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UISG Catholic Care for Children International
Posted on September 16, 2022

Charism of Care and Responding to the Need of Care and Protection of Children

Sister Niluka Perera, RGS
Coordinator, Catholic Care for Children International, International Union of Superiors General

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What's in this article?

We Are Called to Respond 
Charism and Society 
Responding to the Cries of Children and the Vulnerable 
A Wake-up Call 
What Is Being Revealed? What Is Being Moved? What Is Being Asked? 

We Are Called to Respond 

Christian tradition has a history of men and women who have responded to the divine call to make a difference through forming communities of love, compassion, and justice for all. The saints, including founders and foundresses of religious congregations and many others, identified the signs of their times and addressed the challenges of their eras through envisioning a world where human beings could enjoy their God-given dignity and worth in human community. They intended to create tangible solutions that shaped and formed religious and civic communities for their times. 

Walking the same path, we are called to commit to find more effective solutions to today’s most difficult challenges. We are called to respond. In 2015, at the opening of the Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis asked consecrated persons to “wake the world,” to witness to the world that there is another way of being, acting, and living. 

Charism and Society 

Catholic social tradition reminds us to read the signs of the times and respond to the call from God in the particular realities of the time. The Spirit offers particular gifts, or charisms, to be lived in response to the calls of God and the needs of society. The Spirit entered into humanity to name where we need to change and to show us a new way. The Spirit, at the source of all charisms, is creative and transformative. Religious founders and foundresses witnessed that charisms are not static throughout time. By following in their footsteps, we are called to make our charisms relevant to the needs and the cries of the world. 

Responding to the Cries of Children and the Vulnerable 

“Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17) 

History shows us how religious have responded to the cries of children and the vulnerable as their charisms demanded. Many religious congregations responded to thousands of children who needed care and protection through institutionalization, which was the known, accepted, and demanded method of care in their time, and for some, it continues to be the appropriate method for today. 

Spirit-led creativity asks us to be open to the realities of the world as the challenges and complexities of problems today demand lasting and sustainable solutions. Across the world, millions of children are at risk of losing care from their family. Many are left particularly vulnerable from parental care which is so poor that it compromises their development. 

All of these children need support to stay with their families in healthy, happy, and safe surroundings—in other words, a caring family environment. However, considering the fundamental role played by the family in children’s development, it is clear that many families struggle to meet their children’s physical and emotional needs and are subjected to social, economic, and environmental forces that are seemingly beyond their control. Although international laws related to children ensure the child’s rights to a family and demand governments and all other stakeholders to find every possible means to guarantee a family for every child, there are many instances where families and communities are not a safe place for children, who may experience violence and abuse at the hands of their family members, relatives, and neighbors. 

We need to pause and reflect. What is the Spirit calling us to do? What will be our response to the cries of children who need care and protection? Will closing down institutions bring about solutions? Will construction of more orphanages be the answer? 

“The planet is withering because humans have accepted a context that is much too small. We can no longer decide only what is best for a corporation (congregation) or a culture but we must move to a larger context, to the planetary level. Our decisions will affect thousands of future generations. We are the Universe as a whole reflecting on itself in this particular place.”

Brian Swimme, The Powers of the Universe

A Wake-up Call 

We are called to dream big in order to find a better, more sustainable future for the children in our care and for those who are vulnerable to the loss of parental care in our time. We can explore the situation of children who need care and protection from a theological perspective that includes the reflection/action process of seeing, judging, and acting. This process can be extremely helpful in viewing the issue from a broader perspective and in making the charism of care relevant to the context of today. The process takes us deeply into the problem through: 

  1. Observing the signs of the times. 
  2. Reviewing what we see through the lens of social analysis and faith. 
  3. Seeking faith-filled and meaningful ways of responding to what we have reflected upon. 

See 

Experience and see the lived reality of children. Millions of children in the world are without parental care or are vulnerable to the loss of parental care. It is estimated that 80% of children in orphanages have a parent or family member who could care for them if provided with support structures. Poverty is a primary reason for children being placed in residential institutions. Studies have proved the negative impact of long-term residential care on the lives of children: on physical and brain growth and attachment, and on language, cognitive, emotional, and social development. The severity of the effects increases with the size of the institution and the length of stay. 

What have we seen and experienced from the reality of the stories of children who have lived in institutional care and from the care givers? 

Judge 

Social analysis invites us to examine a more complete picture of the social situations which contribute to children who are without or are at risk of losing parental care. Why do children live in institutional settings? What are the deeper systemic and structural aspects that create impact and contribute to separating children from their families and threatening their security, well-being, and development? We need to analyze the social factors that contribute to the social problem. 

Theological reflection invites us to explore the experience and its deeper analysis in dialogue with our religious tradition and faith. From this conversation, we gain new insights and meaning. What does Scripture and Catholic social teaching demand from us? How did the first Christian community look after the widows and orphans? If our founders and foundresses were alive today, what would be their response to children who need care and protection today? 

Act 

We are invited to take action to help children who are without or are at risk of losing parental care. There are many reasons for children to be placed in institutional care. When we follow the reflection process, our response to the issues of children who are without or at risk of losing parental care goes beyond treating the symptoms of the problem to the roots of the problem. Action must be taken to: 

  • Change the situation. 
  • Address the root causes which contribute to children who are without or are at risk of losing parental care. 
Pillars of Catholic Care for Children (CCC)

What Is Being Revealed? What Is Being Moved? What Is Being Asked? 

Become a seer! “The seer sees something that does not yet exist; knows something is seeking to exist; and acts to making something exist in a new way,” says Sister Ilia Delio. Her words are applicable to all of us, especially people who are passionate, dedicated, and committed to bringing about changes in the lives of people who are excluded from society and deprived of enjoying their God-given dignity and right to live as full human beings. Religious, especially women religious, are at the forefront in providing care and protection to children. Religious around the globe are becoming seers: they are dreaming and acting to make their dream a reality—to bring sustainable and lasting change in the lives of children who are entrusted to their care. They are ready to ask more deeply why children are without or are at risk of losing parental care and to find how to do more to bring forth positive and holistic development of children. Scripture, social sciences, and international law all say the best environment in which to raise a child is a healthy, loving family. A family provides the love, nurturance, stability, protection, and care that are integral to the healthy development of a child. 

There is a growing movement among international and national policymakers, mission agencies, non-governmental organizations, and faith-based organizations to recognize that every child deserves a family and to strive to ensure that children are cared for within families.

Policies, practices, and support for children are shifting from dependence on residential care toward family-based care. More and more residential care providers are transitioning their models of care to supporting children within families, both through reintegrating children back into their original families or supporting alternative family-based care. 

Catholic Care for Children International strives to support women religious in reading the signs of the times and providing the best care possible for children. Catholic Care for Children International invites religious to be part of this movement, which is a Sister-led, charism-driven movement committed to care reform. Come join us to find a family for every child. Together let us remove the obstacles that prevent children from enjoying the love, care, and protection of their biological families. Let us together find other healthy, positive alternatives for children who do not have biological families, ensuring their right to be in a family. This is the time. We are the people called to bring this hope to children. 

This article is from the publication “A Family for Every Child.” Read the full publication here.

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