Pope Francis greets people during an event marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of Caritas Italy, at the Vatican June 26, 2021. CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters
Pope Francis greets people during an event marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of Caritas Italy, at the Vatican June 26, 2021. CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters
VATICAN CITY – Parish, diocesan and national Catholic charities help the Catholic Church live the Gospel by being a "Church of tenderness and closeness where the poor are blessed, where mission is at the center and where joy is born of service," Pope Francis said.

The Gospel teaches only one Christian lifestyle: "It is the style of humble love, concrete but not showy, proposed but not imposed. It is the style of gratuitous love, which does not seek rewards. It is the style of availability and service, in imitation of Jesus who made himself our servant," Pope Francis said June 26 as he helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of Caritas Italiana.

Leaders of the national Catholic charity and its more than 200 diocesan branches gathered in the Vatican audience hall to mark the anniversary.

"I would like to say thank you, thank you; thank you to the staff, the priests and the volunteers! Thank you also because during the pandemic the Caritas network intensified its presence and relieved the loneliness, suffering and needs of many," Pope Francis told them. "There are tens of thousands of volunteers, among them many young people, including those engaged in civil service, who during this time have listened to and offered concrete responses to those in distress."

In recruiting volunteers and organizing service to anyone in need, Catholic charities must pay attention to young people, he said. "They are the most fragile victims of this era of change, but also the potential architects" of changing the way society is going.

"It is never a waste of time to dedicate time to them, to weave together, with friendship, enthusiasm and patience, relationships that overcome the cultures of indifference and appearance," he said.

Garnering "likes" on social media is not enough for them, the Pope said. They need companionship and true joy.

Caritas can be the training ground, "a gym of life to help many young people discover the meaning of gift, to let them savor the good taste of finding themselves by dedicating their time to others," he said. "By doing so, Caritas itself will remain young and creative, will maintain a simple and direct gaze, which fearlessly turns on high and toward the other."

In imitation of Christ, he said, the path of the Church always must be the path toward those the world considers last.

"It is from them that we start, from the most fragile and defenseless. From them. If you do not start with them, you do not understand anything," Pope Francis said. "Charity is the mercy that goes in search of the weakest, that goes to the most difficult frontiers to free people from the slavery that oppresses them and make them protagonists of their own lives."

Christians need to look into the eyes of the poor and learn to see the world through their eyes. "That is where you learn," he said. " If we are not able to look into the eyes of the poor, to look them in the eye, to touch them with a hug, with a hand, we will not do anything."

Seeing the world through their eyes, "we look at reality in a different way from what is our mentality. History is not seen from the perspective of the winners, who make it appear beautiful and perfect, but from the perspective of the poor, because it is the perspective of Jesus," he said. "It is the poor who put their finger on the wound of our contradictions and disturb our conscience in a healthy way, inviting us to change."

If one's heart and conscience do not become restless seeing the world from their perspective, "we should stop because something is not working," the Pope said.