Interview with the Man at the Helm: 100 Years of Helping Those in Need

30. 9. 2019

Interview with the Man at the Helm: 100 Years of Helping Those in Need

The Caritas of the Archdiocese of Prague is celebrating 100 years of existence. For more than one-fifth of its history (the past 22 years), the organization has been headed by Ing. JAROSLAV NĚMEC, a man who has been instrumental in shaping the charity’s activities and bringing it among respected, reliable, and highly professional organizations.

What do we know about the beginnings of the Caritas of the Archdiocese of Prague?

The beginnings of what today is the Caritas of the Archdiocese of Prague can be traced back through an organization called the Catholic Charity Association in the Kingdom of Bohemia. The establishment of this association also marks the 100th anniversary of the Caritas of the Archdiocese of Prague. The entire Caritas organization has been built from the ground up based on grass-roots initiatives, as opposed to being created based on an intentional official decision. Individual believers, clerics, and bishops founded charitable groups. Many of these groups were established in the wake of World War One, which left numerous people disabled, homeless, and in dire social conditions. The groups later formed the Catholic Charity Association and began operating as a single organization.

Hence, already when it was created 100 years ago, Caritas followed in the footsteps of a long tradition of serving the needy.

Exactly. We can go even further back in history. Helping the needy has been an integral part of the life of the Church since its inception. In the Czech Lands, I want to mention Saint Zdislava and her hospital in Jablonné, and Saint Agnes who built a hospital in Prague as early as in 1232 and, together with her brother, took part in the establishment of a religious order that ran hospitals, shelters, and soup kitchens. The Church was an inspiration for these individuals, giving them strength and support for doing great acts of charity and mercy. We only continue to carry the torch of this service, which is an innate part of the Church’s mission.

You mentioned that Caritas‘ philosophy is based on the concept of growing from small to large. Is that still true today?

It is. I find it captivating that this principle continues to pervade the way Caritas approaches its activities. Today, as in the past, worshipers form volunteer groups within Caritas. We call them parish charities. Recently, charities like that were established in Slaný, Mnichovice, Radotín, and Nové Strašecí. Parish charities are groups of volunteers who assist the needy within as well as outside their parish. Some of them are eventually transformed into professional organizations providing social services. Very important are partnerships with the local administrator intercalaris, parish community, and municipal authorities.

How is charity work different today than in the past?

The most important factor is that charity work is becoming a professional activity. That brings a variety of administrative complications. In the past, it was relatively easy to convince the authorities to support the creation of a certain necessary service and to obtain funding. I remember that my deputy and I would meet for a couple of hours, put our plan down on a few pages, and that was all. Today, the process is much longer and involves the participation of numerous experts. In addition, staff providing social services have to possess the required education, have to conform to strict quality standards, and relatively frequently have to undergo inspections carried out by inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and other authorities. As we speak, we are being audited regarding subsidies received in 2018. Despite the pressure brought by closer oversight, however, I have to say that the extra attention has resulted in better quality of services, which is something Caritas has no problem with. Perhaps not all people act out of good faith, so I understand the purpose of the inspections.

In what ways does Caritas stand out among other providers of social services?

Caritas is a Catholic organization whose added value stems from its spiritual foundation. The objective is not only to provide social care, but also to satisfy people’s needs that transcend the material world. Our services include the offer of spiritual support, although we do not impose it on anyone. We are prepared not only to provide social services on a professional basis, but also to offer acceptance and to walk that extra mile to help. Not long ago, a client who is 82 years of age confided in the nurses from the Caritas branch in Příbram that he would like to visit his home town in Moravia one last time. The nurses arranged a surprise for him for his birthday and organized a weekend trip for him in their free time. He visited his family’s house and the places where he grew up. The trip brought immense joy not only to the man, but to our nurses as well.

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