What is Caritas?

Caritas is charity or love. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the President of Caritas International writes: “God´s inner life is a communion of love. God´s mission is an act of communion of the three Divine Persons. The meeting of mission and communion generates the community of the Church which exists to evangelise through word, sacrament and charity/caritas. In the heart of the Church we serve together, guided by the values of solidarity, sharing, co-responsibility, participation, respect and common purpose. That is how to be Caritas.”

Pope Francis says, “a Church without charity does not exist”. For him Caritas is “an essential part of the Church” and that it “institutionalises love in the Church”.

Caritas Internationalis has the status of a public canonical juridical person within the Church (CIC 116-123). The specific task entrusted to Caritas is to assist the Supreme Pontiff and the Bishops in their ministry of charity.


Who is Caritas Malaysia?

At its meeting in January 2020, CBCM decided unanimously to establish Caritas Malaysia. As a member of the Caritas family, the Bishops felt the Malaysian church would benefit from Caritas’ capacity building, regional networking, and professional expertise. This would also enable it to work in solidarity with other Caritas offices for vulnerable communities in Malaysia. They felt the time had come to work as one Malaysian church and to bear witness to God’s love in the public sphere.

Caritas Malaysia consists of the nine Caritas diocese offices and the Caritas national office, with affiliates from congregations and other Catholic organisations engaged in the field of charity and integral development at a national level. While a country or national Caritas organisation is autonomous under its respective bishops, they too are affiliated and work together with Caritas Asia and Caritas Internationalis confederation, which is a recognised body of the universal Church.


How do we go about setting up the structures of Caritas Malaysia?

Some dioceses already have existing structures such as the Office for Human Development (OHD) or Commission for Mission and Human Development (CMHD). These will continue their work. Other dioceses will need to strengthen their existing offices or establish their own Caritas offices where they do not exist. They can ask for assistance in this exercise; the national and established diocese offices will assist. The following organigram was approved by the bishops at their meeting on 23 June 2020.

[See Chart 1]

Chart 1: Organigram of Caritas Malaysia


What is the purpose of Caritas Malaysia?

Caritas as a faith-based organisation, with a specific mission to attend to the poorest and the neediest, assisting in humanitarian emergencies and helping to spread charity and justice in the world in the light of the Gospel and of the teaching of the Catholic Church (CI Statutes, art.1.3).

In Malaysia, this takes on a particular importance and urgency given the various ecological-socio-political crises we are traversing. Here, laity particularly, have a role to play to bring the message of the Gospel and the Church into the public space through the works of Caritas and Christian witness.

Within the larger mission of the Malaysian Church, Caritas will function as the instrument of communion and witness. It will:

  • Function as the official organ of the Malaysian Catholic Church, under the Bishops’ Conference, with an appointed Bishop Chair and Executive Secretary, in matters pertaining to the promotion of charity and relief, integral community development, and ecological justice.



What will be the specific tasks of national office?

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  1. Coordinate among diocese Caritas and affiliates a healthy exchange of programme information, learning opportunities, skills and other resources, and best practices.
  2. Communicate such news, events, educational and advocacy materials from dioceses, national office and affiliates through the CM website and social media.
  3. Establish specialised desks and/or task force teams to pioneer or innovate certain areas for the good of all e.g. in relief, research, peace building, etc.
  4. Coordinate and support any relief efforts in the face of national emergencies; and local emergencies when needed.
  5. Undertake community based research, to advice and support the Bishops’ Conference and local diocese initiatives. [It works on a principle of economies of scale and common good. Such desks and team members need not be limited to only national office staff, but can be a pool of persons.]
  6. Promote on-going capacity building for all diocese heads, staff, volunteers and partners for updating as well as to attain certain standards of compliance and accountability in the work of charity and development.
  7. Establish an annual calendar, budget and platform for the above meetings, study days and trainings.
  8. Organise the Annual Assembly for CM / Board members / and invited affiliates to review, update, discern orientations, and plan.
  9. Encourage on-going monitoring and evaluation, review and reflection at all levels to cultivate a healthy spirit of learning and innovation; and to ensure targeted outcomes are met.
  10. Receive, keep in trust, administer, such funds and goods as are entrusted to CM for the purposes of undertaking the functions of the office.
  11. As the CM office is located in Kuala Lumpur, it seeks fraternal collaboration in common areas with the diocese Caritas or AOHD, and to maximise resources.

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  1. Network, dialogue and collaborate with relevant national authorities, coalition of NGOs, international offices, Christian Churches, and other bodies in a spirit of partnership to promote the social mission of the Malaysian Church
  2. Advocate with relevant authorities, NGOs and others on specific issues at a national level, being a voice for those in need.
  3. Represent Caritas and the Catholic Church at national, regional and international levels.



How will the dioceses be affected by the setting up of Caritas Malaysia?

According to the CST (Catholic Social Teaching) principle of subsidiarity, the higher instance is to empower and enable the lower instance without taking over its role. Thus the diocesan-level Caritas and parish-level Caritas are the first implementers of concrete action and service to the neediest. The service of charity incarnates in socio-pastoral work, and it is precisely at the parish/community and diocesan levels that this becomes concrete through activities that promote social justice, respect for human rights, and care for the neediest.

Diocese, parish, and local communities play a key role in animating, conscientising, and mobilising believers, as well as men and women of good will around them, to respond to the call of the Kingdom. Among various entities and levels of Caritas family, a spirit of co-responsibility must animate the conversations and activities – that all are trying to build together the one mission and one body of Jesus. The focus on the common good can lead everyone forward.


