Card Tagle in Beirut speaks out against walls and prejudices, calls for listening to real stories, heeding real people

The President of Caritas Internationalis spoke at a meeting organised by Caritas Lebanon on "preparing the heart". The prelate stressed that the Catholic charity is very different from other NGOs.

Feb 07, 2017

BEIRUT: There was a certain élan but also lassitude among Caritas Lebanon staff who listened the other day to Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, president of Caritas Internationalis, who spoke about “preparing the heart" of those who work in the social field with Caritas Lebanon, the charity responsible for the Catholic Church’s pastoral outreach.

Caritas has 165 national chapters, autonomous but all organically linked to Caritas Internationalis, which is present in all areas of humanitarian distress, due to war, poverty or natural disasters. Overall, Caritas Internationalis reaches some 198 countries and territories.

In the multipurpose hall located at the 2nd basement of Caritas Lebanon headquarters in Beirut’s Sin el-Fil district, Cardinal Tagle, sitting at a table with Fr Paul Karam, president of Caritas Lebanon, was almost invisible behind the basket of white flowers placed in front of him.

Yet his smile and good humour went through every obstacle. With the volubility of a man accustomed to public speaking – he is also a professor of theology – the prelate spoke at length and well about "preparing the heart" so that Caritas Lebanon can avoid sinking into mere management and be just another NGO. Instead, it must remain "God’s presence among men" as it is and as it must always be.

The cardinal cited one situation of distress: Nepal, 5 April 2005. A devastating earthquake struck the country. In a small town more than 200 km from Kathmandu, the quake killed 3,000 people in a few minutes. There were no Christians in this village, but three days after the disaster, Caritas was there.

"Poverty was such that to thank us, these people had nothing to offer us except poems, dances and garlands of flowers," the bishop explained. “They found water and biscuits and offered them. I ended up giving my biscuits, secretly, to a child in his mother's arms, who stared at them without shame. Universal love, that is Caritas."

Card Tagle’s address and smile did not erase some wrinkles. He himself alluded to it. "Why are you in Caritas when you can earn twice as much else?" he said to the staff whose work is closely tied to Christian mission to the world.

This address was graciously accepted, but with some reticence. During the informal exchange following his speech, the president of Caritas Internationalis repeatedly heard the following: host communities deeply feel the injustice of relief distribution that excludes them. Sometimes, they need as much as those whom they help. Indirectly, they also want to be heard?

For Cardinal Tagle, the crisis is macroeconomic. The huge influx of refugees, the flow of migrants to rich countries, is "the signal of an awakening.”

“We have been talking about globalisation since the 1980s, hoping for a global family. But lately, especially in the West, a protectionist attitude is developing. Countries are beginning to protect themselves. Of course, this is legitimate. But doing so in a world as fluid as ours, when conflicts, poverty and injustice drive entire populations from their native soil is something disturbing."

"What is the reason that a globalisation that seemed so promising is producing something that is so opposed to it?" the prelate asked. “In my opinion, the fundamental moral question is: What kind of globalisation occurred in the last few years? During the economic forum in Davos, Oxfam (an NGO dedicated to eliminating the injustice that causes poverty) made public a study showing that the eight richest people in the world have as much wealth as poorest 3.6 billion. Let me tell you that if this is globalisation then it is an obscene thing!

“What we also see is perhaps the sign of an even deeper moral crisis. According to John Paul II, the globalisation of love and the satisfaction of essential needs is something good, but the globalisation we are witnessing benefits a very small number of people. And those who consider themselves forgotten or, worse, oppressed, revolt today. Unfortunately, politicians know how to capitalise on these feelings of frustration. Populism is not very far. For his part, Pope Francis has spoken of 'the globalisation of indifference'.”

Speaking about restrictions to immigration by the new US administration, Cardinal Tagle has reservations. "Discriminating countries and populations as if the migrants coming from them are potential threats is due to generalisation. Like any generalisation, they can be unjust (...). By contrast, I have heard that priority will be given to Christians. I do not think this decision will make the Christians in question happy.

“This is not the time to add new discrimination to those that already exist in the world. Declarations of this nature can revive animosities and provoke hostile reactions against Christians from Muslims. I repeat, in all conflicts, there are innocent people, both Christians and Muslims, who will be affected. This explains my reservations."

As an antidote to prejudice against migrants and displaced people, Cardinal Tagle advised reaching out to "real people, real stories".

"If you open your eyes, your ears, your hearts, you can say: she could have been my mother or my sister; he one could have been my father.”

“I always tell decision-makers I meet: Please, keep in mind that the decision you make affects the lives of real people. If human dignity and the common good do not inspire you, your action will complicate the problem even more, rather than solve it. You ought not to create conflicts, push populations to flee, and then shut your doors against them!"

“Yet this is exactly what happens.”--Asia News

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