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The Guiding Principles

The Guiding Principles

Quite a lot of Catholic NGOs are engaged in welfare and social development services in our country and across the world.  These activities of the Church have one thing in common – the expression of genuine Christian love in Action.  Christian practice compels its believers to reach out to the unreached and the most needy of the society with genuine love and selfless service without any discrimination based on castes, creed or social or economic status.  This uniqueness is the real hallmark of Christianity.

The Catholic Social Teachings (CST) form the theoretical and foundational base for the social engagements of Catholic NGOs. The CST principles evolved over a period of time although the charitable activities of the Church began from its foundational days.

The principles of CST expressed in the different social doctrines and emerged at different times, are primarily aimed at educating and exhorting the Catholics all over the world for adopting a communitarian and integrated lifestyle based on these Principles. The Catholic Church as a religious institution is not merely concerned about the spiritual realities of human soul alone, but the Church’s teaching also “permeates this world in the realities of the economy and labour, of technology and communications, of society and politics, of international community and the relations among cultures and peoples” ( Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church). 

The Church is concerned about the whole human person including the different aspects which govern and guide his/her earthly life and their intrinsic inter-relatedness. The aspect of social inclusion perhaps is the real value-base and hallmark of Catholic Church and the secret of the Church’s wholehearted acceptance by the people of all religions and cultures. Inevitably, CST is the body of doctrine developed by the  Catholic Church  on matters of  social justice , involving issues of poverty   and wealth economics social organization  and the role of the  State .

In India, there are over 2500 Catholic NGOs engaged with a myriad of social service activities across the nation. There had been very little academic studies conducted in India to understand the levels of influence and application of the CST in the social work and charity service practices of the Catholic NGOs and their program beneficiaries.  It was in this background that I conducted a study to ascertain the extent of the relevance and influence of CST in the social work practices of Catholic NGOs of Maharashtra. It was an attempt to capture the richness and the vitality of the social thought promoted by the Catholic Church in her effort to build just, inclusive and sustainable communities across the State of Maharashtra.

There are over 100 Catholic NGOs working in Maharashtra. Among them, Catholic NGOs covering 14 civil districts were selected for the study.  The representative sample consisted of 25 Catholic NGOs, 50 staff of these Catholic NGOs and 125 program beneficiaries of these Catholic NGOs.  Of the total 200 respondents, 27% (54) were males and 73% (146) were females.  Likewise, out of the total 200 respondents, 34.5% (69) were Christians and 65.5% (131) were Non-Christians.

  Major Findings of the Study

It was observed that majority of the Heads/Directors and the staffs of Catholic NGOs have the basic knowledge of the different principles of CST. However, only 48% of the respondent Heads of Catholic NGOs of Maharashtra made efforts to promote the practice of CST in and through their social service activities. And again, only 32% of the respondent Catholic NGOs of Maharashtra had printed promotional materials available in their Organizations on the theme of CST. Only 76% of the respondent Catholic NGOs took care to conduct trainings on these principles of CST either for their staff or for their program beneficiaries.  Likewise, only 66% of the respondent staff of Catholic NGOs had received any training on the CST during their work engagements with their Catholic NGOs.

Considering that the principles of CST provide a strong theoretical foundation for social service activities and have the potential to play significant roles for effectively addressing the complex social realities and social issues, the Catholic NGOs of Maharashtra need to make conscious efforts in promoting the knowledge and practice of CST. Absence of the knowledge of CST diminish the direction and impact of their works.

It has been established that the conscious promotion of CST help in providing just and humane treatment to the staff and program beneficiaries of NGOs, a fact which can be emulated even by the non-Catholic social service organizations in dealing with diverse and complex social problems.

Another positive outcome was the gender mainstreaming achieved by the Catholic NGOs as majority of these being headed by women Religious. Women play more pro-active roles than men in Catholic NGOs – it is women who are in the forefront, the Catholic Religious women feel more comfortable to choose social service activities as their frontline ministry, recruit more women than men as their staff and prefer to work with female beneficiaries than with male beneficiaries. The Catholic Church thus promotes women to play more pro-active, decisive and leadership roles in the area of the Church’s Social Service Ministry.