What will be the role of the local Caritas?

Local diocese Caritas offices are accountable to the local communities, the local Board and ultimately the local bishop. The diocese Caritas offices, after surveying the local needs, and in consultation with local community leaders and pastors, develop the necessary plans and programmes. It is the pedagogy of Caritas to begin with the community or grass-roots experiences and needs.

It is vital that people participate in defining and developing programmes and activities that will affect their lives and communities, if these are to be sustainable. At the diocese level, if non-existent, the diocese will have to name the right person as Caritas director, allocate funds for creating the office and staffing, and establish a board composed of competent persons.



What is the relationship between the national and diocesan Caritas?

The National Caritas seeks to add value to all. It only intervenes to assist or establish local or regional programmes when requested by the Diocese Caritas and bishop/s.  Much of these will be discussed and decided at the national meeting of Caritas directors. As such, it is not a centralised office that undertakes all decision-making or programmes, nor will it ‘take over’ anyone or anything. Rather, it will foster cooperation and common good as the national office.

On the other hand, the current stand-alone approach of dioceses is no longer sufficient to respond to the increasing needs, or to develop the social mission of the Malaysian church. Real capacity and coordination are lacking. The survey and post-COVID relief reflection among diocese offices brought out the need for representation of the church as a single entity as well as greater internal coordination. The lack of it affects her visibility and mission on the ground.

Diocese offices are encouraged to communicate news on their programmes and activities that these can then be shared with the larger Caritas family and church. Applying the principle of common good and co-responsibility, all are encouraged to share initiatives, resources, and consult with the larger body so that a clearer picture and response may evolve, synergies may be found, and weaker parts find support from the larger body.

Through this the spirit of Catholicity is strengthened and the parts bear witness to the whole. Communicating news of programmes and activities within and outside of the Caritas family and church engenders inclusivity in the social mission of the church. Through this exchange of news, both laity and members of the public can become involved in the mission as volunteers.


What is the role of the bishop?

The bishops have the primary responsibility to organise charity at all levels of the church (Motu Proprio Intima Ecclesiae Natura, Pope Benedict XVI).

The bishop is called to cherish, to sustain, to promote, but also to care for, to provide for (Cf. IEN 4,5,7). In particular the bishop must take care that charitable activities keep alive the spirit of the gospel (Cf. Art.6 of the Motu Proprio IEN).


What are the decision making structures?

The Caritas Malaysia National Assembly consists of the diocese bishops and directors or their representatives, the Bishop Chair, the National Office head, and certain number of affiliates or invited persons. These will form the general body. They will meet once a year for review, reflection, discernment, direction setting, and updating. This mechanism will allow direct participation of all dioceses in the national Caritas structure, its priorities and services; and reciprocally to exercise co-responsibility for the common good.

A smaller Executive Board or Exco consisting of one elected representative each from the three regions, namely Sabah, Sarawak, Semenanjung, the National Office head, and the Bishop Chair (and any invited persons), will meet regularly for the management of Caritas Malaysia. They will plan, monitor and manage the projects and budgets.

Some decisions of the Board will concern only the national office, and other decisions will concern all dioceses – such decisions will then be binding upon all. Local programmes and concerns which does not affect other dioceses remain within the concern of the respective dioceses. [See Chart 2.]

The diagram below emphasises the organic connection among all – the National Office with the National Assembly, the Exco as well as various dioceses, parishes and local communities. We can imagine the same for every diocesan office with their boards, parishes and communities. These members share a common mission and vision while working together as one synergistic body. Caritas Malaysia engages, collaborates and forms networks with Caritas Asia, Caritas Internationalis, local authorities and civil society and partners. This diagram presents a collaborative view of the whole structure that is built around people and communities. Or as Pope Francis would say, “The whole is greater than the parts.”

Diocese Caritas offices are encouraged to communicate news on their programmes and activities that these can then be shared with the larger Caritas family and Church. Applying the principle of common good and co-responsibility, all are encouraged to share initiatives, resources, and consult with one another that a clearer picture and response may evolve, synergies may be found, and weaker parts find support from the larger body. Through this the spirit of catholicity is strengthened and the parts bear witness to the whole. Communicating news within and outside the Caritas family and Church also stimulates interest and attracts people to the social mission of the Church. Gradually, both laity and members of the public can become involved in the mission.

Chart 2: Organic view of Caritas Malaysia


What accountability measures will there be?

Accountability begins with consulting, listening to voices on the ground, and building together. Accountability measures and structures such as Caritas Internationalis Management Standard will be put in place gradually at all levels.

Like any other organisation, all the diocese offices of Caritas Malaysia will have to carry out regular reviews, and prepare an Annual Activity Report with accounts, and an extract of their Audit Report. These will be presented to their local Board annually, as well as to the national office. The national office will then put together a consolidated Report for the Bishops’ Conference for discernment and reflection as well as to help them appreciate the bigger picture – the efforts, blessings and concerns in building up the social mission of the Malaysian Church.

Regular meetings, exchange of information, study of Catholic Social Teachings (CST), pastoral exhortations like Evangelii Gaudium, joint review and planning exercises can all help to foster the right understanding and practice of charity, development and justice. Progressively, Caritas Malaysia will have to develop its statutes and manuals.



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