Archbishop Gallagher: Caritas Internationalis’ humanitarian mission is “of utmost importance” to the Church

Caritas Internationalis’ humanitarian mission is “of utmost importance” to the Church, Archbishop Paul Gallagher said on Friday 12th May.

The Liverpool-based Archbishop, who is the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States and International Organizations, was addressing the General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of more than 160 different Church-run charities.

Archbishop Gallagher began his message by reflecting on the centrality of Caritas’ work to Church, saying that “charity is indeed the essence of Church life.” He quoted Pope Francis’ words on the same subject: Caritas’ mission, the Holy Father said in 2016, is “of utmost importance because it can make every person feel loved by the Father, not with words but with concrete love.”

The Archbishop then went on to note two important features of this charitable work. Firstly, he said, it goes beyond material and social assistance – “it has to do with the whole person; it strives to put people back on their feet” – and, secondly, it is “not one-way, but constitutes a fraternal encounter” with those assisted.

“Since my last address to this important gathering”, Archbishop Gallagher continued, “the world has been hit hard by unprecedented crises: a pandemic, natural  disasters caused by climate change, rising food insecurity and hunger, new conflicts, as well as political instability and violence.”

Given this dire context, he said, “the chain of brotherhood” represented by Caritas – a confederation of organizations based in more than 200 countries – is “more needed than ever.”

The same is true, the Archbishop said, of the organisation’s work for peace, the promotion of which he identified as the Church’s primary task. Given the increasing conflict in the world – in Ukraine, Haiti, Sudan, the Middle East, and elsewhere –, he said, action for the promotion of “peace and understanding among men and peoples” ought to remain “a fundamental aspect” of Caritas’ work.

A final theme of Archbishop Gallagher’s address was Caritas’ distinctly Catholic character, which distinguishes it “from all other well-deserving non-profit or altruistic organizations.”

The Archbishop explained that Caritas Internationalis came about following the Second Vatican Council, when the decision was made to give an overarching structure to the charity and development work that local churches were already carrying out. It therefore functions, in effect, as the charitable arm of the Catholic Church, serving as “an expression of the charity of the Christian community.”

Given this, Archbishop Gallagher stressed the centrality of Caritas’ Catholic identity, saying that “in this theological inspiration it must find its strength and identity.”

He went on to note two ways in which this theological identity is expressed. Firstly, he said, Caritas’ Catholic character is lived out through its charitable activity, which is “an expression of the charity of Christ”. Secondly, he continued, it is demonstrated through its witness in the world, where Caritas becomes “a spokesperson to the international community and an advocate of a sound anthropological vision, rooted in Catholic doctrine, and committed to the integral defence of human dignity.”

Reporting by Joseph Tulloch of Vatican News