Ahmedabad: Beginning 2013, the United Nations General Assembly has designated September 5th as the International Day of Charity. In a path-breaking resolution adopted earlier, it “reaffirmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. The resolution also affirmed that “charity may contribute to the promotion of dialogue among people from different civilizations, cultures and religions, as well as of solidarity and mutual understanding.” It finally invited all member states, civil society, NGOs and others to commemorate the day “in an appropriate manner, by encouraging charity, including through education and public awareness-raising activities.”
Very significantly, the resolution also highlights Mother Teresa and her unparalleled role in promoting charity. The International Day of Charity is observed on the death anniversary of Mother Teresa who died in 1997. Mother Teresa was an embodiment of charity in the purest sense of the word. During her lifetime she communicated the greatest of human values which included compassion, love, understanding and whole-hearted, free service to the poorest of the poor. She was able to touch the lives of many. She gave and did not count the cost. It is fitting therefore that many throughout the world – irrespective of creed and class truly regard her and venerate her as a saint.
Today, our world cries desperately for charity. In a message for the day, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says “at a time when the need for humanitarian assistance has never been higher and when there are more refugees and displaced people than at any time since the end of the Second World War, charities play an increasingly vital role in meeting human need…….I call on people everywhere to volunteer and act charitably in the face of human suffering.”
Thousands of people are today displaced all over the world. Displacements are caused due to several reasons which include authoritarian Governments and groups which are violently hostile to vulnerable, weak and minority communities; lopsided development programmes which favour the rich and other vested interests, through corporations and mega-projects; the use of anti-people programmes and agendas to further the cause of fascists. This has also meant the denigration of both men and women as they get relegated to the status of refugees in their own country or in sheer desperation as they flee to a foreign land.
Charity therefore necessitates a paradigm shift very particularly in the way we respond to the growing global crisis. In his Encyclical ‘Laudato Si: On care for our common home’, Pope Francis does not mince words when he says, “in the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.” (#158)
Earlier, in June 2009, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a path-breaking Encyclical entitled ‘Caritas in Veritate’ (Charity in Truth) in which he redefines the whole notion of charity. “Love – caritas is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God.” (#1)
We truly need to follow the ways of Mother Teresa in our world of today, but we also need to look at those endemic issues which plague society today. Only then will CHARITY make sense!
About Author : Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.