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Steve Weatherbe

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Vatican cardinal: Catholic charity ‘is not only giving food … but giving God’

Steve Weatherbe

The Vatican cardinal who oversees the Church’s charitable initiatives has emphasized again that Catholic charities cannot be satisfied with meeting the material needs of those they serve.

“Charity is very linked with the proclamation of the Gospel, and doing charity is not only giving food, giving material things, but giving God too. Because the main lack of man is not having God,” Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, told Catholic News Agency.

Sarah made the remarks while attending a week-long leadership forum for members of Caritas In Veritate International, a new federation of Catholic groups that buy into the concept of offering both material and spiritual help.

He told the forum that it was worse to deny people the truth of Jesus Christ and his teaching than to deny them food or other material aid. “It’s very important to express that the hunger we are suffering today is not having God in our life, in our society,” he said. And quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he declared, “The main food is God.”

The cardinal demonstrated the need to accompany charity with the truth by recounting how a Syrian child who was being well cared for by relief services in terms of his material well-being nonetheless confronted Sarah about a profound spiritual question. “Does God really exist? Why did he let my father be killed?”

To respond with food alone, the cardinal said, would be to fail in the Church’s mission.

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Nonetheless, historians relate that people throughout the Roman Empire were drawn to the early Christians not only by their doctrines and courageous espousal of them during sporadic persecutions but by their constant charity for the sick, poor, widows, and orphans.

Today, however, some Catholic relief organizations have come under fire for going out of their way to separate themselves from anything of an explicitly evangelical nature. Earlier this year, Bill O’Keefe, vice president of Catholic Relief Services, told CNN, “We assist people of all backgrounds and religions and we do not attempt to engage in discussions of faith. ... We’re proud of that. We like to say that we assist everybody because we’re Catholic, we don’t assist people to become Catholic."

Groups such as CRS and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace are criticized not only for eschewing evangelization, but also for supporting the secular works of other non-profits with agendas conflicting with Catholic doctrine, for example, in support of abortion.

Meanwhile, Caritas in Veritate International has been formed to bring together many organizations willing to combine evangelization with material good works. These include: Arise International of the U.S., Jesus Youth Movement of India, Partnership for China, Catholic Christian Outreach of Canada, the Magis Institute of the U.S., and the Tabgha Foundation of Malta. Together they are operating in more than 80 countries.

In Haiti, they have ambitious plans to buy 10 acres of land and build 100 homes along with a school, a sports centre, a home for abused women and children, a college prep centre, an administration center, and a church.

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