Established in 1957, Caritas Internationalis defines itself as "a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations working to build a better world, especially for the poor and oppressed, in over 200 countries and territories." Pursuing these objectives “without regard to creed, race, gender, or ethnicity,” Caritas is funded through the annual contributions of its Member Organizations, the registration fees for each session of its General Assembly, contributions, and gifts.
Caritas cites “advocacy” as its most vital activity: “We define advocacy as seeking to have a voice in the public debate with a view to influencing the attitudes of policy makers [at the international level]. This can be done through public campaigning, through the lobbying of specific governments, institutions etc., and through representation at international institutions and conferences …”
The first Caritas organization was formed as a local group in Freiburg, Germany, in 1897. Other national Caritas organizations were established soon thereafter in Switzerland (1901) and the United States (Catholic Charities, 1910). In December 1951, a General Assembly of Caritas groups was convened. Founding members came from Caritas branches in 13 countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. In 1957 this confederation formally changed its name to Caritas Internationalis to reflect the growing international presence of members on every continent. Its global headquarters today are located in Vatican City.
Caritas is concerned chiefly with addressing the needs of the world’s poor in a manner consistent with the “social teaching of the Church, which focuses on the dignity of the human person.” Caritas views the “weak and oppressed” as the potential leaders of a socio-political movement to radically transform societies around the world; as “agents of change leading the struggle to eradicate dehumanizing poverty, unacceptable living and working conditions, and unjust social, political, economic and cultural structures.”
The cause of the foregoing social ills, in Caritas’ calculus, is capitalism, whose eradication the organization favors. To blaze the trail toward capitalism's demise, Caritas looks to the impoverished everywhere as the rightful leaders of what it hopes will grow into a global socialist revolution: “Any economic, social, political or cultural structure which opposes or oppresses and prevents change towards justice is sinful. We seek to encourage our membership to redress the balance by working to transform these structures into graced social structures which favor the poor.” Asserting further that the “globalization of the market economy” has had a “deleterious effect on the lives of the poorest of the poor,” Caritas endorses Pope John Paul II's wish that "the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state to ensure that the basic needs of the whole society are satisfied."
Caritas’ main advocacy issues in recent years have related to the United Nations Conference on Financing for Development; Sierra Leone; Third World debt; international trade; Iraqi sanctions (Not only did Caritas disapprove of American efforts to effect regime change in Iraq, but it opposed UN sanctions as well); and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
With regard to the latter, Caritas depicts Israel as an evil state directing an unjust war against an innocent people, the Palestinians. In recent years, for example, Caritas Internationalis and its regional daughter organizations, such as Caritas Australia and Caritas Jerusalem, have issued many press releases, letters, statements, and position papers strongly condemning Israel while characterizing the Palestinians as innocent victims of a brutal military campaign. Moreover, Caritas’ proposed “solution” for the conflict is for Israel to abandon land for the sake of “peace.” No mention is made as to how Israel ought to defend itself from the terrorist attacks of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others similarly dedicated to its destruction.
According to Caritas: “As long as the illegal occupation of Palestine continues there will be no peace. … [T]he occupation -- not terrorism -- is the root cause of the problem.” The organization blames the Palestinians’ economic and societal woes, such as the high unemployment levels and underdeveloped infrastructure, entirely on the “military occupation of the Palestinian territories and the policies associated with it.” Similarly, an ongoing Caritas program aimed at influencing a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is titled: “End the Occupation: For Peace in the Holy Land.” Caritas regularly “sounds humanitarian alarms” about Palestinian children and women being randomly shot, the “showering of missiles on civilian areas and tanks causing widespread terror,” and the “harassment, physical abuse and humiliation of Palestinians of all ages.”
Caritas has sponsored several fact-finding missions and many aid-distribution tours to the “Occupied Territories.” The travelers, who are guided throughout their visits by their Palestinian hosts, return to their home communities eager to report on the utter brutality of the Israeli military against innocent Palestinians. The following is a quote taken from a 2002 Caritas “Eyewitness Report” on Jenin: “One walks quite differently in such a space. A comparison to Ground Zero in New York is automatic as you sense yourself at Ground Jenin. What destruction! What forces have combated each other here! What devastation to families, friends, futures! What happened here? What really happened here?” (The reference was to an alleged Israeli massacre of innocent Palestinian civilians in April 2002.)
Another Caritas delegation visited Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza to judge the situation and issue a report. In their “Message from Jerusalem,” the delegates wrote: “We wish to express our shock and sadness at the humiliating treatment of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli Government. We experienced the gross violations of human rights, summary curfews, the erection of barbed wire fences around Palestinian villages, severely curtailing the free movement of people and economic and social life, and now the building of a wall, higher and longer than the Berlin Wall, and the division of the West Bank and Gaza into what were described to us as 'bantustans' with daily permits needed to go from one section to another. Indeed, the analogy with apartheid was often evoked. The delegation condemns the collective punishment of a whole people to avenge the violence of a minority of extremists.”
Portions of this profile are adapted, with permission, from NGO Monitor.