Intervention of Archbishop Youssef Soueif at the conference on the mission and role of Caritas at the heart of the Catholic Church in the MENA – “At the Service of Common Good in a Pluralistic Context”
“At the Service of Common Good in a Pluralistic Context”
A conference on the mission and role of Caritas at the heart of the Catholic Church in the Middle East and North Africa
The intervention of Archbishop Youssef Soueif
Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus, President of Caritas Cyprus
Member of the Executive Board of Caritas Internationalis
Lebanon – Wednesday, February 27th, 2019
“I did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45)
The bishop is the Charity servant
I am pleased to be with you at this conference on the mission and role of Caritas at the heart of the Catholic Church in the MENA Region to think about being “At the Service of Common Good in a Pluralistic Context” under the patronage of H.E. President Michel Aoun. I salute the organizers from Caritas Internationalis and Caritas MONA in collaboration with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Congregation for Oriental Churches, Patriarchates and Episcopal councils in the Middle East and North Africa, and Caritas’ employees and volunteers besides other associations and all those who contributed to and helped prepare for this event, which will include topics not only on the regional level, but also at the broader level in the context of the encounter of civilizations and dialogue of cultures.
I will discuss in my intervention the subject: “I did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45), the bishop is the charity servant.
The bishop is the father and the shepherd who is called to show the mercy of the Father and his love for mankind. He is the shepherd at the example of Jesus – the shepherd, who knows his sheep by their names, and has with each of them a story, a history and a special personal relationship; he smells his sheep and feels their presence, tiredness and joy; and with the joy and passion of the father, he leaves the whole herd to go and look for the lost, tired and wounded and hugs him before putting him on his neck to give him comfort, consolation and strength that comes out of his heart and his mercy.
It is the image of the covenant history between God and man; it is the Gospel of John, chapter X, which is related to the reality of the environment and man; it is the most expressive image of God’s relationship with us and with all creation; the relationship that the Lord called us to build together in the Church- Community and Parish, where there is a visible Shepherd showing us the invisible Shepherd who leads humanity to the pastures of life, liberating man from slavery and death. He is Jesus Christ, who is present with us and living in us, a Paschal and resurrectional presence that gives meaning to every action, service and mission we achieve.
- The constants of the theological charity service
“I did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45): To be a servant like Christ is an invitation and a call, a vocation and a blessing, it is the gift of the Father to you and to all of us, the people of God and the Church of Christ walking on the paths of this world and bearing witness to Her Groom, resurrected and alive forever.
Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. This is the source of inspiration of the apostolic approach for the talent of episcopate, priesthood, apprenticeship, and commitment of the baptized, based on the call of the Gospel, which is service and by excellence.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The goal is to proclaim the gospel through service, and the purpose is the holiness and participation in the groom’s life in a renewed and eternal life because love has no limits. This is from where the theological foundations of the Service of the Word (Kerigma), Service of the Eucharist (Liturgia) and Service of Charity (Diakonia) start with one aim: the man.
The aim of the Service of the Word, that is evangelization and bearing witness for Christ, is the man; and the aim of the Sacraments’ service, proceeding from the Eucharist, which is the climax of the liturgical celebration, is also the man, and likewise the Service of the Charity is also an expression of caring for man, especially the poor, the homeless, the marginalized and the wounded.
This triangular service cannot be separated from one another (Motu Proprio: The Service of Charity – introduction); and if separated, the problem will begin fundamentally and basically. Every time we face problems in the Service of Charity in the Church at the individual and the institutional levels, we should search for the cause and we will find it in the separation of these three services.
These three services are organically connected to each other. God’s Word is “the Spirit and Life” (John 6-63), the reference through which I enter into the personal and collective knowledge of God’s intervention in the history of mankind, in a covenant that is the Covenant of Love that He crowned by His Beloved Son, His Word who became flesh in the fullness of time. Hence is built the personal relationship with God’s Word, who transforms every desert into oases of love and life; the Word with whom we cross over from death to the new life in Jesus Christ.
