First woman secretary-general to reform Caritas International

With a "clear mandate" for change, Zimbabwe-born Briton Lesley Anne Knight is taking over the reins as newly elected Secretary General of Catholic relief and development federation, Caritas Internationalis.

The Tablet reports that Ms Knight asked for a "clear mandate" from its confederation to make personnel and structural changes in order to modernise the world's second-largest aid agency.

Lesley-Anne Knight, 51, was elected CI secretary general on 7 June during the 162-member confederation's general assembly in the Vatican.

She told the some 300 delegates that "financial and human resources and competencies" in the Rome-based secretariat needed to respond to "the rapidly changing operating environment of the twenty-first century".

The head of Cafod's international office, Ms Knight said: "We must have a clear mandate and well-defined roles and responsibilities."

The first Caritas agency was founded more than a century ago in Germany, while the confederation dates from the 1950s.

Ms Knight indicated that she would give more attention to staff coordination, "adapting Caritas governance structures", developing "new sources of funding" and "strengthening and integrating communications, advocacy and capacity building".

She also said that the Caritas confederation - of which Cafod is a member - needed to provide greater accountability to its donors and "demonstrate professional performance" in its emergency relief efforts. This included working with other "international actors", especially ecumenical and Islamic relief agencies.

Ms Knight said Caritas and the entire Church needed to focus more on climate change and peace-building. Climate change, she said, was not just an economic, migration and development matter, but also "a moral issue" that should be "integral" to Caritas' "humanitarian and development programmes".

Later Pope Benedict XVI thanked CI for the "outstanding witness [it] has given to the world". But he also used the general assembly to stress that charity was about faith and not just activism".

He said charity had to "include a commitment to social justice", but he noted that "changing unjust structures" would be insufficient unless "attention [was] focused on ... the promotion of human dignity, well-being and, in the final analysis, eternal salvation".

Caritas set for reform after electing first woman secretary general (The Tablet, 16/6/07)

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19 Jun 2007