Archbishop Nelson Pérez launched the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s most important annual fundraising initiative Jan. 25, asking faithful to “look deep into (their) hearts” to aid “those who have been so deeply affected by COVID.”
During a virtual press conference, the archbishop said the 2021 Catholic Charities Appeal (CCA) goal of $12.5 million will benefit hundreds of thousands living in the five-county area, providing “joy, hope and strength” through an array of social and pastoral assistance.
“By supporting the Catholic Charities Appeal, you are feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, supporting veterans and those in recovery, and helping students with special needs to receive the Catholic education they deserve,” he said. “You are helping desperate families get back on their feet and bringing joy to the lives of the aged and lonely.”
Managed by the nonprofit Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, the CCA – the theme for which is “Giving Hope to All” — focuses on social services, evangelization, education, parish and spiritual life, clergy and local mission activities. No funds donated to the appeal are used to support the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP) or associated expenses.
Last year, CCA monies enabled archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) and Nutritional Development Services (NDS) to provide 8.8 million meals to those most in need. More than 100 students in archdiocesan schools of special education received tuition assistance, 36,000 parishioners were served by 17 CCA beneficiary mission parishes, and 18 archdiocesan programs and offices were sustained in their efforts to foster evangelization, parish life and spiritual development.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, demand for what Archbishop Pérez called the “incredible work” accomplished through the CCA has soared.
“COVID has affected so many families from all walks of life this year, and so many are struggling to make ends meet,” said Patrick Walsh, manager of CCA beneficiary Martha’s Choice Marketplace, who also spoke at the press conference.
Operated by CSS at its Montgomery County Family Service Center in Norristown, the emergency food assistance site distributed 1.4 million pounds of food to over 6,000 families during 16,000 visits over the course of last year – double its prior service levels, said Walsh.
“These days, more people are suffering than ever. Hundreds of new families have been showing up in these past months,” he said. “So many … are facing eviction and seeking help from us, and from you.”
Addressing such practical needs is an invitation to encounter the divine, said Walsh, noting his staff and more than 100 volunteers remain in contact with clients, often praying with them.
“Sometimes we can forget that God is with us, alive inside of us,” he said. “And he’s alive inside those suffering with no recourse but his grace.”
Through the work of CCA’s beneficiaries, “our brothers and sisters in need are encouraged, helped, and inspired with grace and dignity,” said Archbishop Pérez.
CCA’s impact reaches society’s most vulnerable, including unborn children with challenging prenatal diagnoses. Through Lily’s Gift — a collaboration between the archdiocesan Office for Persons with Disabilities and Office of Life and Family, and CSS – women and families receive counseling, prayer support and fellowship amid circumstances often referred to as “incompatible with life,” said client Kathleen Clark, also on hand at today’s press conference.
During Clark’s second pregnancy, a routine ultrasound led to “devastation” when it was discovered that her baby boy had Trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome), a rare chromosome disorder that causes severe intellectual and physical disabilities. Many infants with the condition (which is caused by three copies, rather than the usual two, of chromosome 13 in the body’s cells) do not survive past the first 7 to 10 days of life. Research shows the majority of such pregnancies are aborted.
Although Clark and her husband “were committed to continuing for as long as God shared our son with us” – a decision endorsed by family and friends — she found herself “searching for … stories of women like (her)” on such a “unique journey.”
Having been referred to Lily’s Gift, Clark was connected with a trained peer counselor with whom she could share her hopes and fears about her pregnancy. Overwhelmed at the prospect of buying baby items, she was surprised by a care basket from the outreach containing monogrammed blankets, hats, a christening gown and keepsakes, all handmade by Lily’s Gift volunteers.
“The thoughtfulness, love and care that went into creating these items brought me to tears,” said Clark.
The prayers of ministry members also sustained her during the June 2015 delivery of her second son, Gerard Joseph, who was born still at 39 weeks.
“We were able to welcome (him) … in a truly peaceful, beautiful and impactful experience,” said Clark, who has since trained to become a Lily’s Gift peer counselor.
“When you support the Catholic Charities Appeal, you are giving hope,” said CCA board of directors president William “Bill” Phelan IV.
Though the “day in, day out” work of CCA beneficiaries is done “oftentimes quietly,” said Archbishop Pérez, the results are real — and lasting.
For that reason, he added, “every donation truly makes a difference.”
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