By Cardinal Justin Rigali

As we begin this year’s Catholic Charities Appeal and as we continue our “Heritage of Faith – Vision of Hope” campaign, it would be helpful for us this week to reflect on both the regular and extraordinary needs connected with serving the faithful in our local Church of Philadelphia.

Organization for the common good

When we look at the various organizational tools of a large local Church such as ours, we can be tempted to view it as a mere bureaucracy. Since the concept, and even the word itself, are sometimes viewed with some cynicism we can too easily dismiss the entire structure as yet another bureaucratic system in our lives. This is certainly not how the organized works of charity in the Archdiocese are meant to be viewed because they have a purpose which far exceeds mere human administration. Their purpose, in fact, is the carrying out of the work of the Gospel.

In the first reading for the Second Sunday of Easter (Acts 4:32-35), we recently heard the account in the Acts of the Apostles, which speaks of the early Christians laying their treasure at the feet of the Apostles, so that it could be distributed according to need. We can see in this the earliest form of organized charity in the Church. Saint John Chrysostom writes of this: “They gave up their possessions and in doing so demonstrated their respect for the Apostles. For they did not presume to give it into their hands, but left it at their feet and made the Apostles its owners and dispensers” (Homily on Acts, 11).

Obviously, what could have been practiced in the early Church with its smaller numbers and limited area cannot be replicated exactly in our own day, but we can hopefully reflect on the spirit that motivates the organized works of charity in our own as well as in other dioceses throughout the world.

Ordinary and extraordinary needs

Most of us live with the everyday reality of needs and expenses. We can say that our needs can be spanided into those that are ordinary, expected and regular and those that come to us from time to time, often in an unexpected manner. For example, we expect regular bills for heating in winter but when the heating unit breaks down we are faced with the extraordinary and unexpected expense of calling for it to be repaired. What we dread may also occur from time to time; the entire unit must be replaced!

In administering the many works of charity that take place throughout our extensive, five-county Archdiocese, we encounter similar situations. I would just like to share with you here a very brief summary of some of the regular and ordinary functions that are funded through the Annual Catholic Charities Appeal, which begins this coming week:

The Catholic Charities Appeal supports a network of residential and community-based programs throughout the Archdiocese through the leadership of Catholic Social Services. In fiscal year 2008, some 165,532 men, women and children benefitted from these services.

Catholic Social Services embraces God’s people in their time of need. Through services to men, women, children and families, they make the love and mercy of God real for those often overlooked by society. They serve those who are most often forgotten; the homeless, the isolated senior citizen and the developmentally challenged.

CSS of Montgomery County maintains one of the largest emergency food cupboards in the county, providing monthly groceries, household and personal items such as soap and diapers to over 4000 families (more than 12,000 inspaniduals) a year.

St. John’s Hospice, Mercy Hospice, Women of Hope and Visitation Homes provide housing opportunities that help keep more than 200 inspaniduals off the streets. In addition, over 600 inspaniduals benefit from day programs at St. John’s Hospice and Mercy Hospice, including a hot lunch program, basic hygienic needs, social service assistance and medical and legal services.

Each day, over 500 older adults are provided with transportation, socialization and recreational activities, and a nutritious lunch at five senior centers operated by Catholic Social Services.

In supporting these works of charity, which you, the faithful of the Archdiocese, entrust to our care we are not merely administering a bureaucracy. First and foremost, we are carrying out the command of Jesus found in the Gospels. Over and over again, Jesus tells us to treat the person who is the “least” in the eyes of the world as we would treat Him.

Upon reflection, this is a truly remarkable statement and a great challenge for all of us. However, Jesus went so far as to say that we will be judged by how we practice His command of charity towards those in need. Through our charity, we show our solidarity with our needy brothers and sisters, who are creatures of God, redeemed by the Blood of Jesus.

The charitable works of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia help us to fulfill the command of Jesus. When you entrust your generosity to us, we are given a sacred trust, just as the Apostles were when the early Christians entrusted their works of charity to them. My predecessor, Cardinal John Krol, would often say at the beginning of the Annual Catholic Charities Appeal: “Do not be afraid to beg.” Similarly, Cardinal Samuel Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago from 1939 to 1958, used to say before any appeal: “I’m going out with my tin cup.”

Likewise, we are not afraid to beg or ashamed to go out with our “tin cup,” because we do it in solidarity with the poor and needy of the Archdiocese and we do it in the name of Jesus.

Extraordinary needs

I have just given you a very brief summary of some of the works of charity of our local Church, which take place on a regular basis. Your spiritual and material solidarity with those in need make it possible for us to sustain these programs daily. However, as with other aspects of our lives, there are also extraordinary needs which occur from time to time, without the ordinary needs ceasing to need our assistance.

This is why our Catholic Charities Appeal continues, even while we are in the midst of a great capital campaign for the needs of the Archdiocese: “Heritage of Faith – Vision of Hope.” This campaign, which many of you have already begun in your own parishes and which others will begin in later phases, is addressing the extraordinary needs of the Archdiocese, as well as its future goals and responsibilities. Obviously, our ongoing needs and commitment to maintain the charitable works of the Archdiocese do not cease, even while a separate Capital Campaign is being conducted.

I am deeply grateful for all that Christ’s faithful in our Archdiocese do in order to help me fulfill the same mission that was given to the Apostles: to care for the poor, the needy and the needs of the local Church. Just as the early Christians entrusted the Apostles with their charity, knowing that it would be put to good use, I know that you do the same with me and I am grateful for your confidence and rededicate myself to serving the needs of the Archdiocese in your name.

In order to do this, I need your ongoing commitment and cooperation. Your generosity and solidarity with the needs of our brothers and sisters are shown on a regular basis by your support of the annual Catholic Charities Appeal. Since those needs do not cease to exist, even while another campaign is being conducted, I ask for your simultaneous support of the extraordinary needs of the Archdiocese during this period of our Archdiocesan-wide Capital Campaign: “Heritage of Faith – Vision of Hope.”

In all of these needs, you and I are encouraged, and challenged by the words of Jesus: “Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

23 April 2009