human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

CST and transformative action

An Inspiring Framework for Caritas

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Catholic social teaching (CST) is an indispensable component of identity building at Caritas Europa. But what does CST really mean for the concrete daily action and strategic options of Caritas? Does it really inspire and challenge? How can we avoid to pay only lip service to it, or even worse, hiding it as our best kept secret in a filing cabinet? How can CST become more than self-justifying ideology or window dressing? In other words: how can CST become the heart of an organisation with a soul? How can CST become the living source of an inspired organisation?

Change as the key word

I will try to answer that question, not by way of explaining the main principles for judgment and analysis, but I will focus on the fundamental framework of inspiration that underpins the principles and action with a fundamental meaning. In order to do this, I will rely on a trustworthy guide: Pope Francis, who, after decades of predominantly doctrinal concern, returns to the spirit of Vatican II according to which the very raison d’être of the Catholic Church and its organisations is to be service to the world. Let me remind in this regard the first words of the pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes: ‘the joy and hope, the sorrow and anxiety of the men of our time, especially of the poor and of those who are in any way suffering, these are also the joy and hope, the sorrow and anxiety of the disciples of Christ; and there is nothing human that does not find an echo in their hearts’ (GS 1). The consequence is that CST must be more than a set of ‘mere generalities which challenge no one’ (Evangelii Gaudium 182) and that the church, which is the people of God, and thus all of us, must reach out to the millions who are still victims of violence, famine, environmental disasters, exclusion and hopelessness. In this regard Caritas is not a secondary task in the Church, but an integral part of the mission of the Church to reach out to the world. One could even say, paraphrasing Pope John XXIII, that an organisation such as Caritas is the human face of the church itself. CST is in this context not something comparable to a lighthouse that attracts attention to itself as beacon, but rather a torch that accompanies people on their journey towards encountering the victims of history. In this perspective CST is also not sort of GPS telling in a detailed way what to do, but a compass that shows where to go.

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Johan Verstraeten

Director of the Centre for Catholic Social Thought
KU Leuven

faith and action