Monday, June 29, 2015


MAY 12th – 17th 2015, ROME)
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
 The Caritas Internationalis (CI) 20th General Assembly was held in Rome, Italy from May 12th to 17th 2015.  The Assembly (held once every four years) was a significant moment in the life of this global Catholic humanitarian relief and development confederation. The Assembly focussed on the theme ‘One Human Family Caring for Creation’. It brought together more than four hundred participants from nearly one hundred and fifty countries from across the globe. It was a veritable United Nations representing reality and experience in many profound ways.

The Assembly began with an inaugural Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica. In his homily, Pope Francis complimented the global Caritas family for the work they do all over but did not mince words when he said “we must do what we can so that everyone has something to eat but we must also remind the powerful of the earth that God will call them to judgement one day and there it will be revealed if they really tried to provide food for him in every person (Mtw. 25:35) and if they did what they could do to preserve the environment so that it could produce this food.”

The formal inauguration of the Assembly took place on May 13th with an address by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, the President of Caritas Internationalis and with messages coming in from other personalities including the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban-Ki Moon.

Three plenary sessions with eminent speakers helped set the tone, deliberations and the decisions of this Assembly; these were: (i) ‘A Poor Church for the Poor’ (speakers: Dominican Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of Liberation Theology and Dr. Beverley Haddad, an Anglican priest from South Africa), (ii) ‘Growing Inequalities, a challenge for the one human family’ (speakers: well-known economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University and Indian Jesuit Human Rights Activist Fr. Cedric Prakash (iii) ‘Climate Change and its effects on human development’ (speakers: Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Sylvia Ribeiro from Mexico, Director of the etc Group for Latin America)

The keynote speakers and particularly Gutierrez challenged the august assembly to address more substantially the pressing problems that plague our world today. At each of these Plenary Sessions, there were also valuable interventions from Caritas grassroot representatives.

The assembly was marked by an emotional farewell speech by the outgoing President Cardinal Maradiaga and the election of the new President Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila.  The assembly also reconfirmed its Secretary General Michel Roy. Mr. Roy as the Secretary General has been at the helm of the activities of the Confederation since the last four years.

In its path-breaking final message at the conclusion of the assembly, Caritas Internationalis provided for the Church and the world at large a bold vision for the care of creation; with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the message states that “no target should be considered as met unless achieved for all income and social groups; this fundamental, person-centred strategy must be central.” The message also urged Governments to look beyond their own borders and to recognise the moral imperative that is inherent in care for creation.
The CI Assembly was indeed a memorable event on several counts; among them: focussing on the immediate need and importance to mainstream the dimensions of justice, liberty, equity and solidarity in every activity of “caritas”; urging all to have the courage to first address and change what is endemic if one is truly serious about “caring for creation” (the theme of the Assembly); the words and actions of Pope Francis were referred to all the time. “Evangelli Gaudium” was the fulcrum of several of the talks and deliberations; the forthcoming encyclical on the “environment” is eagerly awaited and is expected to be blue-print for a more definitive course of action.

There was plenty of sharing by the participants on the tremendous good being done at the local, national and regional levels by Caritas Organisations; meaningful interventions are taking place in its ‘Food for all’ campaign and its endeavours to build a civilisation of love. The participants also felt hopeful that despite the reluctance of several Bishops / Priests / Dioceses / Organisations there would be a paradigm-shift in the works of ‘National Caritas’ with greater emphasis on advocacy and accompanying the poor, the marginalised, the displaced, the exploited and the refugees.  All also experienced a deep sense of bonding and belonging to “the one human family” (part of the theme). It is hoped that networking and collaboration would be enhanced in more tangible ways.  Finally, the Strategic Framework (2015 – 2019) which was adopted on the last day will again hopefully see the beginning of rejuvenated efforts towards justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

The assembly also named Archbishop Oscar Romero who was murdered for standing with the poor and exploited of El Salvador (and who was beatified on May 23rd 2015) as one of its patrons together with their previously proclaimed patrons St. Martin de Porres of Peru and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. 

The highlight of the Assembly was its visible courage to respond to the signs of the times!  It is hoped that the immediate future will see some marked changes in the way the works of Caritas will unfold in one hundred and sixty four countries across the globe.

(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace. He was one of the keynote speakers at the Caritas Internationalis 20th General Assembly)
Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad – 380052                                                                  Phone: (079) 27455913, 66522333     Fax:  (079) 27489018       Cell: 9824034536                      

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