“Caritas Slovakia is a thriving body with great future prospects”, said Bishop Stefan Secka, President of Caritas Slovakia, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of its foundation. Having survived the decades of Communist rule, today Caritas is the major non-governmental body providing social and relief services in the Country. It counts 10 diocesan offices, totalling 1.566 employees, with hundreds of volunteer workers.
Material and spiritual solidarity. In Slovakia this Catholic charitable activity was founded in 1927. The first decade was marked by strong public awareness vis a vis material and spiritual solidarity to all those in need. After World War II, when Communists were slowly taking the reins of the Country, the spiritual dimension of charity services was stamped as “non grata.” “Although Caritas was never the object of utter rejection at official level, the pressures of the Communist government led to strong limitations of its activity.” After many years, Caritas managed to preserve a sole commitment: taking care of people hosted in charity institutions, notably the old men and women religious who had been confined there to prevent them from having contacts with the faithful”, said Juraj Barat, first Secretary General of Caritas Slovakia after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The fall of totalitarianism enabled Caritas to thrive again and develop all the operative aspects of its original mission, namely to be close to people in need. Inspired by the activity of Caritas Austria, it slowly started to go back to its roots and launch new relief projects both in Slovakia and abroad.
Listening coupled by interpersonal relations. “The charitable activity carried out by the Church in Slovakia isn’t only a human project, it’s a project of God, to which we contribute. The history of this institution shows that it’s true”, remarked Msgr. Stefan Secka, President of Caritas Slovakia, who pointed out that charity is one of the most important dimensions of the Church. “Moreover, we don’t have a solution to all forms of suffering and need, but Caritas’ efforts have delivered effective results to alleviate people’s problems. I have seized many occasions to underline, not only with the faithful, that the support that each one of us can offer doesn’t consist only in economic contributions but also in the ability to listen, in interpersonal relations, in giving an emotional response. Our modern world follows a very fast pace, contemporary lifestyles lead to widespread loneliness. Thus it’s fundamental to devote more attention to our neighbour at personal level. Charitable services can show the way.”
Financial discrimination. Caritas Slovakia currently offers various services to some 23 thousand people in need every year. It runs 290 institutes that offer health assistance and social services especially to old people, to patients with incurable diseases, the disabled, the homeless, single mothers with their children. “All our researches on the situation in Slovakia show that old people and terminal patients are those who are more at risk.” That’s why we devote a lot of attention to this phenomenon. However, it’s not an easy task. Ours is not an organization run by the State and therefore we have limited access to public funding. Financial discrimination by private suppliers of social services is one of the most painful obstacles that we tried to discuss with the government, with a view to changing legislation in this field to ensure better and fairer conditions in the area of public funding”, said Radovan Gumulak, Caritas Secretary General in office. In fact, he confirmed, this “battle” is far from being won. But the dialogue is ongoing.
A wall against migrants. Another major challenge involves the migration phenomenon. Gumulak said: “Welcoming migrants and granting them asylum in our Country is the most simple aspect of the process. The greatest challenge involves the following stage, especially in terms of their cultural and social integration in Slovakia. Citizens’ reactions vary greatly, ranging from warm reception to rejection, to hatred against immigrants. The situation – not only in Slovakia but also in other European Countries – is characterised by strong tensions in this sector. And political parties characterised by staunch nationalism draw advantage from it. Our commitment has to take into account all of these aspects.”
Exploitation and new forms of slavery. Radovan Gumulak added that great attention should be devoted also to the new forms of slavery of our present times. Although many view it as a marginal problem, the fact is that many Slovakians – he said – leave their home Countries to seek a job and happiness abroad, but in some cases they find poor working conditions, coupled by exploitation, and more often than not women are forced into prostitution.
Finally, in addition to the services offered in Slovakia, Caritas is devoted to providing humanitarian aid to Developing Countries or in Countries scarred by wars or natural disasters.
Mons. Stefan Secka pointed out: “I am sure that Caritas will continue representing a guarantee in terms of aid to people in need, both in Slovakia and abroad. It is necessary to remain vigilant, to read the signs of the times and look ahead, without forgetting the spiritual aspect of our commitment.”