People are more important than structures…! Caritas Europa President addressed Caritas people

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The first ever Caritas Europa Consultative Forum took place on 6-7 October 2016. The newly formed Action Groups came together to define synergies for the future.

Msgr. Luc Van Looy, President of Caritas Europa delivered last Thursday, 6 October, in Brussels the key-note speech on the occasion of the launch of the Consultative Forum.


Consultative Forum, Brussels, 6 October 2016

Caritas: One Family Speech of Msgr. Luc Van Looy


Msgr. Luc Van Looy

Dear friends,

Caritas is one big family. When we work with action-groups, this means that each one of them wants to go deeper in one or the other aspect of the life of our Caritas, but it does this to serve the total service we render to the poor. Even though each action group is independent in its work, it does not act independently. Through its study and proposals it wants to serve the whole body. In my diocese we have gone through the experience of studying the various parts of the mission. We finally started speaking of the ‘one table’. This means that different working groups, composed of crossmembers of the different sections of the life of the diocese, study in depth the situations and problems in order to present them for decision to the ‘one table’ which is the bishopscouncil. The working groups prepare suggestions, decisions, but ultimately put them before the one table to decide in favor or against. This is fundamental since we are one body, one organisation in which each one plays his or her part within the community. Ultimately the responsibility for the actions that will be taken is of ‘caritas europa’ (and in the end of Caritas tout court).

In one or the other way we are in contact with the poor. We enter in contact with the the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the persons who – in one way or the other – are imprisoned, locked up in themselves or in situations they did not create so that they are not really responsible for them. But, as Caritas Europa we do not want to stop at that. We know our continent has a Christian background, in that way we want to refer to the gospel. The good Samaritan does show the way: – He is touched by the man on the side of the road – He offers first aid, pouring wine and oil on his wounds – He takes the man to the social service, to the inn, to the hospital. In this way he engages others in his desire to serve this wounded person – He comes back for evalutation and to pay the bills – The story told by Jesus is reported by Luke so that the whole world gets to know it.

This tells us of the complementarity of our work. It is like entering a door. Pope Francis had us opening the door of mercy this year. Once we enter that door, what do we find? Or better, whom do we find? Allow me to use this image: when we enter through the door of the temple, we walk up to the altar where He and his friends are gathered. That is the center. May be we call Caritas the center, may be we call it God. Let us take the altar as the center, then this is the place where we are invited, and, important to be caritas, the place from which we start our service to the poor. We move back to the door, as it opens to both sides, to come in as well as to leave. From our meeting with the interior of the temple we bring to the people what pope Francis calls ‘tenderness’, or mercy, misericordia. It really means to say, ‘the love Jesus has shown to his people’, the community He built with his friends. He went by and touched the people, cured them, gave them hope, perspective. And more important still may be, he freed people from being cloistered, emprisoned in different ways. He went further than the fysical needs, as pope Francis states: “the greatest discrimination of the poor and the marginalized is that they do not receive love, respect, that their spiritual needs are not met with. They are in search of God” (E.G. 200).

This is an issue to attend. It is necessary to approach the total person, as integral human beings. Also in this the different action groups complement each other. Just remember what education does: elements of presence, love, study, art, sports and play, relation building are all necessary to build a person. I often say that a teacher walks into a classroom with his or her books of, for example matematics, but the real reason for entering the classroom is not to teach matematics, it is to meet the students, to enter in dialogue with them. Of course the matter they talk about is matematics, but that is only a tool for dialogue. Responsibility is another issue. We need to give the receiving party of our actions the possibility to voice its needs and to collaborate in the search of solutions.

People are more important than structures. Time is more important than space, caring is more important than imposing the law. This makes clear to us that “Caritas is the caress of the Church” as pope Francis told us. This is true for people who suffer poverty, forced migration, disasters and other pain. It is also important the we embody a common vision, expressed in our strategic framework. In a special way it is necessary in our advocacy work and in humanitarian action, not leaving others aside. In these people will notice easily whether we have our nose in the same direction. If we want to influence local, national and international authorities, we will have to show them that we pull the same rope. The witness of our unity is more important then the brilliantness of our projects. Thinking of Europe, the time has come to unite, to do everything possible to create a big Europe, to give future to our people and strenghten the vision of a strong continent. We really do have a message in that sense, but only if we are united.

Upon one more thing I want to insist. Caritas is born in the context of the catholic Church. In all our local organisations there is a link with the bishopsconference and with the local bishop. I feel it for myself a duty to pull those strings together. At any opportunity we should insist upon the link with the local Church and of the local Church with us: listening to the reality as well as communicating our vision. There are so many different situations, the reality can be so complex. It is our job to look carefully to the situation in which people live. More important is to understand and grasp the deep reality of the people and their suffering. Then only we will be able to embrase che whole person of the ones we try to help. If we feel with them, knowing also their concrete material needs, we will do everything to engage also others in the assistence. This opens the way to a serious networking, with ngo’s, with organisations of different origin, other christian denominations, other religions, with so many people of good will. Also in our own ranks we need to collaborate. Pope Francis speaks of a affective collegiality which leads to an effective collegiality. National caritas organisations need to work in tune with others as we share the same vision. Also with Caritas Internationalis we share the same vision and we have to show this.

Dear friends, we carry an important message, and we want to share it with as many people as possible. I’m sure our zeal and conviction is firm enough to counter also the difficulties we meet on our way. We know that we will sometimes be sent as lambs in the midst of woolfs, but just remember, also woolfs are in need of love. And for us, we know we are not alone.