An overwhelming majority of the respondents – 96% of NGO heads and 86% of staff – agreed the need to make more efforts to promote CSTs. However, 84% of the heads of Catholic NGOs feel that they experience the limitations and 72% of them feel that they face problems in varying degrees in promoting the CST principles in their NGO works. This means that the perception of the beneficiaries regarding Catholic NGOs is highly relevant, especially in the current situation where the risk of attributing ulterior motives to any social service activity is quite high.

As for the basic motivating factors for the social service engagements of the Catholic NGOs of Maharashtra, it is gratifying to note that 65.6% of the respondent program beneficiaries of Catholic NGOs said it is the love of the poor and the rest 34.4% felt it is the desire for social transformation. 96.8% agreed that the Catholic NGOs’ work help in the transformation of the society. 76.8% of the beneficiaries, I interviewed, stated that they are highly satisfied from the support they received, while 17.6% stated that they are satisfied to some extent .

The most encouraging response was when 100% of the beneficiaries agreed that the Catholic NGOs of Maharashtra are credible and pro-poor organizations truly working for the welfare of the poor people, for ensuring their rights; promote an inclusive approach when it comes to beneficiary selection and that these NGOs work with all sections of the society without any discrimination based on caste, creed, religion or gender considerations. 97.7% of the respondent beneficiaries of Catholic NGOs feel that their Catholic NGOs do not force any of its program beneficiaries to change their religion into Christianity or engage in any form of religious conversion activities.  This is a powerful example of the comfort feelings experienced by the respondents, majority of whom are non-Christians who are associated with the social service activities of Catholic NGOs.      

Major Recommendations of the Study

The CST continues to hold its prominence in influencing and shaping the thought processes and activities of Catholic social work practitioners across the world.  The positive contributions of the Catholic Church in the secular fields of education, healthcare, social services, promotion of democracy and democratic values in the society, promotion of international peace and harmony between religions and cultures, promotion of justice in the society – all these are widely acclaimed not just by the followers of Catholic religion but also by all people of good will as well.  Thus, the Catholic Church holds a wide acclamation and acceptance in the cross-sections of the society.

However, more concerted efforts are needed in the promotion of CST in the social service activities of Catholic NGOs. There is a dire need for conducting more training on the CSTs to the different stakeholders, the staff as well as beneficiaries, of Catholic NGOs. It is recommended that a m ore effective monitoring system and a supervising authority be installed at the Diocesan and Religious Congregation levels for ensuring the promotion of CST by their respective NGOs.

Most importantly, the CST concepts need to be adapted to suit the understanding of all the stakeholders especially the Non-Christian staff and beneficiaries.  Accordingly, the common thread of unity and social understanding of the concepts of CST need to be explored and promoted.


CST as a set of Social Doctrines of the Catholic Church has always influenced the thought processes and social actions of the Catholics as well as the Non-Catholic people of good will in the society.  The end-goal of the promotion of CST is the creation of a just, inclusive and sustainable society where all people are able to live their lives to the full potential and realize their worth as ‘the children of God’ and ‘sisters and brothers’ to each other.  This being such a noble goal and progressive objective with a healthy combination of both religious and secular approach, the principles of Catholic teachings need to be promoted more vigorously by the Catholic Church as foundational values for perusing a democratic, value-based, progressive, developing and inclusive society.  The principles of CST have immense scope for a wider application and promotion by different socially committed originations, pro-poor institutions and people-centred and community-based civil society groups and movements. It has the potential to deal with the present day complex social situations, realities and needs as there is a very close theoretical similarity between the principles of CST and the various general social values which the different secular NGOs seek to promote in and through their social work practices.

(The writer has been actively engaged with Catholic Church’s social development activities for the past 17 years. He is currently the Administrative Manager of Caritas India.)

(Published on 21st August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 34)