On Tuesday Pope Francis told global representatives of Caritas International that true service is about welcoming God and others, and called them to continue their mission by going out to the peripheries.
“The Gospel, proclaimed and believed, urges us to wash the feet and the wounds of the suffering and to prepare the table for them," the Pope said May 12.
The simplicity of these gestures can be summed up in a single action, he said: “to welcome God and to welcome others; to welcome others with the grace of God; to welcome God and express this act in the service to our brothers and sisters."
Pope Francis offered his reflections during a May 12 opening Mass for Caritas International’s 20th general assembly, being held May 12-17 in Rome to discuss the theme “One Human Family, Caring for Creation."
The assembly will also provide a strategic framework to anchor Caritas’ work over the next four years.
In his homily for the Mass, Francis noted how the source of the organizations’ global work “lies in the simple and docile welcome of God and neighbor…This is the root. If you cut this root, Caritas dies."
He encouraged them to bring Christ to each person they meet, and cautioned against the temptation to compare the size and reach of their various offices throughout the world.
“The Caritas of each particular church, even the smallest, is the same. There is no big Caritas or small Caritas, all are the same," he said.
“Let’s ask the Lord for the grace to understand the true dimension of Caritas, for the grace not fall into the deception of believing that well-organized centralization is the way, for the grace to understand that Caritas is always on the periphery, in every particular church."
Francis also prayed for the grace to recognize that the mission of Caritas is simply to help, to serve and to provide the experience of communion, but that “it’s not the boss of everyone."
Whoever lives this mission is not just a mere aid worker but is a true witness of Christ who is able to receive and spread his love, the Pope said.
He then drew attention to the fact that in many areas of the world people still suffer due to hunger, and lauded the organization for their campaign “One human family, food for all," which was launched in December 2013, with the aim of eradicating global hunger.
“There are still so many people today who do not have enough to eat. The planet has enough food for all, but it seems that there is a lack of willingness to share it with everyone," he said.
“We ought to set the table for all, and ask that there be a table for all. We must do what we can so that everyone has something to eat."
Francis also reminded those in power that “God will call them to judgment one day." On that day they will be asked whether or not they really tried to provide food for everyone, and if they preserved the environment so that it could produce enough food, he said.
Caritas “sets many tables for the hungry," Francis noted, and urged attendees not to forget the Christians who have been “violently deprived" of food for both the body and soul.
These Christians, he said, “have been driven from their homes and their churches – at times destroyed. I renew the appeal not to forget these people and these intolerable injustices."
Guest speakers at this year’s assembly include Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, considered to be the father of liberation theology, and Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at Columbia University who is an adviser to Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general.
The current president of Caritas is Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, and its secretary-general is Michel Roy, who was formerly head of Secours Catholique, Caritas’ French branch.
Roy is the sole candidate for the post of secretary-general on this year’s ballot for new leadership. He has held the position since 2011, and is certain to be confirmed.
Cardinal Rodriguez will step down as president, having served two mandates, from 2007-2011, and 2011-2015. It is expected that Cardinal Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, will selected as the new president.