Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pope's Encyclical said to give charities encouragement/guidance: USCCB/Cardinal Cordes

Pope's encyclical said to give charities encouragement, guidance

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Domestic and international charitable organizations have found encouragement and helpful guidance in Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"), said the heads of Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services at a Nov. 9 workshop for bishops in Baltimore.

One of the themes of the nearly 3-year-old encyclical emphasizes the role of charity as an outward expression of love.

Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican agency that promotes and coordinates the church's charitable work, summarized the key connections between the 16,000-word encyclical and charity during the workshop preceding the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, said the encyclical has become a sort of strategic vision for the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency. "It has given us a new spirit," he said.

Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, a national network of diocesan social service agencies, said the encyclical was "an incredible gift" and also "a significant challenge."

Cardinal Cordes the next day addressed the whole conference of bishops, saying it was a great joy for Cor Unum that the pope's first encyclical would address the importance of charity in such a strong way.

The cardinal commended the U.S. bishops for their generosity to charitable programs around the world, and he cautioned that some charity work brings complications from connections to governments, such as requirements on whom an agency employs.

At the workshop, Hackett said the pope's call to charity is "not another form of philanthropy; rather it is rooted in our spirituality," and it underscores the centrality of the work of CRS in the life of the church. He also said it connects the church's teachings to the mission of CRS.

"This is what distinguishes a CRS from some of the other well-known humanitarian organizations, like CARE, Save the Children or Mercy Corps," Hackett said. "They all do excellent work and we collaborate on a regular basis. But our motivation and guidance comes from a very different place."

Hackett said CRS, which is based in Baltimore, sees its role as embodying the concern of Catholics in the United States for their brothers and sisters who live in poverty around the world, grounded in the belief "in the sacredness and fundamental dignity of every human life."

He said that is reflected in work such as rebuilding communities after the 2004 tsunami in Asia; aiding the victims of cyclones in Bangladesh and Burma, violence in the Congo or poverty in the Philippines; and improving agricultural techniques in poor regions.

"CRS loves our neighbors through projects that increase peoples' economic capacity through microcredit and that care for the most vulnerable members of society," said Hackett. "We embrace and comfort our neighbors affected by the HIV and AIDS pandemic."

Father Snyder said the encyclical has led Catholic Charities to look at the balance between professionalism in its field and the need for formation in Catholic teaching.

Professionalism is necessary, he noted, "not only because we must be accountable to donors, but because the poor deserve the best."

At the same time, as the pope said in the encyclical, our workers "must first be bearers of God's love," the priest said.

He said historically the church's charities have been managed by priests or religious whose primary training was in theology. "They may or may not have had management experience, but they had the theological formation," he said.

In the last 50 years, that balance has reversed, with managers of agencies now primarily having experience in management or providing services, but lacking the theological background.

Father Snyder said Catholic Charities USA, which is based in Alexandria, Va., has been trying to balance those demands by providing training in the church's social doctrine for its managers and volunteers. Programs range from local in-service sessions to an institute sponsored by the University of Notre Dame in Indiana that offers in-depth training for 10 agencies a year.

He said he would guess that about half the employees of Catholic Charities affiliates are not Catholic, but training in Catholic teaching is encouraged for all.

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