The Catholic Church's aid organizations must follow God's example of giving freely without expecting to see the immediate impact of their work or to receive anything in return, Pope Francis said.

When an organization provides aid to a region, "it is natural that we expect a result," the pope wrote. "But a perception of this kind would be contrary to gratuitousness, which is evangelically defined as giving without expecting anything in return."

The pope's comments came in a message March 5 to the heads of Catholic aid organizations working in Latin America, who were attending a Vatican-sponsored conference in Bogotá, Colombia, March 4-8 with Cardinal Robert Prevost, president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The meeting was a follow up to a June 2023 gathering in Rome with the leaders of aid organizations, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. Among the groups represented at the Bogotá conference were Aid to the Church in Need International, Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. bishops' conference's Office of National Collections.

Pope Francis encouraged conference participants to consider the Gospel example of giving and to ask themselves: Who gives, what is given and to what end?

"God is He who gives, and we are merely administrators of the goods received," he wrote in his message, adding that everything humanity has -- from life, creation and intelligence to the gift of Christ on the cross -- "is either from God or is a proof and pledge of His love."

"If we lose this awareness in giving and also in receiving, we distort His essence and our own," Pope Francis wrote. "Instead of solicitous stewards of God, we become slaves to money and, subjugated by the fear of not having, we give our heart to the treasure of false economic security, administrative efficiency, control, an unstirred life."

The pope encouraged the participants to see how God freely gives and remains faithful to humanity despite its sins.

"God gives Himself, in a word, in the midst of His people," he wrote. "Let us therefore not avoid those who are blind, those who lie on the side of the road, who are overcome with leprosy or misery; rather, let us ask the Lord to be able to see what prevents them from facing their difficulties."

"God does not set limits: we sin a thousand times, He forgives a thousand times," the pope wrote.

Gratuitousness, he explained, is therefore "imitating the way in which Jesus gives Himself for us, His people, always and totally, despite our poverty. And why? Out of love."

Working for charity is not pointless, the pope wrote, "because there is a purpose. To give ourselves in this way, imitating Jesus who gave Himself to save us all."

Pope Francis stressed that to embrace the cross "is not a sign of failure, it is not vain work," but rather "it is joining in the mission of Jesus to bring good news to the poor."

To give oneself as Jesus did means "to truly touch the wound of that brother, that community, who has a name, who has an infinite value for God," the pope wrote, "to bring him light, to strengthen his legs, to cleanse his misery, to offer him the opportunity to respond to the plan of love the Lord has for him."