Pope Francis urges Catholic NGOs to work together to defend human dignity

Pope Francis gestures after addressing the general assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Pope Francis gestures after addressing the general assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis encouraged a wide variety Catholic organizations to work together to defend human dignity and promote the full integral development of all people.

"I encourage you to work always in a spirit of communion and cooperation with other Catholic NGOs and with the representatives of the Holy See as an expression of the church's commitment to the building of a more just and fraternal world," he said Dec. 13 in remarks to delegates taking part in the 2017 Forum of "Catholic-inspired Non-Governmental Organizations" meeting in Rome.

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"I express my deep appreciation for your efforts to bring the light of the Gospel to the various peripheries of our world in order to defend human dignity, to promote the integral development of peoples and to meet the material and spiritual needs of so many members of our human family," he said in remarks at the end of his general audience talk.

The forum, held Dec. 11-13, looked at how Catholic-inspired organizations can better protect and promote the human person.

The forum, held Dec. 11-13, looked at how Catholic-inspired organizations, including Catholic schools, can better protect and promote the human person in a rapidly changing world.

The forum organizer, Johan Ketelers, told Catholic News Service Dec. 12 that over 100 organizations were represented, ranging from groups focused on peace, immigration, education, development and pro-life issues. They were joined by academics, Vatican officials and observers or representatives of the Holy See to international agencies in Paris, New York and Rome.

Today's complex, global problems require answers that cannot be found "in one small corner of one organization," he said.

"You can't talk about migration without talking about economics, human rights," law, development and justice and peace, said Ketelers, former secretary-general of the Geneva-based International Catholic Migration Commission.

"We can no longer work vertically, one organization by itself, parallel to others," but must work "transversally," crisscrossing domains and sharing expertise and ideas, he said. That means that dialogue and strong partnerships, which are already "tools for Christianity," are essential, he said.

"You can't talk about migration without talking about economics, human rights," law, development and justice and peace.

One of the panelists at the forum was Helen Alvare, professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, and adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

Alvare told CNS that some people at the forum were interested in her approach of empowering women and Catholics on the local level to speak up for themselves, their values and beliefs. As president of the Chiaroscuro Institute, Alvare actively promotes the institute's two projects: "Women Speak For Themselves" and "IBelieveInLove.com."  

While the "I Believe in Love" online community shares real stories about seeking stable relationships and parenting, WomenSpeakforThemselves.com is a nationwide grass-roots movement of women voicing the negative effects that contraception, abortion and other phenomena, including pornography, have on dating and marriage.

Alvare said these methods of sharing real people's stories of struggle and hope are what informs, unites and motivates people best.

She said the forum was also proposing that Catholic-inspired organizations invite all sides to dialogue, "and not impose solutions on the world."

"We are past the time of people taking top-down instruction on neurologic issues of sex, marriage and parenting," she said.

Sharing real people's stories of struggle and hope are what informs, unites and motivates people best.

Her extensive work and contact with women across the United States proved to her that women do seek authentic freedom and fulfillment in relationships. "I knew these women existed, but they needed information, they needed the assurance they are not alone and they needed the how-to of communications."

She is also seeking to make her scholarly research and work more useful in her soon-to-be released book, "Putting Children's Interests First in U.S. Family Law and Policy: With Power Comes Responsibility."

Lower-income women face a number of struggles, she said; they are less religious, they feel very alone, have less community and less access to a local parish.

Alvare urges women who do have strong communities to extend a hand to other women without lecturing them.

"Social welfare, we're all for it, but if you leave family structure out of social welfare, you're doomed."

While social programs are important in providing food, clothing and shelter, she said, "we are not lifting people out of poverty, we're not seriously improving their education and prospects."

"The Catholic Church has it right. You have to take care of people regarding their family structure and sex matters, not because we're the moral police," she said. "We're about integrating sex with the fact that it creates new life, which is vulnerable, which requires your care."

"Social welfare, we're all for it, but if you leave family structure out of social welfare, you're doomed," Alvare said. "The Catholic Church is one of the few places that always holds it all together properly."
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