The Paschal Eucharistic Celebration, based on God’s Word, on the Covenant of Love, is the incarnation of Christ’s presence in the world, through the sacred table where the faithful community meets to feed on the body and blood of Christ, living in fellowship with God the Trinity and with each other, as a foretaste of the joy of the Heavenly Table.
The Charity Service or Diakonia becomes the fruit of a personal relationship with the Word and the Eucharist, so that the man opens his heart to his fellow brother/sister in mankind and bows and kneels to serve him/her, the way Jesus bowed and still bows to serve, wash, touch, heal, accompany and save man, restoring the fullness of his/her human dignity.
Evangelization, Eucharist and Humanitarian assistance are the dimensions of the Service Triangle, based on which we build ourselves: individuals and institutions, in order to harmonize and integrate the dynamism of communion and witness with an integrated view of man and his development spiritually, physically, mentally and as a being created at the image of God and His example.
This is the basis on which Benedict XVI founded his Encyclical: “Deus Caritas Est” in 2005 and reorganized it in the Motu Proprio (The Service of Charity): “Intima Ecclesiae Natura” in 2012.
The Service of Charity is linked to the Bishop (Deus Caritas Est, 32), whereby the “Bishops, as successors of the Apostles, are charged with primary responsibility for carrying out” this service. Benedict XVI noted that “the Code of Canon Law, in the canons on the ministry of the Bishop, does not expressly mention charity as a specific sector of episcopal activity”; although it is one of the basic characteristics of the Bishops’ Pastoral Ministry (Motu Proprio: the Service of Charity – Introduction)
With this Motu Proprio, the pope intends to provide an organic legislative framework for the better overall ordering of the various organized ecclesial forms of the Service of Charity, which are closely related to the diaconal nature of the Church. (Motu Proprio: the Service of charity – Introduction)
It is important to be aware that external and practical activities will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ (Deus Caritas Est, 34) (Motu Proprio: the Service of Charity – Introduction).
Besides this ecclesiastical dimension, this document refers to the need to comply with the legitimate civil legislation in every geopolitical area (Motu Proprio: the Service of Charity – Article 5).
- The bishop is the Charity servant
I present here the mission of the Bishop as the Charity servant, based on the Motu Proprio’s spirit (the Service of Charity) as well as personal and collective experiences and I focus on the following areas:
- The Bishop’s personal commitment and presence among people
The Bishop’s personal commitment to the Service of Charity has a direct and powerful influence at the heart of his Church, in the minds of the priests, his first assistants, and in the hearts of the faithful, especially those who are directly involved in this service. This commitment comes from the act of faith in Jesus who is present in these “little ones” and from a theological position based on communion, integration and unity in the Secret Body of Christ. The Bishop becomes an example and role model when he starts inviting the poor and the homeless to his home, to the Archbishopric, to meet them, listen to them and participate with them in the banquet of love. In this spirit, priests and lay persons are invited to receive the displaced and the refugees and alleviate their pain, and invite them to participate in pastoral and social events, during which they feel that they belong to the pastoral community, in a dynamic of reception and interaction that strengthens constructive social integration, with the importance of preserving the cultural and social privacy of these persons. Our churches, our parishes, and our monasteries are a welcoming oasis for all in a Mother – Church who takes care of all her children, and pushes away the danger of “the stranger’s rejection” mindset due to the “fear of the other” (Xenophobia).
We salute the hospitality and generosity of our region, which receives millions of displaced persons and forced migrants from Syria and Iraq, especially Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, despite the privacy and political sensitivity of this bitter reality. A big thanks to Caritas Middle East and North Africa (MONA), and Caritas Internationalis and to the Holy See’s leading coordination role in this regard.
