Helping the poor is always worth the risk, pope tells Caritas

Pope Francis leads a meeting with the poor in the archbishop’s residence in Assisi, Italy, in 2013. The meeting was in the famous "stripping room," where St. Francis stripped off his rich clothes, gave them to his father and began a life of poverty dedicated to Christ. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis leads a meeting with the poor in the archbishop’s residence in Assisi, Italy, in 2013. The meeting was in the famous “stripping room,” where St. Francis stripped off his rich clothes, gave them to his father and began a life of poverty dedicated to Christ. (CNS file/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — The work of Catholic charities in the world sometimes may run into trouble, but it is always better than having Catholics shut up in their churches doing nothing, Pope Francis said.

After celebrating Mass May 12 with representatives of national Caritas organizations from around the world, the pope sent a video message May 13 to the opening session of the Caritas Internationalis general assembly.

Being out on the streets can lead to accidents, he said, but being sealed up in a room can make one ill.

“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he said in the message to delegates from 165 national Catholic charities.

“You are the engine of the church that organizes love — caritas — for all believers to work together to respond through the corporal works of mercy,” the pope said. “You set the pace for the church to be in the world each day. You help others change the course of their own lives.”

Pope Francis said that in today’s culture many times it seems that even human beings are considered “consumer goods,” things to be used and then tossed aside. Exploitation and oppression have been around forever, he said, but discarding others is “something new.”

“No one is to be a ‘leftover.’ No one is to be ‘excluded’ from God’s love and from our care,” he said.

Caritas staff and volunteers “are the very hands of Jesus in the world,” he said. They help change people’s live because they have changed their own hearts.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is finishing his second term as president of Caritas Internationalis, told participants that Catholic charities are called to minister to the poor and vulnerable who are “often considered a burden to society and don’t receive the care and love that they deserve.”

Caritas, he said, is involved in “defending human dignity, building a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in safeguarding and caring for creation.”

The international organization plans to make its voice heard in U.N. discussions for setting a list of “sustainable development goals,” in the international negotiations on a climate agreement and in promoting Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on ecology, the cardinal said.

Recalling the victims of natural disaster, war and civil strife the Catholic charities are assisting, he said, “Our resources may be dwindling while inequalities and poverty are growing, but we have unlimited spiritual resources which enable us to stand side by side and hand in hand with the poor.”

Peruvian Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez, often called the “father of liberation theology,” told the assembly that the Bible never praises material poverty, which is why “the task of the Christian is to do everything to eliminate it.”

Quoting Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who will be beatified as a martyr May 23, Father Gutierrez said, “There is a criterion for understanding if we are close to God: being close to the poor.”

Material poverty, he said, is the result of conditions and policies created by human beings, particularly by social and economic structures and by mentalities that cause people to dismiss certain people because of their race, ethnicity or sex.

“Poverty is no one’s destiny,” he said. “It is a condition and since we human beings have created it, we can change it.”

Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, the president of Caritas El Salvador who worked closely with Archbishop Romero, told Vatican Radio the Salvadoran martyr is an inspiration for the Caritas general assembly and its participants. “Like Pope Francis, Archbishop Romero evangelized first through his witness, then with his lifestyle and last with his words. They are so similar — Archbishop Romero and Francis — it’s incredible.”

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