by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I recently received a handwritten letter addressed to me and “The Wonderful People of Catholic Charities” with a major gift to our annual Archbishop’s Call to Share campaign. The letter said the following:
“25 years ago, you gave me clothes so I could interview for a job.
“17 years ago, you gave me counseling as I was making my way back from failed suicide attempts.
“12.5 years ago, I sobered up.
“Today, my family and I thank you for seeing in me what I could not see in myself — that all life is precious, has a potential intrinsic from God and should be treated with dignity.
“Never underestimate the power of the work you do, nor the impact you have in people’s lives. God has and continues to work through you. Keep up the great work!!!”
Letters like this are a great encouragement to me. They are reminders to me of the beautiful expressions of mercy and love happening every day because of the goodness of our Catholic community. The church is composed of human beings. We do not claim to be perfect. We are a community of recovering sinners who are striving to follow the example of Jesus who came to serve and not be served.
This past Saturday, I attended a Christmas party hosted by the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ. The party was at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kansas. If you are not familiar with this religious community, they were founded a few decades ago in Brazil. Their charism is to serve the homeless and the poor. They also do street ministry and evangelization. Their first foundation in the United States is here in Kansas City, Kansas.
Each week, the friars, Sisters and some of their lay associates visit the homeless where they live in small communities under highway overpasses or in abandoned fields in Kansas and Missouri. The friars and Sisters consider these men and women, who have fallen upon hard times for a variety of reasons, their friends and, actually, part of their family.
The Sisters and friars arranged for buses and vans to pick up the homeless and bring them to Blessed Sacrament for the Christmas celebration. With the help of their benefactors and volunteers, each person attending received some practical gifts and a delicious meal. A children’s choir sang Christmas carols during the meal. Some of the lay members provided the opportunity for the attendees to receive a haircut and/or manicure. For those who wanted, the Sisters and friars arranged also the chance for a warm shower.
There was good attendance at the Christmas celebration because the homeless consider the friars and Sisters their friends and family. The Sisters, friars and their lay associates make an effort to reach out to the homeless on their turf. The friars and Sisters do not just throw an annual Christmas party for the poor, but they visit them consistently throughout the year. They treat those who are on the margins of society with great respect, dignity and love.
A couple of weeks ago, I accompanied the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Lamb to visit the young people in the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka. One of our very dedicated priests, Father Joe Chontos, serves as a chaplain for the juvenile jail. Father Chontos is a Good Shepherd for this community of troubled young people. He knows each by name. Father Chontos attempts to bring the love of Jesus to these young men and women who have made some serious mistakes early in their lives.
Usually, the Little Sisters and Brothers of the Lamb perform a short play or drama for the residents of the prison. This year, however, because the facility is short of staff, it was not possible to gather the young people in a large group. Instead, we visited each of the pods (cellblocks). The Sisters and Brothers sang hymns and shared brief passages from the Bible, reminding these young people of their dignity and of God’s love for them.
Every night, the Sisters, Servants of Mary go into the homes of the dying and seriously ill to give their families an opportunity to rest. They bring into these homes, where there is much suffering, the hope of the Gospel and the compassionate love of Jesus. Consecrated religious are witnesses to the love of Jesus and heralds of his Gospel of life.
I share these experiences with you to give you a glimpse of the beauty of some of the church’s ministries. There is so much good that is happening every day. Each of you participate in these miracles of grace by your support of Catholic Charities, the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ, the Community of the Lamb, the Sisters, Servants of Mary or one of the other amazing religious communities serving in the archdiocese.
Each year, everyone attending Christmas Masses in our archdiocese is offered the opportunity to support the beautiful work of Catholic Charities. I am grateful for this wonderful tradition in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. On the day that we recall how God humbled himself to enter into our human condition by being born in an animal shelter in Bethlehem, it is more than appropriate that we make a sacrificial gift to the church’s effort to make the love of Jesus real for the poor and the marginalized. The Christmas story reminds us that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were homeless, poor and refugees.
Nothing could please Jesus more than commemorating his birthday by helping Catholic Charities bring the love of God and the joy of his Gospel to those who are struggling and hurting. When you make a Christmas donation to help Catholic Charities, consider it your birthday present to Jesus.
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