02/18/2008, 00.00
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Charity, the focus of the Church's mission in Asia and the world

by card. Oswald Gracias
On the occasion of the meeting of the Indian bishops' conference on the encyclical 'Deus Caritas Est', Cardinal Oswald Gracias emphasizes to AsiaNews the importance of the charitable work of the Church, which must not fear persecution, but instead must be reaffirmed with growing vigour.

Jamshedpur (AsiaNews) - The Indian Church must not fear accusations of proselytism, but instead must reinforce its testimony and its efforts on behalf of charity, the source of Christian dynamism.  This is affirmed in a reflection sent to AsiaNews by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Indian bishops' conference, which is currently meeting in Jamshedpur.

The meeting, called to discuss the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, was also attended by Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, president of the pontifical council "Cor Unum", who spoke of the importance of charity and of the message addressed by the pope to the entire world.  The following is the text of Cardinal Gracias's reflection.

Cardinal Cordes spoke on the mission of the Church, in the light of the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, with special emphasis on the deepening of the Christian roots of charity.  His Eminence did not specifically refer to persecution.

“It is fundamental to understand that charity is the vocation of the Church, and persecution does not in any way dilute the mission of the church . . . this is the calling of Christ, charity is our vocation, and still remains even in times of persecution".

Charity is done selflessly, to enable people primarily live with the dignity for which they were created.

In recent years, charity has often been perceived negatively, this charity and the zeal of the Church to serve the poorest of the poor and the marginalised and those who live on society’s periphery as ‘allurement’ to conversion.

This is rather tragic and sad, because for centuries the Church in India has been serving the poor and marginalised in the remotest parts of the country, through our educational and health care services, irrespective of caste or creed, and today this same ‘caritas' heart of the Church is being misrepresented to represent an ‘allurement’.  Even the government has proved that the percentage of Christians have declined, yet these false allegations increase. But the mission of the Church must and will continue through works of charity, in the words of St Paul, “caritas Christi urget nos”.

We do not seek anything in return, we only seek to serve the suffering, and the Church in India must not be afraid of being misunderstood or misrepresented.  We must carry on wholeheartedly, and explain our zeal and mission clearly without fear.

Our hospitals, orphanages, schools, and social service centres were founded by the Church to enlighten the minds of young people and to lift the burden of suffering from those most in need.

Our mission is very clear: ‘the suffering faces of the poor are the suffering face of Christ'.  In the pain of the poor and the dispossessed we see reflected the suffering of our crucified Lord, who reminds us that ultimately we will be judged on the compassion and charity which we show them." For I was hungry," He will tell us, "but you gave Me no food; alone or a stranger or in prison, but you could not be bothered with me".

"Our faith calls us to serve those in need with the same prompt response and the same generous love that we would show Christ Himself were he to come before us sick or tired or in need". The Church cannot stand as an idle witness to the complex social problems of our day.

The firm conviction that Christ is present in the poor and reveals in their suffering His wondrous passion can be traced in an unbroken line of charity from the Apostles down to our own day.

Today, India has become a powerful economic power, however, in the midst of an unprecedented 'economic boom', far too many of our sisters and brothers live in poverty.  This economic boom has benefited only a small percentage of the people who are already affluent, this economic boom has not permeated down the poor, the gap is widening between the rich and the poor.  This is a disturbing factor, and the effects of the Indian economy should percolate down to the middle class people and the poor. 

We are shocked and scandalised by the global dimensions of poverty and exclusion. During 1998, while global consumption of goods topped trillion - twice that of 1975 - some 4.4 billion people in developing countries had little access to basic goods and services.

It is within this context of India’s development that the Church in India, at this timely moment in the history of humanity, must renew our commitment to justice and peace through our works of charity. This commitment cannot be ignored or dismissed, and all Christians must respond to this challenge; it is not just a matter of good will or the personal charism of a few.   Love for Christ expresses itself in solidarity with the poor and as advocacy for those who suffer injustice.

In the face of human suffering, the Church has to offer physical comfort, healing, emotional support, and spiritual guidance to those who are most beloved by God - the poor and the vulnerable.

The Church in India has to strengthen our media awareness and our channels of communication, to bring an understanding of what the Church stands for and that the Church in India has always had a preferential option for the poor. Love and service for the poor has always been part of our ethos.

The history of the Indian Church reveals a long tradition of defending those living in poverty, supporting charitable institutions and promoting justice. Many religious orders were established on the principles of sharing the goods of the earth with the poor and of recognising the essential dignity of human persons, without regard to their economic or social status.

The Church in Asia should celebrate its heritage in charity.  The Asian heart is generous, and Asia has always been helping and serving the people.  The Church in Asia is called to first of all communicate effectively the works of charity and empower the people and government to carry on the work of charity, and should lead the world in the mission of charity.

"Let us pray for the strength and courage to face the pastoral challenge before us: in all things, charity".

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