Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, president of Caritas Internationalis, points to a photo of his maternal grandfather on a mosaic created for the 2019 general assembly of Caritas Internationalis. Tagle said Caritas must push a “politics of communion.” CNS photo/Robert Duncan

The politics of communion

By 
  • November 21, 2020

For Development and Peace and the entire global Caritas network, it’s time to get political, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle told a Zoom meeting of dozens of Caritas officials around the world Nov. 12.

But the Filipino cardinal and president of Caritas Internationalis was quick to point out that the politics of Caritas has to be different from the politics that has dominated media in recent years.

“That populist approach which pretends to be in service of the people but is in fact building walls... we are not party to that destructive type of partisanship. Our politics is that of communion,” Tagle told the conference “Fratelli Tutti: What does it mean for Caritas’ work?”

The cardinal raised the example of base communities — small networks of poor Catholics who came together to read the Bible under the military dictatorship in Brazil in the 1970s — as an example of the kind of politics Caritas should encourage.

“The challenge that we face is to present ourselves and our work, and our political engagement as Development and Peace, as being in the authentic tradition of the Church,” Development and Peace deputy director Luke Stocking told The Catholic Register after the conference. “There is no secular political ideology that on either side, left or right, authentically lines up with what would be described as the political position of the Catholic Church.”

Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical should be a guidepost for all Catholics who are concerned for the common good, Stocking said. But the Pope’s critique of politics provides particular impetus to Catholic development agencies such as the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace – Caritas Canada.

“Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others,” Pope Francis wrote in Fratelli Tutti. “In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.”

Development and Peace and its partners in Latin America, Africa and Asia have to present an alternative, Stocking said.

“There is a call within the encyclical to Caritas organizations to raise their voices politically and engage with their governments — raising a voice as a kind of antidote to the kind of divisive politics that currently exists in the world and not simply retreat from that,” Stocking said.

Trying to cling to an entirely spiritualized faith that ignores politics would be to turn our back on the fact that God chose to be incarnate in a political world full of conflict, oppression and struggle, said Fr. Augusto Zampini, adjunct secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“Our faith has to say something to politics,” he told the Caritas representatives from around the world.

It’s particularly important for Caritas to speak up now, said Zampini. The problem is that the politics of free markets is “running out of ideas,” he said. Caritas has to be a laboratory of new ideas.

Caritas Internationalis general secretary Aloysius John urged Caritas leaders to be bold.

“Caritas should take the lead,” he said. “If we don’t breathe this (Fratelli Tutti) into our communities then it will remain at a theological level.”

When politics seems to abandon the idea of objective truth, Caritas has to carry the banner of the Church against cheap, convenient, political relativism, John said. He described the Caritas position as “Charity with a commitment to the truth.”

“Caritas is called to be active in this renewal of the social order,” he said. “The world is turning an indifferent regard to the suffering of our brothers and sisters.”

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