Strengthening Families. Building Communities. Reducing Poverty.

A Reflection on the 2014 CCUSA Annual Gathering

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Like everyone else in the room that Sunday morning who watched the video of Pope Francis addressing the Catholic Charities USA Annual Gathering in Charlotte, I was exceptionally proud to be there in that space and at that time.  It was simply one of those moments that brought clarity and purpose to the work I am privileged to do as part of the Catholic Charities agency here in the Diocese of Charlotte.  It can be so easy to let my focus be trained on the operational side of b2ap3_thumbnail_CCUSA-AG-Sunday-46.jpgthis work as my days are filled with meetings and emails and documents and financial reports and telephone calls, and, and…  These are legitimate and important tasks which deserve and require my full professional and careful attention. 

But the work I do – the work all of us do at Catholic Charities – is not really about ensuring maximum efficiency and effectiveness as though we’re managing just another NGO.  What we do is at its core all about “caritas” or the “love of God.”   In his own words, Pope Francis reminded us that “as Catholic Charities workers, board members, donors, parish social ministers, volunteers and organizations, you bring that joy with each and every encounter you have. I know that the work that you do in the United States of America in Catholic Charities in your local dioceses, and on the national level, on behalf of the poor person, the lonely single, the elderly shut-in, the young family, the homeless adult, the hungry child, the refugee youth, the migrant father, and so many others, allows them to know and experience the tremendous and abundant love of God through Jesus Christ. You are the very hands of Jesus in the world. Your witness helps to change the course of the lives of many persons, families and communities. Your witness helps to change your heart.”

He further challenged me – and, again, all of us called to the work of charity – to recall that our work is about service to the weak and the poor.  “I ask that you see your leadership as service; that you practice mercy which is a core Christian message for us; and that you keep the poor always before you, in all that you do. They will precede us into the Kingdom of Heaven, they will open the gates for us. We are called to be a church, a people of and for the poor.”

But it wasn’t just the video that provided me reflection that this work is more than meetings and memos. 

It was the Opening Mass so beautifully celebrated at Saint Joseph Vietnamese Church in Charlotte.  Although in every Mass we are offered the Supreme and Precious Gift of God through the ministrations of our sacred ministers, in this special Mass the local and national Church were physically joined together through the presence of our celebrant, Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis, along with Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik (episcopal liaison between the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and CCUSA), Father Larry Synder (President of Catholic Charities USA), other priest concelebrants, and assisting deacons who are diocesan directors of Catholic Charities member agencies.  Our clergy were joined together with the gathered faithful attending the Annual Gathering along with representatives of local parishes to give Honor and Praise to God in thanksgiving for the organized work of charity and for blessings as we continue to serve in the vineyard.

It was the sixty plus workshops and several plenary sessions that focused on ways to transform our services to the vulnerable and the weak that we serve.  It was learning about ways to financially empower immigrant and low-income communities, developing and implementing statewide pastoral plans on poverty, creating and evaluating systematic methods to move people out of poverty, ensuring a just wage for employees, responding to homelessness, and workshops on ensuring that the “Catholic” truly remains an integral part of “Catholic Charities.”

Finally, it was about being part of something bigger than ourselves.  It was about being part of the universal Church’s response to the Call of Jesus to live lives of service and charity, which as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), is incumbent upon all Christians: “Love of neighbour, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful” (no. 20). 

The Call of Jesus is clear: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,  naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’  And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25: 35-41).

And so after several days with a shifted focus and renewed energies I came back to my electronic calendar which pops up meetings to be attended and tasks to be completed.  Still, I recall Pope Francis’ words that as I spend my days doing the “back office” tasks that are assigned to me, as long as I do it for the least of these, I and you do it for Him.

“You are the engine of the Church that organizes love -- Caritas -- for all believers to work together to respond through the corporal works of mercy. You set the pace for the Church to be in the world each day. You help others change the course of their own lives. You are the salt, leaven and light that provides a beacon of hope to those in need. You as Catholic Charities USA help to change the course of your local communities, your states, your country and the world by your witness to that encounter with the Lord Jesus, who gives us abundant life and joy. The joy of serving and, advocating for the good of all continues that call of the early Church to make sure that all needs are met.”

Tremendous amount of work by countless staff, board members, and volunteers.  But even more pay-off.  It was a privilege most of us will never forget to have hosted the 2014 Catholic Charities Annual Gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Gerard A. Carter, Ph.D. is the executive director and CEO of Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte 

 

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