What has the Holy See done for the world?

I am sure that all of you would agree that it’s no good saying we are Christians if we do not put our faith into action in one way or another. God has shown us what that action must be like, a giving of our life to others, like Jesus as he suffered and died on the cross. Today in the Gospel (Luke 12:32-48) we hear Jesus urging us to give and give again to those in need, and to remind us to be ready ,because God may come and ask us at any moment “So what have you done with your life?” It won’t be enough, of course, which is why we rely on God’s mercy and love, but it is still important.

So today we are reminded what each one of us is here for – to do our bit to bring in God’s kingdom of love wherever and whenever we can. In order to get this message over to us, Jesus tells us that we must think of ourselves as servants looking after the house while the master is away. But then he says something quite shocking. He says that if we are good servants then when God comes he “will put on an apron, sit (us) down at the table and wait on (us)” Just think of that! God wearing an apron!

One of the things many people don’t realise is that the Catholic Church does not expect this to apply simply to us as individuals, but to the whole Church. The Church itself has to see itself as the Servant of the World and so many might ask “What is the Church and how does it put this into action?” Well, in one sense the Church is each local Church doing its bit and that includes our many 2nd Collections, and in Eynsham our regular gifts to the poor and homeless of Oxford through “Gatehouse”. But the Church is also the Catholic Church worldwide, and the organisation that is this Church led by the Pope is called the Holy See. So our question from the Bishop’s Booklet today is “What is the Holy See and its contribution worldwide?”

First of all we must realise how big the Holy See is. As the Bishops say “The Catholic Church is a force on the world stage : a global religious institution with over 1.2 billion adherents (17.5% of the worlds population including 10% of the UK population). It has 400,000 priests, 800,000 sisters/nuns and 219,655 parishes.” But numbers are not enough, are they, it is what the Church does that matters,  as a good servant.

Our Bishops name three major themes that our present Pope constantly speaks about – things rarely reported to us here in Britain. They are international development, climate change and disarmament. There is only one body involved in helping poorer countries develop that is bigger than the Catholic Church – the United Nations. In England our development agency is called CAFOD, but this is actually part of a much larger body called Caritas Internationalis. Here are a few more statistics. In Africa for example, 50% of hospitals and a quarter of all HIV care. And worldwide? 17,530 dispensaries, 577 leprosy clinics, 15,208 houses for the elderly, the chronically ill and people with physical and learning disabilities. Not to mention thousands of schools. From this base the Pope constantly writes to meetings like the G8 and G20 summits to remind the leaders not to forget the plight of the poor in the developing world especially by increasing aid and cancelling debt.

On climate change, the Vatican is the first Carbon neutral state. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate the Pope focussed strongly on environmental issues again unreported by the Press. The Holy See is for example working with our government to build up the South American Climate Change Network. And then there is simply the moral pressure, for as the Bishops say, although climate change can be motivated to some extent by self-interest, “historically it has always been the moral argument that has shifted the momentum towards political and social action”

We often forget that the Holy See is recognised in International Law as a sovereign legal entity enjoying diplomatic relations with 178 states including, and this might surprise you, many Muslim ones. As a permanent observer at the United Nations it has done much to press for disarmament. In October last year it was key in getting 153 states to vote in favour of moving ahead with an Arms Trade Treaty. This is one more step to putting into effect what Pope Benedict called for in 2008. “I exhort all persons involved in the sale or traffic of arms… to ask themselves what are the consequences engendered by their behaviour.”

So there are a few brief examples for you to help counteract so many ignorant things that people say about our Church and to show you how at a global level she tries to put into practice what Jesus teaches us today : “See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit… Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes”


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