ROME, May 25, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - In an address to the General Assembly of Caritas International today, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads the Vatican dicastery dealing with the church’s charitable institutions, stressed that the main mission of all Church groups, charitable groups included, was to bring people to Christ.  “Today, dear Friends, the tragedy of modern mankind is not lacking clothing and housing. The most tragic hunger and the most terrible anguish is not lack of food,” he said. “It’s much more about the absence of God and the lack of true love, the love that was revealed to us on the Cross.”

The assembly comes at a time of major restructuring for Catholic charities which especially in the West have been beset by loss of Catholic identity.  Funding of questionable groups by the charitable arms of the Canadian, American, British, French and Austrian Catholic Bishops conferences have had many Catholics calling for change.  While Bishops in these nations have been working toward reform, the Vatican is working to reform the umbrella group for them all - Caritas Internationalis.  LifeSiteNews reported in February that the General Secretary of Caritas was not permitted to stand for a second term in office due to concerns about ‘Catholic identity’ among other issues. 

Cardinal Sarah added, “Regarding coordination with the charitable organisations of the Church … it is not merely philanthropic and humanitarian assistance aimed at relieving a certain kind of distress, but also and above all it entails giving back to human persons all their dignity as children of God, and promoting an anthropology that also encompasses the religious dimension of human persons, namely their encounter with God.”

Cardinal Sarah quoted both Popes John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI decrying the “religious indifference, secularisation and atheism” of the West.

“Together with enormous material, scientific and technological progress, the West is now experiencing a serious moral regression and a gradual “silent apostasy”, he said.

“Undoubtedly, since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI has considered this ‘religious indifference’ and ‘silent apostasy’ as the major challenge the Church has to take up today in her relations with the modern world. Therefore, he is more determined than ever to make our minds more aware and our faith more visible and more active, in order to show the world that the Church’s mission is deeply rooted in faith in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

While some in Catholic development agencies have argued for a hands-off approach of fostering good works undertaken even by agencies at odds with the Catholic Church to end the structures of poverty and oppression, the Cardinal took a different approach. “I believe it is important to understand that our charitable organisations are located within the Church and not alongside her,” he said. “A Caritas that wasn’t an ecclesial expression would have no meaning or existence. The Church cannot be considered as a partner of Catholic organisations. They are the organisations that take part in her mission.”

A recent debate over whether or not groups in the developing world should have the approval of local bishops prior to their receiving funding from Catholic charities in the West seems also to have been answered by the Cardinal. “So it is necessary that charitable organisations are really able to work in full communion and deep connection with the local bishop,” he said, “and in accordance with pastoral guidelines, in order to be fully integrated within the mission of the Church. “

See the full address here