As Caritas Africa installs its newly-elected leadership at a meeting in Abuja, Msgr. Pierre Cibambo describes his mission in his new role as Caritas Africa president and highlights the importance of the Church’s charitable service.

By Sr. Titilayo Aduloju, SSMA

Caritas Africa, which spreads across the sub-Saharan region, including the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, was established in 1995 at Matola, Mozambique and encompasses 46 national Caritas members.

It is one of the seven regions of Caritas Internationalis, which concentrates on promoting human development, fostering international harmony, and promoting economic justice while actively addressing some of the biggest and most difficult humanitarian crises.

Delegates’ meeting in Abuja

The Caritas Africa Regional Commission meeting, was hosted by Caritas Nigeria from 19-22 September 2023 in Abuja, Nigeria.

Msgr. Pierre Cibambo, who has been with Caritas Internationalis for 22 years, was elected as the president of Caritas Africa in May 2023.

He presided over the meeting which served as a platform for the formal handover to the new executives.

In an interview with Vatican News, Msgr. Cibambo spoke about his vision, hopes and challenges as he assumed his new mission.

Vision and hopes for Caritas Africa

In his role as the chairman of the Caritas Africa board, Msgr. Cibambo said, “I have to supervise the operations of the regional Secretariat which is there to coordinate the work of national members in the field of humanitarian response, in the field of integral human development and also in advocacy”.

He believes his main mission is to ensure that Caritas representatives in Africa are making every effort to support the advancement of holistic human development in their particular nations.

The new president stressed that Caritas in not an NGO, rather, it is a Church-run humanitarian organization. “This has to be understood very well,” he said, “and it is also part of my mission to ensure that this is understood very well, that we are not operating as an NGO, we are operating as Church.”

He added that the identity of Caritas in non-negotiable since they are accountable to the Church and report in full to the Church.

“Caritas is Church; Caritas acts on behalf of the Church, as part of the Church, under the guidance of the Church and under the guidance of the Bishops, who are the fathers of charity, because they preside over charity in their respective and particular Churches,” he said.

Caritas Africa focused on community development

Msgr. Cibambo said the Church’s evangelizing mission is realized in three inseparable ways: the spreading of the Gospel, the celebration of divine mysteries, and the diakonia, or charitable work.

Caritas, he noted, focuses “on the third dimension which is the service of charity.”

This humanitarian service has to be well organized, he affirmed. “Caritas is an expression of the organized charity of the Church, so that we may serve in an ordered manner the community,” he said. “The focus is on the community.”

According to Msrg. Cibambo, “what makes Caritas very special in particular is that it is rooted in the community.”

Caritas is not just an organization of where funds and goods are distributed and collected. Rather, he said, it is where people are helping each other.

Msgr. Cibambo said, “Caritas is there to organize, first of all, the initiatives of the community, to empower these communities, so that they may take the destiny into their own hands.”

Caritas not an NGO collecting and distributing money

According to the new president, there are many challenges. The primary challenge, he said, is finding ways to avoid making Caritas just an NGO which implements projects and collects and distributes money.

“Caritas is Church,” he said, “and we need to train those working in Caritas so that they may really understand that they are first and foremost witnesses of Christ.”

As witnesses, Caritas workers need to be “professional, competent, and ready to serve. Yes, they need to be professional, but with the formation of the heart,” Msgr. Cibambo added.

Msgr. Cibambo also stated that Africa is a complex continent with each country having particular issues in the areas of politics, culture, security, and environment, adding an additional layer of challenges in Caritas’ mission to provide humanitarian aid.

In all these areas, he said, “we exist to serve, to accompany, and to defend and be the voice of the voiceless.”

Msgr. Cibambo concluded that Caritas African needs to have “a clear vision; we need to be organized; and, we first and foremost need to be prophetic for this to continue.”