New Zealand was represented by Sister Catherine Hannan dolc, Chairperson of the Board of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, and Director Michael Smith. Anne Dickinson attended the Assembly in her role as the newly elected regional president of Caritas in Oceania.
Participants in the General Assembly were honoured to be granted a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father thanked Caritas delegates for their service at the grassroots in communities across the world, and spoke of the special place Caritas has in the Catholic Church as a global expression of God’s love:
‘Your Confederation does not simply work on behalf of the Church, but is truly part of the Church, intimately engaged in the exchange of gifts that takes place on so many levels of ecclesial life.’
He continued, ‘This is what Caritas Internationalis seeks to accomplish in the world. The heart of Caritas is the sacrificial love of Christ, and every form of individual and organised charity in the Church must always find its point of reference in him, the source of charity.’
Pope Benedict said Caritas workers go forth in the world as witnesses of this love, a Christian love that exceeds our natural capacity to love. Only by giving in this way do we give in a way that recognises the human person created in God’s image: ‘God’s love is offered to everyone, hence the Church’s charity is also universal in scope, and so it has to include a commitment to social justice.’
He underlined that this is not a matter of politics, and for the Church. “Her mission is to promote the integral development of the human person. For this reason, the great challenges facing the world at the present time, such as globalisation, human rights abuses, unjust social structures, cannot be confronted and overcome unless attention is focused on the deepest needs of the human person: the promotion of human dignity, wellbeing and, in the final analysis, eternal salvation.’
The Holy Father blessed those present for the work of Caritas and signalled his confidence in their future success in continuing to spread the love of God to those most in need.
The General Assembly approved a strategic plan for Caritas Internationalis for the next four years. The plan focuses on improving coordination among member organisations in response to emergencies, peace-building, integral human development, advocacy at global and local levels, and some internal reforms.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras was elected President of the Caritas Confederation, and Grigor Vidmar of Croatia was elected Treasurer. Lesley-Anne Knight of England was appointed Secretary-General, the first women to hold this position. The seven regional presidents were ratified: Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga (Africa), Bishop Yvon Ambroise (Asia), Bishop Fernando Bargallo (Latin America and Caribbean), Fr Larry Snyder (North America), Fr Erny Gillen (Europe), Mrs Anne Dickinson (Oceania), and Mr Joseph Farah (Middle East and North Africa). The President, Vice-presidents and Treasurer form the Bureau of Caritas Internationalis.
Photo shows Anne Dickinson meeting Pope Benedict XVI as outgoing Caritas Internationalis President, Denis Viennot, looks on.