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Home : News : Nation and World
Caritas head stresses need for accompaniment with poor
Michel Roy
Michel Roy
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Accompaniment, a concept voiced repeatedly by Pope Francis, is needed for an authentic walk with the poor, said Michel Roy, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis.

Such accompaniment can take many forms, as Caritas workers in 164 nations have shown, Roy said.

In India, women are changing "from passivity to pro-active," Roy said. "They haven't become Catholic, but they have become better people." In the Philippines, the church is organizing base Christian communities. In Roy's native France, homeless men have been organized into soccer teams  "to give them a better chance to find out who they are."

Roy made his comments during the Feb. 3 morning plenary session of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, sponsored by 15 Catholic organizations and six agencies of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"How do we learn, one from the other?" Roy asked. "Our neighbors are not only those you can see and touch, but everyone in this globalized world."

He said Caritas' goal is to give each person the chance to "be what God has called him or her to be. Dignity is the goal. ... People must have opportunities to build their lives."

Social ministers who see themselves as "service providers" have missed the mark, he said, seeing the poor as "bellies to be filled and pain to be relieved."

If "you just serve, it's an emergency situation," Roy added. Building relationships, though, is for the long term. "You start it, you can't stop it," he said. The relationship, Roy noted, is "not one way, it's both ways."

"I have a son with Down syndrome," Roy said. "This kind of accompaniment makes you change the whole way of what you think life is."

All Christians are called to accompaniment, "to do the same at our respective levels of engagement," Roy said.

One domestic application of this concept was illustrated by Michael Naughton, director of the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

Naughton, another speaker during the Feb. 3 plenary, also serves on the board of a manufacturing company in St. Paul, Minn., which had been paying its assemblers $7 an hour. The company determined that a living wage for these workers would be $11 an hour. But it was a cost the company's customers "would not be willing to pay," he said.

The employer saw itself as a "distributor of justice," Naughton added, but had to ask itself what would be necessary to pay that wage without losing customers. The answer came in part from redesigning the work and the equipment, as well as "trust" from both employer and employee that the redesign would work.

As a result, "they were able to reduce their labor costs while raising their labor rates," Naughton said.

"Work can never be reduced to or exhausted by the wage given," he said. He cited three connections of justice: need, contribution and order.

Need, he said, was the minimum amount directed by the mere fact that he -- the worker -- is a human being with a life to maintain and a personality to develop. The contribution aspect, Naughton added, recognizes that a worker contributes value that cannot be reduced simply to the rate of pay.

Order is important in that the employer has to be able to afford the pay for the work. "If I go out of business," Naughton said, "that's not a just wage, that's a stupid wage."

In response to a question, Naughton mentioned an academic colleague who invented a word that, from its Greek roots, means "disordering of goals."

"It's a common problem for all of us," he said. "It's a sickness all of us face, because we're all trying to get the work done." In academia, teaching is thought of as the main goal, but for new faculty, he said, it quickly becomes "publishing, and then publishing in the most prestigious journals."

Narrowing focus in that way, Naughton said, is "doing great harm to the major institutions of our society."

He added there are three "goods" sought after in society: "good goods, good work and good wealth." While acknowledging that they are in tension with each other and often difficult to attain at the same time, Naughton said people can grow "fixated" on a goal, and theirs becomes "an empty life, because it's empty work."

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