Tree-planting initiative of Pakistan Caritas. 

By Robin Gomes

Dec 9 2021

Caritas Internationalis is marking 7 decades of its service with a series of 7 regional or continental webinars. The last of these virtual seminars took place on December 7 on Asia.

Caritas Internationalis (CI) is a confederation of more than 160 Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations operating in over 200 countries and territories worldwide. It turns 70 on 12 December. 

To mark seven decades of service, CI has held a series of seven regional or continental webinars. The last of these virtual seminars took place on Tuesday and was dedicated to Caritas Asia.

Caritas Asia

Caritas Asia, based in Bangkok, Thailand, is one of the seven regional units of Caritas Internationalis and brings together 25 member organizations. It was started in 1999 when the CI General Assembly, meeting in Rome, approved the proposal of Asian members to establish a regional office in the continent. Since then, Caritas Asia has been serving as the regional coordinating office of all the member organizations operating in countries and territories in the world’s largest continent.

Caritas Asia’s 25 members are grouped under 4 sub-regions: Central, East, South, and Southeast Asia, with sub-regional offices in Kyrgyzstan, Macau, Sri Lanka, and Singapore.

Primarily born to deal with the great natural disasters that regularly hit the continent, Caritas Asia operates in a widely diversified context, due to economic conditions.

The 7 December CI webinar on Caritas Asia focused on Seventy years of journeying together in the spirit of fraternity and solidarity.

Myanmar continuing to labour under an oppressive military junta, Indonesia facing a volcanic eruption, and Pakistan overwhelmed by waves of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban are some of the critical challenges that Caritas Asia is currently confronting, besides the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Charity and dialogue between religions

At Tuesday’s webinar, CI secretary-general Aloysius John expressed solidarity with these nations and commended the contribution and commitment of the 25 local Caritas members. He thanked Caritas Asia for its witness to charity and dialogue between people of different religions, and for striving to create social harmony at a time when people are trying to use religion to divide nations.

Beacon of love, hope, and peace

On CI’s 70 years, Caritas Asia president Benedict Alo D’Rozario of Bangladesh said, “We also celebrate our own involvement, dedication, commitment, and all our personal contribution that have helped shape CI to what it is now – a beacon of love, hope, joy, and peace.” He pledged the commitment of Caritas Asia to continue working together as individual member organizations and as a confederation “in the spirit of fraternity and solidarity”.   

He pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic has “increased the vulnerability of those who are already vulnerable and made the poor even poorer”. While we are faced with many challenges and restrictions, he noted, we are also “blessed with great new opportunities to discover new ways of serving humanity”.   

According to Zar Gomez of the Philippines, regional coordinator of Caritas Asia, challenges “strengthen our accompaniment of Asian communities and societies towards a holistic human development”.

The youth of Kyrgyzstan

Caritas Asia also includes the Central Asia Sub-region, which was formed in 2015. It includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Sher Abdugapirov, Executive Board Member of Caritas Kyrgyzstan briefly ran through some of the Caritas projects in the six countries of Central Asia. In Kyrgyzstan, Caritas provides free quality education to children from poor rural families, focusing particularly on the education of girls. 

It is preparing 250 students from Suzak and Bishkek for the state examination for the university. For each of the three academic years between 2021-2024, Caritas will provide these students with free classes in mathematics, Russian, Kyrgyz, chemistry, and biology. Over the past five years, hundreds of students have been able to enroll in university thanks to Caritas Kyrgyzstan’s courses. 

In the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on economies that are already fragile, and on national school systems, which are particularly inadequate in rural areas.

Support for migrant workers

Even though Christians are a tiny minority in Central Asia, Abdugapirov said a lot of work is being done, in particular for the social reintegration of those who have returned from abroad. For East Asia, Paul Pun, secretary-general of Caritas Macao, underlined Japan’s commitment to helping victims of the great 2011 earthquake and integration projects for migrant workers in Macao, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Fighting floods and helping the Rohingya

Father Mahendra Gunathilike, executive director of Caritas Sri Lanka, presented the South Asia Sub-region scenario.

In Pakistan, Caritas has helped in the rehabilitation of ​​Nagarparkar in Sindh province, with the construction of reservoirs, dams, and water tanks. Besides joining other agencies in supporting Afghan refugees, it has also been involved in healthcare, livelihood, and shelter sectors. 

Caritas Nepal, founded in 1990, responds to floods and natural disasters, such as the devastating earthquake of 2015 that killed close to 9,000 people. 

Caritas Bangladesh, which is marking 50 years of service, has been aiding some 300,000 Rohingya from Myanmar, who are in the refugee camp of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, which has been hit by fires and floods.

Speaking about his own country of Sri Lanka, Father Gunathilike said Caritas hs been working for reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamil people, following 30 years of war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.  Caritas Sri Lanka has also been active in rehabilitation programmes in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. 

Cristine Wong, executive director of Caritas Singapore presented the projects to support people most vulnerable to the pandemic in the city-state. It has been providing aid to the elderly, supporting physical and mental health, and protecting women victims of violence.

CI beginnings

Caritas Internationalis was formed when its Constituent Assembly met in Rome, 12 to 14 December 1951.  At that time there were only 13 Caritas members in the confederation. Today, they are 162.

However, the first Caritas organization was started 124 years ago in Germany by Lorenz Werthmann, on 9 November 1897. Other national Caritas organizations were soon formed in Switzerland (1901) and the United States (Catholic Charities, 1910).

When Pope Pius XII declared 1950 a Holy Year, large numbers of pilgrims from around the world flocked to Rome. To demonstrate the work of the Church, five big exhibitions were organized in the city.  One was dedicated to Caritas organizations, which were helping people caught in conflict. The Caritas exhibit was inaugurated by Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, Substitute Secretary of State, who later became Pope Paul VI, now a saint.

In 1951, Msgr. Montini convoked a meeting of leading Caritas associations, at the start of which he proposed the creation of an “international organism” for managing cooperation between individual Caritas organizations. His address would form the basis of a new set of statutes for a new organization that would go on to become “Caritas Internationalis”.

In 1954, Caritas Internationalis was officially recognized.

Caritas, the Latin for charity, love or compassion, grew to become one of the largest aid and development agencies in the world. Since its inception, Caritas Internationalis has been entrusted with the mission of promoting the primacy of the human person at the centre of all human activities. -Vatican News