Introduction: Encounter, Exchange and Dialogue
In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis, while describing social dialogue as a contribution to peace, taught that “in a culture which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter, it is time to devise a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society.” (239)
In an analogous sense, and in seeking to follow these words, the 2017 Founding Document explains that
The Forum will thus be a place of encounter and exchange. Through its Secretariat the Forum will develop its role as a social observatory and offer a space for analysis, reflection and exchange of expertise so as to strengthen the Catholic voice in the public debate and in its advocacy before intergovernmental bodies specifically.
The Secretariat is thus at the service of the various organizations composing the Forum. In this regard, the themes of Identity, Fidelity and Action are primary. Each will be briefly considered in turn.
Cultivating and safeguarding the Identity of the Forum is paramount importance. Time and the experience of those serving the Forum have helped identify a creative tension in the interplay of the universal (The Church and her mission) and the particular (organizations and individual actors) that has great potentiality. The Forum, in this sense, is seen as a dynamic place of interaction and conduit of this creative potentiality.
The Forum has previously defined itself as “a dynamic space for exchanges and strategic alliances on specific topics shared by a number of Catholic-inspired organizations with the aim to increase the impact of the Christian message in the public debate.” Three elements are foundational in this respect: the Social Doctrine of the Church, the inter-governmental agendas and the participating organizations. However, the Forum is not to be a new governing structure, an organizer of paralyzing coordinating mechanisms, an interference in the decision-making process of any organization, a coordinator of operational efforts and activities, nor itself another NGO.
The Forum seeks to “affirm more clearly our orientations, values and identity as Catholic inspired organizations.”  In the words of Benedict XVI, this “will result in more effective ways of making the Church’s social doctrine better known and accepted on the international level.” The work is to be carried out “in close collaboration with the Holy See…” It is thus that, as Pope Benedict concludes, “the activities of your organizations will bear genuine fruit provided they remain faithful to the Church’s magisterium, anchored in communion with her pastors and above all with the successor of Peter, and meet in a spirit of prudent openness the challenges of the present moment.”
The key notions of Identity and Fidelity provide the basis for a concerted and effective course of Action. This Action can be understood as communicative and adaptive. The Forum is communicative as it seeks to “develop a culture of collaboration in the political field in order to facilitate common political (inter)action.” The Forum is to be Adaptive as it seeks to “discern and design more effective ways of presence and action as Catholic inspired organizations.” The Forum thus calls for “flexible and committed relationships.”
It is thus the ardent hope of the Forum Secretariat that, in our encounter and exchange – characterized by a coherent identity, fidelity and action – the words of Pope Francis may find realization through our work together:
Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. Where all seems to be dead, signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up. It is an irresistible force. Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power. (Evangelii Gaudium, 276)
 This is reflected in the very definition of the word. The Oxford English dictionary notes that a forum is “the public place or market-place of a city” and “in ancient Rome the place of assembly for judicial and other public business;” and thus “the place of public discussion.” See “forum” in the Oxford English Dictionary.
 Ibid. Some of these participating organizations, as explained by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “are recognized by the Church as public and private associations of the lay faithful, others share in the charism of certain institutes of consecrated life, while still others enjoy only civil recognition and include non-Catholics and non-Christians among their members.” See Address of Benedict XVI To Representatives of the Holy See to International Organizations and to Participants in the Forum of Catholic-Inspired Non-Governmental Organizations, December 1 2007, available here.