From spiritual and administrative care to the presence among the people, that is, with the volunteers who serve and those who are served, we have before us the prophetic initiatives of Pope Francis, from sharing the table, to the washing of feet, and visits of the prisons, of displaced families, in addition to the displaced and refugees’ camps. This presence reflects Jesus who came to serve, and the face of Jesus who did not come to observe and analyze the causes and the facts, but who came to show compassion and mercy and bow and touch with his heart and hand the wounds of every woman, man, and child in despair and pain. Thus is the presence of the Bishop and the priest, and so is the presence of the volunteers in Caritas and in every Charity service. Besides the high level of organized and professional management, the priority is given to human beings. These are human beings like us, our flesh and blood. They are not commodities, nor numbers nor elements of strategies; they are persons at the image of God and His example, and each one has his name and carries with him a story, a history, successes and failures. They have great potential of charity, giving, creativity and values, although injustice, war and displacement have led them to social and psychological tragedies. This is the time of Pope Francis and his methodology, which incarnates “Deus Caritas Est” and moves it to the “Evangelii Gaudium” that every human being on Earth awaits.
My presence as a Bishop in and with my Church is the continuity of Jesus’ presence in history and time, transforming by His Spirit the world’s logic, injustice and darkness, and transforming even one person into a man happy with love and hope and the restoration of his dignity as a beloved son.
- The task of coordination and team work
The Bishop coordinates the Service of Charity in his Church through a body that encompasses all the workers and representatives of the institutions and associations involved in this sector, the Archbishopric being its starting point, the symbol of unity in the Church and everybody’s house, to include every institution, organization and service that is working at the general diocesan or parish level. Coordination is accomplished proceeding from spiritual and theological constants based on God’s Word and on prayer, and the Eucharist in an act of mercy leading to the incarnation of the Spirit of brotherhood (Motu Proprio: the Service of Charity – Article 8).
The Service of Charity is the right and duty of every believer to live Christ’s Commandment (John 15:12). Not simply to offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls (Deus Caritas Est, 28; Motu Proprio: the Service of Charity – Introduction).
The Coordinating Body will establish encouraging and integrated administrative and theological standards in conformity with the context of professional and institutional norms (Motu Proprio: the Service of Charity – Introduction). Here, there is no doubt that this task requires vigilance and attention from the Bishop first, and from his team. The easiest option is to be reassured, as a Bishop, that I have Caritas, besides associations and institutions providing and handling this service and keep myself away from this field and area of concern. Such positioning deprives us from a fundamental constant at the core of our mission’s nature. The Lord called upon the Bishop to be the attentive, the mindful, the shepherd, and the initiator in giving confidence to his assistants, clergy and lay people, but also to have a personal, loving, orientating, patriarchal and administrative presence that guarantees life and continuity for this service in a spirit of Charity and Justice. The administrative fault lies in binding every detail and everything to the Bishop’s person whereas good management lies in being both present and absent, and in granting confidence through implementation of required programs with constant assessment sessions to develop the service.
- Service of Charity and Church Teaching
The Bishop achieves harmony and complementarity between field and administrative service in conformity with the demands of the Church’s teaching. (Motu Proprio: the Service of Charity – Introduction). It is important to preserve the Catholic identity of compassion acts with openness to the needs of all people. In addition to due professional competence, the workers in the organizations have to give an example of Christian life, reconciling between high professionalism and “formation of heart”. The Bishop has to provide for the theological and pastoral formation of the staff involved in this service, through specific curricula agreed upon by the officers of various agencies and through suitable aids to the spiritual life (Motu Proprio: the Service of Charity – Article 7) and a personal commitment to the testimony of faith.
The diocesan Bishop is obliged, if necessary, to make known to the faithful the fact that the activity of a particular charitable agency is no longer being carried out in conformity with the Church’s teaching, and exploit the use of the word “Catholic”, while they are dissent from the Church’s Spirit. And here, we must be vigilant regarding the sources of funds so as not to contradict Christian Catholic Ethics (Motu Proprio: the Service of Charity – Article 11).
The Bishop also supports initiatives taken by the faithful, even if they are not directly related to his episcopal authority. It is positive to encourage these initiatives as an expression of everyone’s participation in the Church’s mission, by respecting its administration privacy and independence, according to its nature.
- Professionalism and transparency
The Bishop makes sure to perform the Service of Charity, with his team and his assistants with high professionalism, accurate administrative and financial transparency, and to invite persons with competence in these fields who start their work from the spirituality of the Word and the efficacy of the Eucharist to administrative professionalism. In this context, the Bishop and his team must ensure that sources of funding are clean and honest, and that donors, be they individuals or institutions, are in harmony with the Church’s teachings and distant from any goals that dissent from the Church’s spirituality and teachings.
