Cardinal stresses spiritual meaning of Christian volunteer work

By Benjamin Mann and Alan Holdren

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On April 13, Cor Unum and Caritas Internationalis officials present the conclusions of the meeting of Pope Benedict XVI with volunteers.

Catholics can proclaim the Gospel through their acts of service for others, the Pope's director of charitable activities said as he presented a new book on the Church's volunteer efforts.

“We are just doing what Jesus has done for us,” said Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, an April 13 interview with EWTN News.

“I think charity must be a kind of evangelization – not direct evangelization, but to make each one know who Christ is, and know the love of God.”

On Friday, Cardinal Sarah briefed journalists on themes of the new publication “The Holy Father and European Volunteers,” which recounts key portions of a November 2011 meeting at the Vatican during Europe's “Year of Volunteering.”

The newly-compiled booklet features an address by Pope Benedict XVI on the Christian origins of volunteer service as an affirmation of humanity's dignity in the eyes of God. With its publication, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum hopes to maintain a focus on the religious value of charitable work.

As head of the council, Cardinal Sarah has been a strong advocate for the religious identity of Catholic charities. In his remarks to EWTN News, Cardinal Sarah explained that the Church's works of service are a concrete expression of its faith.

“Volunteering means acting in the name of Jesus Christ. So we must improve our formation, because we must insist on our identity as Catholics, when we act in charity.”

In some parts of the world, Christians find it “quite difficult” to carry out this mission, due to suspicion from followers of other religions who may interpret their charity as a veiled form of proselytism.

While the Church does show its faith through its works, Cardinal Sarah explained that it does not seek to impose this faith, or manipulate others by means of charity.

“With liberty, each one can choose his faith.” The Church, he said, is seeking “to make known the love of God.”

“We are brothers and sisters,” he affirmed. “Our one Father is God.”

On the basis of this belief, the Church looks to “promote the dignity of human beings” through its service to people of all convictions.

“If I live near a poor person, I must help him to improve his life. We don't impose any religion … but it is a task for us, to make known the love of God. It is not possible to hide our faith – even if it is difficult to say that in some countries.”

“We can imitate the way Mother Teresa acted,” Cardinal Sarah suggested. “When seeing Mother Teresa, we see God. We see the love of God, respecting everybody.”

It is in this spirit, Cardinal Sarah said, that Church institutions should carry out their mission, “even in very difficult contexts.”

Catholics engaged in charitable work, he said, “are the presence of God. We are the expression of the love of God, the compassion of God.”

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