A Bucks County ministry has reopened its doors, thanks to a collaboration between archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) and a local parish.
Some two dozen gathered Sept. 27 at the Fatima Catholic Outreach Center in Bensalem, where Father Philip Forlano, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish (also in Bensalem), blessed buildings, volunteers and a large community garden.
The center had been closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, with its food pantry, classes and other supports suspended or transferred to CSS’s Levittown location.
As coronavirus lockdown orders began to ease, St. Charles Borromeo Parish sought to take on increased responsibility for the center, which had been the former Our Lady of Fatima Parish until a 2014 merger with St. Charles Borromeo.
Parishioners, many of whom are Latino, had already been availing themselves of the center’s services, which were provided by CSS over the past six years in partnership with St. Mary Medical Center.
Now St. Charles members are joining their resources with those of “the many friends among us who remind us that with Jesus, all things are possible,” said Father Forlano, speaking to attendees in both English and Spanish.
In addition to CSS, those friends include archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS), BB&T Bank/Truist Financial, the Medical Mission Sisters, Thomas Edison Electric, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers.
Through the AmeriCorps program, the volunteers will manage the daily operations of the center, said Notre Dame worker and Fatima coordinator Bekka Mingioni.
Given her plans to launch English language classes, computer skills courses and a horticultural project with Pennsylvania State University, Mingioni said her schedule is “a little bit overwhelming, but … it’s all coming together.”
That melding is at the heart of CSS and parish alliances, said James Amato, archdiocesan secretary for Catholic Human Services.
“It’s our job to work in partnership with parishes, since (that is where) people live out their faith,” said Amato. “We want to be vital to them.”
He added that “a couple of ingredients” are essential to those efforts, such as “a pastor who is willing to engage a parish community,” dedicated staff, “the members of the parish and the community … and, of course, the gardeners and the people who come to this center.”
Amato commended in particular Estela Reyes-Bugg, CSS’s administrator of volunteers and parish community relations, for “bringing this (Fatima) program to life.”
The Sept. 27 blessing coincided with World Day for Migrants and Refugees, noted Edward Lis, archdiocesan coordinator of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
“We stand in solidarity today with the whole church, the world and Pope Francis in saying that human dignity is our calling,” said Lis.
Affirming that dignity may seem a daunting task due to “our lacks and our inabilities,” said Father Forlano, yet faithful can be confident in God’s provision.
Reflecting on the feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 14:14-20), Father Forlano said there is a temptation to say, along with the disciples, “there’s nothing more I can do; just send them away. They need to help themselves.”
However, he said, Jesus responds to his followers’ limitations by saying, “Just bring it to me.”
That message resonates even more powerfully “in this coronavirus time,” said Father Forlano, “when everything is down and there is a lot less available to us.”
More than ever, he said, the coronavirus pandemic serves as a moment to “help us turn to Christ and entrust the mission to him.”
“We’re going to keep the services here” at the Fatima center, said Father Forlano. “It might happen in a different way, but with God’s grace and the prayer and the work of us all … we will continue to share God’s blessings so that people (who come here) do not have to go away.”
The challenges of sustaining the center are “a lesson for us,” he said, since “what we perceive as a problem becomes the opportunity for God to reveal himself in a beautiful and abundant way.”
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