- The Service of Charity in every parish
The Christian community in the parish is the incarnation of the Church’s truth, especially in its unity with other parishes under the umbrella of the Diocese that is paternally looked after by the Bishop. Therefore, the Bishop encourages the establishment of “Caritas” in every parish for education and training on the genuine spirit of participation and charity.
In this context, bearing witness to pastoral communion is fulfilled through the cooperation of neighboring parishes in the Service of Charity via concerted efforts in order not to waste energies or resources and by avoiding duplication in a micro and narrow geographical area.
- Openness to the Universal Church
The Bishop ensures the Service of Charity in his Church as much as he opens to the experience of communion in the local, national and the universal Church.
As a Bishop in the Church, I am not entitled to isolate myself and lead my Church to isolation. For my Church is part of Christ’s Church who is one, holy and apostolic.
And the Service of Charity lives and flourishes and bears effectiveness and fruits in a blessed, holy and glowing rhythm, between the experiences of the local and the universal Church. The fruits of this rhythm are a quality service for the common good and the good of mankind.
One of the names and attributes of the Bishop is the “Pontifex” i.e. the bridge. This bridge is as strong as it is united with the Cross, the reconciliation bridge and the source of our renewal and lives. It is the Bishop who builds bridges and may God forbid that he contributes to their destruction; building bridges to stay, communicate and cooperate to achieve the communion.
The danger of openness faces the danger of escaping to the “safe oasis” or “Comfort Zone” that threatens the person and community and kills in the heart and mind the creative challenge.
- Challenges of the Catholic Communion in the Service of Charity
Here, we must salute the initiatives that create the ecclesiastical, humane and administrative space for the Service of Charity among the Catholic Churches. I invoke here the discussions and recommendations of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East (Ecclesia in Medio Oriente), which called for the strengthening of common service in places where it is absent. This way, “each individual and every community is called to put their charisms at the service of the common good” and “In this way they will show their generous and heartfelt desire to be at the service of the local Church and the universal Church”. (Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 87).
If I want to conduct an objective assessment, at least in our region, I think we need to take courageous and bold initiatives and I would almost say today prophetic, whereby we as Churches work as a Catholic Church located in one geographical area. Today’s reality refers to a small proportion of joint work, especially through Caritas and other Charitable organizations. Each Church has its own pastoral structure for the Service of Charity, separated from the other Church. I do not call here for fusion, but for clear and transparent cooperation, in the frame of some programs that it’s not acceptable to duplicate in a common geographical area; thus providing a better Service. Why fear such initiatives? What I’m mentioning in the Service of Charity, can also be applicable to cooperation in the pastoral, educational, vocational training and health fields/sectors within our Catholic Churches in the countries of our region. From here I proceed to the “ecumenism of Diaconia” on the basis of common good priority.
- Ecumenism of Diaconia
Thus, the Bishop who cares about communion and unity in the spirit of the Fraternity in Christ, proceeds to reinforce what Benedict XVI called “the ecumenism of Diaconia”, “inviting the Catholics of the Middle East to cultivate relationships with the faithful of the different Ecclesial Communities present in the region” and ” Particularly fruitful forms of cooperation in the area of charitable activities and the promotion of the values of human life, justice and peace could also be developed or expanded. All this will contribute to greater mutual knowledge and the creation of a climate of esteem; these are indispensable conditions for promoting fraternity. ” (Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 18). From the spirit of ecumenism in the body of Christ to the spirituality of ecumenism in “human Fraternity” with all people which symbolism and effectiveness have emerged in the signing of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” (February 4, 2019) in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and the Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif (Motu Proprio: The Service of Charity, Article 12 and Article 14). The experience of Caritas in the region and the world is at the heart of this event, and it aims at facilitating the encounter of people in their diversity, and to dialogue about common issues, peace building, and promotion of forgiveness values and the rejection of all forms of “rejection of the other” which lead to extremism, terrorism, violence and killing. We recall the Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East, where Benedict XI emphasizes that “Religions can join one another in service to the common good and contribute to the development of each person and the building of society” (Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 28). Only the dialogue of peace builds the man in love and restores his human dignity. Hence, the commitment to choose peace through reconciliation with oneself, God and the other, a cosmic ecological reconciliation, that pushes the “I” away from the human soul, so we can live in harmony with God and the creation to care for the “common home” in which we exist. Pope Francis calls for an “ecological conversion” whereby “the effects of the Christians’ encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.
Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience”. (Laudato Si, 217)
The Service of Charity starts from Christ to reach man, every man, and meets with him, regardless any religious, ethnic, social and political considerations. If we face different situations, imitating them doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good thing, based on the principle of reciprocity. Reading and committing to the Gospel lead us to overcome all these considerations to reach the man as “the Good Samaritan”, the same “Good Shepherd” who offered not only food and money and oil, but sacrificed himself for mankind.
- Formation of heart
The Bishop involved in the Service of Charity, is concerned with “the formation of heart”, which is the starting point and the basic methodology, so that this Service does not deviate from its purpose, Caritas and Church organizations thus becoming mere Non-Governmental Non-Profit Organizations (NGOs). The question is even beyond that: the Church, through its social and humanitarian commitment and through the service of the poor and the acts of mercy, reflects the face of the Merciful Father, and the face of Jesus the Shepherd who looks for the wounded and hugs him close to His Heart. Through the Gospel of Matthew 84: “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger…” the Church links the human experience to the eternal life, whereby the first and last question is about love, giving, initiative, solidarity, and fraternity. For giving is a profit to the giver through the renewal of his faith, love and hope. Through the Service of Evangelization and bearing witness, in the spirituality and zeal of the “renewed evangelization”, don’t we all discover the true humanity in the face of the suffering people that shows us the face of Jesus, who constantly gives meaning to our lives?
The heart is formed in this dynamic of Diaconia, as it rises to God and touches the man lying on the road side, on the margins of life; it is then that I discover my wound, my marginalization and my poverty, and I become rich through his poverty which is God’s richness and God’s life in the suffering people that is renewed by love and resurrection.
At this moment, the prayer and the sacrament is accepted, and God’s word does its work in the heart of the man who discovers the richness of his humanity stemming from the humanity of Jesus united with His divinity.
This Service is an act of faith and charity that gives hope to the suffering and miserable. It is an individual, collective and joint work with distinction; it is the Liturgy, namely the community service for the individual and the community. Hence the need to educate on this service, in the family, school and parish, especially in countries and regions, who due to wars and crises, got used only to receiving aids. Education on giving creates a mature community at the spiritual, humanitarian and social levels. Solidarity starts from within and expands to the outside to reach national and global levels. Therefore, we must strengthen the volunteering spirit, which is an added value in the Service of Charity programming. I convey the expression of thanks to all the volunteers in the Service of Charity and acts of mercy, besides those working faithfully and with dedication to fulfill the Church’s mission.
- Do not be afraid
Today, I address myself as a Bishop in front of you, and I am called upon to succeed the apostles in bearing witness to Christ, I call upon myself not to be afraid of myself, not to be afraid of cooperating with my brothers and assistants: be they priests, consecrated, or lay persons who are waiting for the starting-off whistle; they want a sign and an invitation for commitment in the parish and the Diocese.
We should not be afraid of taking the initiative of encounter and cooperation, in a world making concerted efforts to become stronger industrially and professionally, in arms trade and also in the chaos of absurd wars; as a Church I am not allowed to remain in and maintain my anxiety, inward-looking attitude and fear.
Do not be afraid because this task is:
An honorable and holy call to a service which aim is the common good and building mankind in freedom, justice, love and peace. It is the expression of the “yes” of the Church emanating from the “yes” of the Virgin Mary, who wanted to fulfill God’s will in her life by listening to His Word and accepting the Word – Eucharist, by her practical service incarnated by her visit to Elizabeth, and by accompanying Her Son, healer of the humanity’s wounds and the Savior of men.
It is a project which three dimensions are dynamic through the Word, the Eucharist and the Service, aiming at elevating the human person to charity and joy in the dynamism of integral human development.