By Cecilia Agrinya-Owan
Jacques Dinan, from Mauritius, is the outgoing Executive Secretary of Caritas Africa, one of the seven regions of Caritas Internationalis. As a member of the Caritas Internationalis Confederation Secretariat’s Team, he participated actively in the preparation of the 2015-2019 CI Strategic Framework which has been adopted by the 20th CI General Assembly on 17 May 2015.
As Executive Secretary Emeritus of Caritas Africa, Jacques is known and referred to by many as an excellent communicator, a visionary leader and an energetic and efficient coordinator, with a great passion for what he does. In this interview he speaks about the importance of Caritas Africa at the 20th General Assembly, the role of Caritas in promoting the global civilisation of love and the need to increase visibility of Caritas.
Q. What does it mean for Caritas Africa to be present at the General Assembly?
A. Caritas Africa is one of the seven regions of Caritas Internationalis. So being present at the General Assembly is part of our responsibility and this time we have quite a good delegation; 41 countries out of 46 in the region.
This shows that Caritas members in Africa are committed to the confederation and that is extremely important because in the confederation you are part of it, you have the support of other members but you also have to support other members as well. It is a family and in a family whether you are small or big, poor or rich, you are a member of the family and you have to behave as a member of the family because too often we say we are a family but we do not at all times behave as a family.
Q. What are your expectations of the new governance of Caritas?
A. At the level of Caritas Africa we have Archbishop of Kumasi, Ghana, Most Rev Gabriel Justice Yaw Anokye; he is a dynamic Archbishop, who will certainly build further with the Regional Commission members on what we have been doing during the past 8 years. Most of the members of the Regional Commission have been on the Commission for the past four years. So this means continuity and building up because we have to move forward.
Africa is a difficult continent with so many emergencies: diseases, droughts, cyclones, floods and of course human made emergencies like socio-political conflicts, and terrorism. Therefore, we need to have a strong Caritas that can mobilize resources. I believe that mobilizing resources is important, not just money but the population, the faithful, governments so that all together we move forward. Too often I hear people say it’s the job of Caritas but if you are a Catholic, Caritas is you; Caritas is all of us and if you are not a Catholic at least you can support but you can only support if you know what Caritas is doing. We have to tell people what we are doing and this doesn’t mean boasting ourselves but giving information about what we are doing and my greatest frustration at times is that we do so much, yet very few people know about it.
At the confederation we also have a new President, His Eminence Cardinal Luis Tagle, whom I know is also someone who is fast moving and dynamic and I’m sure he also will give more dynamism to our work in the confederation. This doesn’t mean we don’t have dynamism but that we can have more dynamism, we can always move further; the poor can’t wait, we cannot decide to this and not do that but we have to do all we can because the challenges are great. I always believe that where there is a will there is a way! If we don’t put the bar high enough we won’t reach anything but if we put the bar very high we can at least do 70-75%, or even more of what we set out to do in the service of the poor and underprivileged.
Q. Can the newly developed Caritas Africa Strategic Framework (2015-2019), live up to the theme of this Regional Conference (Love of Christ Urges us: Together in Service to the Poor)?
A. Yes, in Africa we have a Strategic Framework which has six Strategic Orientations and some people think it is too bold to do it but I believe we can do it.
We must remember that we are 46 countries in the Africa Region and the strategic orientations are for these 46 countries and not only for the regional secretariat. The priorities can differ from one country to another. The point is that we should all be able to look at our specific context, challenges and realities in our own zone, area or even diocese and parish. What is important is to have a framework, to be able to pick up one or two things that one would like to focus on. What is important is that we all tend to move forward together.
We have to mobilize resources. Local resources are often insufficiently tapped – human, financial and material resources as well! We should look at how we can tap these resources, how we can bring them together especially, how we can prepare for emergencies, and reconciliation which goes hand-in-hand with man-made crises in many countries today.
We, as Caritas, must be some sort of catalyst, we have to bring people together, not forgetting that charity is one of the three pillars of the Church, we are not doing it as a form of generosity but as a duty not just for Bishops and priests but also for the faithful.
A. Ignorance is what we have to fight!
The Pope talks about the Globalization of Indifference! Why are people indifferent? One reason is because they don’t know. They are ignorant of what is happening and this is terrible. It is like being in front of a big problem and ignoring the problem.
To start with, we have to let people know. Bring about knowledge. Knowledge will bring sympathy, compassion and empathy. So the first duty we have in terms of communication is to inform about what we are doing.
Today, we have all sorts of means to inform. People have television sets but are we always aware of what is happening close to us, where we live, in our country, in our continent? Of course, most of the times we are knowledgeable about the big events happening round the world but what about the small issues that go unnoticed? What about the sufferings of the poor in our parish, Diocese or in our country to start with? Do we communicate internally? We must first communicate properly internally to be able to communicate well externally. Do we know what is happening next door to us, with our neighbour for instance? Communication needs to be improved at all levels. We need to foster a culture of communication within every Caritas so that communication becomes quite natural internally and externally.
So Caritas has got to be the linking pin between people, starting from the parish, within families and members of the community.
We must care for our neighbours; care for other parishes, Dioceses and countries. Somebody told me the following, a few days ago: “When we had a problem we were pleased to receive a solidarity message from Caritas Africa but we received nothing from countries next door to us!” Sending a solidarity note is not much, but such a little sign of attention shows that you are caring first of all. When you care then you will be able to also get the support of others. We have a solidarity fund for instance in Caritas Africa, we do get some support but we do have to get more support. We have to remember that charity begins at home and this means that we have to begin with our local support and not just turn around looking for countries abroad to help us. This means that we have to change our mind-set. There must be a paradigm shift. We must fundraise locally even if we can get only 5% or 10% of what we need to cover our expenses. Too often the normal reaction is to say who can help us from abroad instead of saying what can we do first of all in our own country to get the faithful and the population at large, including the Government and the Private sector, to support us in our work in the service of the poor and underprivileged .
I believe that this is partly due to ignorance. We are not visible enough and our achievements are not known. We have the duty of changing this situation of ignorance into knowledge. Also, we have too often in the past been supported from abroad. I am not saying that we should be totally self-sufficient, autonomous or independent but we should be able to raise some funds locally and mobilize resources, create awareness and sensitize. All these are important and then only will people: the faithful, the population at large, governments, institutions and private sectors be ready to support us.
On behalf of the Communications Officers in the region I wish to use this medium to thank Mr. Jacques Dinan, for his untiring guidance and for creating a budding platform for communication in the region. We wish him God’s blessings and the very best in all his endeavours. God bless you Jacques!