Look in any parish bulletin after Sunday Mass, and you’ll get a sense that parishioners are doing something to help people in their community. It could be preparing casseroles, holding a clothing drive, hosting Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, supporting the newly bereaved, or some other form of outreach.

Thanks to a study in its third year by the Archdiocese’s Research and Planning Office, we are getting a glimpse of just how extensive the social ministry of archdiocesan parishes is. And for the first time, in an extensive analysis in this newspaper, we see the combined effect of parish services and the institutional services of Catholic Human Services of the Archdiocese.

The sum is as staggering in its scope as it is complex. All told, the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia – the city and the four suburban counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery – directly aided 650,524 people in 2008 regardless of race, creed, age or background.

As the report on pages 14 and 15 shows, the number consists of 482,992 people served through the parishes in 2008 and 165,532 served in Catholic Social Services. This may be on the low side, considering people received more than 10 million meals from archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services and more than 540,000 resident days spent in the nursing care, assisted living and independent care facilities of archdiocesan Catholic Health Care Services.

An important distinction in the above numbers should be remembered. The services provided by parishes are largely provided by volunteers addressing needs in the local community. Institutionally, as with Catholic Social Services, trained professional staff address long-term needs such as mental development, juvenile justice and family-oriented services across large areas, by county or regionally. The approaches differ but the goal of meeting human needs is largely the same.

Needs may be increasing among people in our times, but the response from parishes is increasing too, as the study shows. Most people are good-hearted and want to help others. Motivated by the vision of all people created with dignity as children of the one God, we do not hide away our gifts but share them freely and generously.

Certainly, people will continue to suffer in various ways. But they will also know that the Church, through her members, will continue to bring comfort to those who need it.

We see Christ in the homeless man, the lonely woman, the hungry child and in so many other faces of the human person. People stand in need, and the Catholic community serves our Lord and Savior by remembering His words: “Whatever you did for these least ones, you did for me.”