No surprise at all: as international relief began to arrive in fractured Japan after the awful earthquake and tsunami, among the first were Catholic agencies.
As I said, no surprise: religious communities provide the most massive private (non-governmental) relief and care in the world, and first among the world’s communities of faith is the Catholic Church.
I know, Jesus, our founder, told us not to “blow a trumpet” when we give alms, an imperative we heed particularly during this Lenten season. So, I hope He forgives me for this violation!
But, I’m really not doing it as an act of pride, but as an act of gratitude for our wonderfully generous Catholic people who rise to the occasion whenever there’s an international need, like the one now in Japan, and as a word of encouragement to those splendid Catholic relief agencies that so effectively bring our aid to those most in need.
Those grand folks involved in worldwide humanitarian efforts, and even government officials, tell me that the Catholic Church gets an A+ in effectively reaching out to the stricken.
Why? For one, in most cases, the Church is already there! We don’t have to parachute workers and caregivers into a racked country, because the faithful are in place. Parishes, schools, religious orders, shelters, clinics, orphanages, hospitals, soup kitchens — already up and running. These faithful Catholics know where the need is and hardly need directions to bring it to those hurting, because they live there.
That was true, for instance, in Haiti. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), already had 300 people working fulltime in Haiti when the vicious earthquake struck, and they had been there for six-decades! No wonder they’re pros at getting food, medicine, shelter, service workers, and clean water to the distressed areas.
Even in a “non-Catholic” country like Japan, the Church is still already “on the ground,” as our Catholic education, charity, and healthcare is worldwide, not just in countries where there is a large Catholic population. After all, as the old saying goes, we don’t help people because they’re Catholic, but because we are.
A second reason why the Church has such a golden track record on international relief is because people of faith have a good reputation for honesty, integrity, zeal, thrift, and hard work. Yes, I admit, there are ugly counter-examples to this, but, the exceptions prove the rule.
But, who choreographs all of this massive, worldwide relief effort by the Church? Well, in most cases, it is locally run and operated — which, by the way, is a third reason why the Church shines in this area, since we are hardly handcuffed by some big, distant bureaucracy — because a fundamental principle of Catholic social justice is that of subsidiarity, that the closer you are to the people on the ground, the more effective you usually are.
So, once again to use CRS as an example, they hardly rely on a big overstructure, but get the aid to bishops, priests, sisters, brothers, deacons, and lay pastoral leaders already in the rubble.
However, some coordination, however unobtrusive, is helpful. And that comes, as you might expect, from Rome, where the earthly pastor of the Church Universal, our Holy Father, the Pope, shows a deep, daily solicitude for the suffering of the world, and is in a strategic position to assist, given his constant meetings with bishops, religious superiors, world leaders, his own ambassadors in 190 countries of the world (called the Nuncio), and the faithful from the earth’s troubled spots.
The agency of the Holy See — the Holy Father’s government of the Church Universal — which offers some direction, guidance, and encouragement to worldwide almsgiving of the Successor of St. Peter is called Cor Unum (“One Heart”) beautifully referring to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose heart beats within His Church, especially with love and mercy for those suffering.
The President of this Pontifical Council Cor Unum is Cardinal Robert Sarah. One of the agencies with which he closely works in Rome is called Caritas Internationalis (“International Charity”), which is a federation of Catholic agencies throughout the world dedicated to relief.
Both Cor Unum and Caritas Internationalis are highly respected. Recently, the Holy See expressed a very laudable and understandable desire to intensify cooperation, and to strengthen the Catholic identity of Caritas as a visible, unambiguously Catholic worldwide relief work.
This seems natural, given Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God is love”), which dramatically placed charity, along with teaching and the sacraments, as one of the Church’s three principal ministries.
Lent is a providential time to thank God for the heroic charity and generosity of the Church, and to affirm our conviction that our international relief is so effective precisely because it is inspired by Jesus, flows through and from His Church, and is as close to the Heart of Christ and His vicar on earth, the Pope, as possible.
Keep up the good work, Cor Unum, and Caritas Internationalis!