Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Caritas Part One: The Need for Love

Catholic Exchange has asked me to write a 4 part series of articles on Caritas for Children. Here is part one:

They are children, much like the ones you know and love. Edward is 8 years old. He likes science and playing with other kids. Betty will be turning 12 in April. She likes to write and swim. Judith is nine. She likes math and spelling. Their eyes are full of dreams for the future. The difference is that they live half a world away and their future is anything but certain.

Edward, Betty and Judith are children waiting to be sponsored through Caritas for Children, a Catholic organization dedicated to providing love, hope and financial support to improve the lives of children around the world. Over the course of this four article series, I will introduce you to Caritas: the reason why they are needed, what they do to help, the fruit of their labor, and, perhaps most importantly, how you can help.

The statistics are staggering. Nearly 115 million children are out of school in the world, the majority of whom are girls. In Africa, 15 countries have populations in which over one-half of the people can’t read. Approximately 854 million people across the world are hungry. Every day, nearly 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That amounts to one child every 5 seconds. Seeking to alleviate their circumstances, many children go to work in hazardous conditions. An estimated 8.4 million children work under circumstances where they are forced into debt bondage or other forms of slavery, prostitution, pornography, armed conflict and other illicit activities.

Many of these children have experienced the death of one and, in many cases, both parents. Sometimes they have been abandoned. While some are lucky enough to have extended family to live with, they spend their lives in meager circumstances simply trying to survive. Education is put far on the back burner.

Even for those fortunate enough to have both parents, education is all too often still out of reach. In Uganda, where Caritas maintains two programs, there is a government program called the Uniform Public Education (UPE) which provides a fraction of the cost of a student’s education. It does not cover the required school fees that must be paid for a child to attend school. Nor does it cover the cost of books, supplies, and mandatory uniforms. For those who do manage to scrape together the money to send their children to school, hunger is often a very serious problem.

It shouldn’t be this way. It doesn’t need to be this way. As Catholics, we are called to love and minister to our neighbor wherever we find him or her, even if it is half a world away. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI instructed that “Love – caritas – will always be necessary, even in the most just society. . . There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbor is indispensable. . . This love does not simply offer material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which is often even more necessary than material support.”

Caritas takes this teaching to heart. They work to nurture the whole person, to provide for a child’s physical, educational, spiritual and emotional needs. In next week’s article, we will examine the ways they go about fulfilling that mission.

To find out more about Caritas, please visit www.caritas.us or call toll-free 1-888-227-4827.

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