Caritas comes from the Latin words for love and compassion. It’s an appropriate name for an organization that has quietly and steadfastly dedicated its work to serving the poor and disadvantaged.
Founded in 1897 by German priest and social worker Lorenz Werthmann, Caritas has since grown into an active international organization with regional offices in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North Africa, North America, and Oceana.
In the Philippines, the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)/Caritas Philippines was set up in 1966 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines or CBCP. As the humanitarian, development, and advocacy arm of the Philippine Catholic Church, Caritas Philippines operates very much like the organization Fr. Lorenz founded: humbly, faithfully, and consistently helping deprived and marginalized sectors rise up from their circumstances. (READ: Pope Francis Establishes Fund For Struggling Italian Families)
Here are three of Caritas Philippines’ numerous initiatives to help people in need:
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to stay home and apart from each other to avoid the spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus, Caritas Philippines has found a way for Filipinos to continue expressing their innate goodness and concern for others.
Kindness Stations set up in 30 dioceses across the Philippines instruct locals to “take what you need, leave some for others, and give what you can.” Construction workers, vendors, jeepney and tricycle drivers who lost their jobs during the quarantine have visited Kindness Stations in their communities for various food items like biscuits, instant noodle soup, canned goods, rice, and vegetables. Meanwhile, farmers who have benefited from the Kindness Stations return the favor by sharing crops from their backyard.
“Thank you for those who share their blessings to us unexpectedly,” wrote Cel Jetomo Surbano in The Kindness Station’s Facebook page. “May mga tao parin talagang handang tumulong ng bukal sa kanilang kalooban.” (Read: Rizal Baker Rises From Hardships, Now Gives Back To Frontliners)
When Super Typhoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) battered parts of the Visayas in 2013, displacing more than 3 million families and killing over 6,000 Filipinos in its wake, Caritas Philippines responded quickly, extending assistance to over 1.4 million Filipinos in nine provinces and 166 communities.
Through partnerships with Caritas Internationalis and the Catholic Church, #ReachPhilippines has built more than 30,000 homes for people who lost everything in one of the worst storms in history. (Read: ‘Pope Francis Village’ offers a fresh start for Yolanda survivors)
“We were able to lead the Caritas confederation and coordinate the emergency response and rehabilitation program with full accountability and transparency,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines.
“This is the legacy that NASSA/Caritas Philippines is bringing to the Caritas Internationalis confederation. Also, NASSA/Caritas Philippines is very strong in its advocacy for the environment, and our strong ecological campaign is very much in line with the encyclical Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis.” (Read: Pope Francis changes Laudato Si’ celebrations, now makes it year-long)
Following in the heels of Caritas Internationalis, which partnered with UNAIDS in 1998 to create programs that educate people on HIV/AIDS in an effort to erase the stigma associated with the sexually transmitted disease, Caritas Philippines has done its share to inform Filipinos about HIV/AIDS and what they can do to help.
Together with UNAIDS, it worked on a chapter on HIV/AIDS for the Handbook on Common Illnesses and their Treatment, a health manual distributed to church workers in the national capital region in 2006.
In 2011, the Philippines’ first Catholic HIV/AIDS network was launched in a forum in Tagaytay. The network was created to coordinate and strengthen the Church’s work on HIV/AIDS.
“We now need to coordinate our efforts together, support each other, learn from each other, and strengthen one another in this work,” said Bishop Broderick Pabillo in the forum.