By John T. Gillespie
Special to the CS & T

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is seeking $8 million from at least 50,000 donors for the 2011 Catholic Charities Appeal, the backbone of the Church’s efforts to meet the needs of others, especially the poor and vulnerable.

The theme of this year’s campaign is “Open Your Heart, Open a Door.” In a letter to the faithful, Cardinal Justin Rigali issued a strong appeal for support.

“Whether you have been a donor in the past, have never given, or have missed a few years, your participation this year is vital to our sisters and brothers in need,” the Cardinal wrote.

Those in need include the poor, the homeless and the disabled; retired priests and nuns; neglected children; unwed mothers; families in crisis; and school-age children. {{more}}

Since its founding in 1958, Catholic Charities has become an integral part of the Delaware Valley’s social safety net.

This year’s campaign, with the same fundraising goal as last year, comes at a time when an increasing number of states and localities are laying off government workers and cutting food stamps, jobless benefits and government pensions.

Last year more than 400,000 inspaniduals in the five-county Archdiocese benefitted from Catholic Charities. For many, it was a welcome meal, or place to stay; for others, it was specialized counseling or intervention, community service, care of the aged and infirm, help with adoption, nutritional advice, access to health care, and – in terms of evangelization – ministries for youth, marriage preparation, respect for life, people with AIDS, prisoners and the apostolate to the deaf.

Through various agencies including Catholic Social Services, Catholic Health Care Services, Nutritional Development Services and the Office for Community Development – Catholic Charities serves as an intermediary in assisting 268 parishes, 207 schools, 260 religious education programs and other community organizations that meet the needs of people. Without such support, poor families and inspaniduals and those unable to collect federal or state benefits would suffer.

In a separate letter to prospective donors, Cardinal Rigali credited Catholic Charities with funding programs and organizations “that maintain, and in many instances, save lives.”

To help run this year’s Appeal, the Archdiocese created an Office for Stewardship and Development, which is overseen by Msgr. Francis W. Beach, pastor of SS. Simon and Jude Parish in West Chester.

Last year’s Catholic Charities Appeal netted $6.4 million from 43,000 donors.

Last year also saw the completion of the Archdiocese’s Heritage of Faith-Vision of Hope capital and endowment campaign that raised $221 million for such needs as St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, and parish-based projects, among others.

Despite economic conditions, the campaign exceeded its $200 million goal.

Money raised through the annual Catholic Charities Appeal, which is a vital fundraising initiative of the Archdiocese, subsidizes in whole or in part more than 80 programs, services and charities that are central to the Church’s mission.

John T. Gillespie is a freelance writer and member of St. Bridget Parish.