a “vital role” in caring for the common home and “our work as Caritas has been made richer by listening to and learning from communities” from different locations and backgrounds, but united by common issues and challenges.
Communities are fonts of knowledge, and their members are “key drivers of change,” he said, emphasizing the importance of making sure they are places of inclusion and amplify the voices of the voiceless, particularly women, the vulnerable and young people.
Caritas has a role in living out the social teaching of the church and “giving these local communities the theological or spiritual dimension of the activities regarding the environmental common home,” the cardinal added.