Thursday, May 01, 2008

Kudos to Caritas

You may remember that a few days ago I told you about attending Branches, an introduction to Catholic spirituality. I should point out that I'm not sure if they used this title and perhaps I should either, since I am quickly learning that there are about as many Catholic spiritualities as there as Catholics. Anyway, after Branches, some of the people go down to the Brooklyn on the corner of Grosvenor and George streets to continue to get to know each other. I didn't have too much else to do, so I decided to join them.

During my time at the Brooklyn, I got talking to a young woman who works for Caritas, a Catholic aid organisation that primarily operate in community projects in the same way as other groups like TEAR. She began to talk to me about her great passion for social justice and the role that this played in her faith, which wasn't entirely surprising, considering that Catholicism has a rich tradition when it comes to charitable organisations. However, as I talked to her I began to realise that I was speaking to someone who was speaking in my language. From my experience of progressive Christianity in the Uniting Church, it seemed to me that she would not have felt out of place in that context in the slightest. In the same way, I felt that my faith journey was much closer to what she represented than that represented by my evangelical upbringing.

One of the interesting aspects of our conversation was hearing her talk about the philosophy of Caritas. She explained to me that while the Statement of Faith for Caritas is undeniably Catholic, they are adamantly opposed to using their charity work to proselytise those communities that they worked for. In fact, she told me that one of the first things Caritas sent to the victims of the Asian Tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka were Muslim prayer mats to enable families who had lost relatives and friends to properly grieve. This surprised her at the time and I certainly surprised me.

One of the interesting things she said was that by respecting the beliefs of those Caritas were providing charity to, a lot of the initial hesitance and hostility to accepting Catholic aid in these countries were diminished. Not only that, but when communities discovered that there was no catch to this aid, they actually wanted to learn more about the Catholic faith. This certainly seems to refute the orthodoxy that suggests that the only way to do evangelism is by explicitly confronting those you seek to convert. Quite simply, the way that Caritas seem to do their work seems to be evangelism of the purest kind - showing people the way of Jesus by being Jesus to these people, respecting where they are at in their personal journey. I must admit, I am amazed at the wonderful work that they do and the fact that they are an incredible witness to Christ.

No comments: