Pope St John Paul II said that national Caritas agencies
‘…have an important role in over a hundred countries, to animate and coordinate charitable action, in close liaison with the episcopal Conferences. […] According to the beautiful name you bear, which is the key-word of the Gospel, you are ordained to “charity”. Your whole enterprise is to live by charity, to bear witness to it, to put it into practice, concretely and with others.’ Address to Caritas Internationalis, 28 May 1979
Caritas Social Action Network animates and co-ordinates charitable activities undertaken by Catholic dioceses and specialist Catholic charities in England and Wales. We:
- Develop the network of those working in Catholic social action;
- Advance the education, training, practice and formation of those active in the field;
- Offer a coherent Catholic voice in the public arena.
Our core contributions as a national Caritas agency include work to deepen Catholic social thought and practice in the contexts of our charities and conditions of our society, and to communicate publicly in ways that advance the common good in England and Wales.
We work closely with official national agencies of other Christian traditions and maintain contact with Parliamentarians. We are keen – and always interested in hearing and learning from others – to increase the capacity of volunteers and services to enable people to be fulfilled in their communities, based on living witness to God’s boundless and irrevocable love. The national team is supporting more dioceses to become active in the network, and to develop practice resources that draw on and inform parishes’ ‘social evangelisation’ (Evangelii Gaudium, Chapter 4).
We see scope to extend the benefits of the network in innovative ways, by enabling our member charities and parishes to work together more effectively on common causes, in safe and supported structures. As the Church’s agency for domestic social action, Caritas Social Action Network is uniquely positioned to facilitate this.
Grounded in Catholic Social Teaching
Catholic Social Teaching is at the heart of our work. We are committed to the reality of human dignity and that each person can and should contribute to his or her own human fulfilment.
‘There is a growing awareness of the sublime dignity of human persons, who stand above all things and whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable. They ought, therefore, to have ready access to all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life: for example, food, clothing, housing, the right freely to choose their state of life and set up a family, the right to education, work, to their good name, to respect, to proper knowledge, the right to act according to the dictates of conscience and to safeguard their privacy, and rightful freedom, including freedom of religion.’ Gaudium et Spes, 26.
As a Catholic charity, solidarity with the poor and marginalised, and subsidiarity in enabling participation in care and support, are integral to the mission we share in.
‘A consistent theme of Catholic social teaching is the option or love of preference for the poor. Today, this preference has to be expressed in worldwide dimensions, embracing the immense number of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care and those without hope.’ On Social Concern, 42.
A key document which speaks to us is Deus Caritas Est (‘God is love’, 2005). It describes charity in action. It calls us to be the “heart which sees”. Professional competence is not enough – we are called to be prayerful and compassionate in our work with the poor and vulnerable. Pope Benedict XVI states that we help those who are suffering because we are Catholic, not because they are. “Those who practise charity in the Church’s name will never seek to impose the Church’s faith upon others.” (31)
Catholic Social Teaching (often referred to as CST) helps us reflect on the Church’s mission in the world today, and to think about how we relate to the world around us. Drawing on the Bible, Christian faith, charitable activities and knowledge of human development, social and economic systems around the world, the Catholic Church has produced many teaching documents over the past hundred years or so. Often in the form of ‘encyclicals’, or letters, these documents offer a way to consider social and economic activity against principles of human dignity, community and participation, care for creation, life and work, peace, solidarity and subsidiarity. There is a UK-based website dedicated to explaining and exploring CST in more depth.