On Wednesday 10 May, I joined colleagues from CAFOD and Caritas Member Organisations from all over the world for the opening of the Caritas Internationalis General Assembly in the Synod Hall of the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican.
The 22nd General Assembly was opened by Cardinal Tagle, the outgoing President, who reminded us that Caritas Internationalis is a family with a common mission, namely to serve and accompany the poor, in whom we encounter our Lord Jesus Christ.
Cardinal Tagle reflected movingly on his eight years as President of Caritas Internationalis as another formation in being a missionary disciple. We need structures, of course, he told us, but more than that we need a ‘soul’, and the soul of Caritas is the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This is what gives us strength to keep loving as a family when it gets difficult.
The previous six months for the Caritas family had indeed been difficult. In November 2022, the Holy See took the painful decision, following an investigation, to remove the leadership team at Caritas Internationalis. This was a great shock to everyone at the time, but it was stressed right from the beginning that there was no suggestion of financial impropriety or sexual misconduct. The report from the investigation focused on the culture of the leadership. A key role for the Assembly was to elect new leadership, which happened in subsequent days.
The following day, we had an audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Almost 500 delegates from the Assembly filed into the magnificent setting of the Clementine Hall. We did not have to wait for long. Pope Francis was early and was greeted with warm applause. In his hands he held the script of his speech but he told us we could read that at any time and handed it to Cardinal Czerny beside him. He then spoke from the heart about Caritas and then spent the rest of the time greeting each person in the room individually. This illustrated the pastoral approach of Pope Francis: a culture of encounter and closeness, reality before ideas. The text of the Holy Father is, of course, very rich and inspiring and is well worth close study. You can find it here: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2023/may/documents/20230511-caritas-internationalis.html
In the course of the next few days, we enjoyed many inspiring inputs from colleagues all over the world who witness to the love of God in their work with the suffering and vulnerable. We heard from colleagues in Ukraine, working with a population traumatised by war and displacement; colleagues from Sudan working in a volatile situation of conflict and food insecurity; colleagues in Nicaragua working in a context of societal violence and open hostility to the Church. In every case, the love of Christ urged then on (2 Corinthians 5:14).
We had had the ‘statutory’ duties of electing a new leadership team and we were delighted to hear that Archbishop Tarcisio Kikuchi, the Archbishop of Tokyo, was elected as the new President and Alistair Sutton, the Chief Executive of SCIAF, was elected as the new Secretary General. We also approved a new Strategic Framework which will give shape and direction to the work of the confederation moving forward. The vision is clear and compelling: “a just world, transformed to reflect God’s kingdom, where all people in our common home experience the love, compassion and fullness of life.”
This is the Gospel-inspired vision at the heart of Caritas Internationalis in all its expressions at international, national and local level. It is the vision at the heart of all Christians who work for a better world. For more information about Caritas Internationalis, especially the Together We programme to mobilise local communities of care, please visit: https://www.caritas.org/togetherwe/
CEO, Caritas Social Action Network