By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — The theme of the 74th annual Catholic Charities Appeal may be a bit wordier than past themes, admits Jim Campbell, but “Feed the Hungry, Shelter the Homeless, Comfort the Sorrowful, In His Name … It’s what we do,” encompasses what the Appeal and its donors are about: “We’re putting the imperative out there, that this is what we do as Catholics and as part of our Catholic social teaching,” said the director of Development for the Fall River Diocese.
Last year the Appeal raised $4.3 million, a slight dip from the all time record set in 2013 of $4.4 million: “Last year was strong but it wasn’t a record setter,” said Campbell. “For a diocese of our size, it demonstrates tremendous generosity on a part of most of our parishes. There was an increase — 30 of our 84 parishes showed an increase and 45 met what they had done the year before.”
The diocese has roughly 310,000 Catholics and last year, 31,000 gave gifts: “You can’t make a direct correlation of 31,000 gifts and 310,000 [Catholics] because a lot of them are children, so it’s not 10 percent,” said Campbell, “but 31,000 gifts from a population of that size is very strong, relative to a larger diocese like Boston, so from a percentage standpoint I think we’re doing well.”
“Even though we have a good donor base of 31,000,” added Bishop Edgar da Cunha, S.D.V., who is experiencing his first Appeal drive in the diocese, “I think one of our goals this year would be to increase that participation — try as hard as we can to make people aware of the need but also of the joy of helping other people. If we can have people find the joy in giving, then we will increase our donor base.”
This concern for the well-being of others was formalized when the Diocese of Fall River initiated its first Annual Catholic Charities Appeal in 1942, states the Catholic Charities’ website. Now, seven decades later, the tens of thousands of yearly supporters can look with pride on the number of individuals and families in need that have been ministered to throughout this period; literally hundreds of thousands of men, women and children throughout all of southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, due to their generosity.
The funds received during the Annual Catholic Charities Appeal support the many charitable ministries and programs sponsored by the Fall River Diocese. Throughout the year these programs touch the lives of tens of thousands of persons, some young, others old; some sick in body, others in Spirit; some broken, others confused with nowhere to turn. Without regard to race, creed, nationality, gender, or economic status, the many ministries supported by this annual fund-raising effort reach out to those in need, motivated by God’s call to love one another.
“Going around and seeing the work of the Catholic Social Services, like the shelters and those things, are very critical to our mission of serving and helping the poor,” said Bishop da Cunha. “The hospital chaplaincy program brings God’s comforting presence and the Sacraments — that’s so important. Those are the highlights that I see and are very critical; how could we ever do without those services?”
During a tour of shelters in the diocese, the bishop, while talking to people benefitting from the programs, felt a common thread: “One of the things that I would hear from there is, ‘Where would I be if I didn’t have this place?’” he said. “Some of them were homeless, some had come out of jail, and they were going to school, to work, and now they see there’s a future for them. They kept saying, ‘I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing if I didn’t have this.’ [The programs] made a huge difference in their lives. It’s wonderful to hear we’re making a difference in the lives of people who are struggling because of poverty, addiction or abuse.”
And while the Appeal certainly helps offset the costs of programs for the destitute, homeless and needy, many other programs in the diocese benefit from the money raised, like the Catholic Youth Organization and the campus ministries at area colleges. Father David Frederici, chaplain at UMass Dartmouth, spoke at the Appeal’s kick-off dinners and talked about the good work being done on various college campuses which keep the Catholic life available and rich for college students.
“College is an exciting time in the lives of our young people,” said Father Frederici. “In the excitement, they often don’t realize the time needed to transition from living at home to living on their own, whether in a dorm or an apartment. In addition, they are challenged intellectually and Spiritually. Campus Ministry seeks to support them in their transition into college life as well as the transition from college into the world. We provide them opportunities to grow in their faith throughout college. In addition to pastoral care and the Sacraments, we also offer retreats, catechetical opportunities, faith sharing, and opportunities for gathering with other college students socially. This fall we will be offering mini-theology courses online. One student told me that what she most appreciates from campus ministry is that the friendships she has made here are founded on faith. It provides a safe environment for students to grow and share faith.
“We also provide them with the opportunities for Spiritual direction and being a resource in their times of need. Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Vocations says we ‘are a Church which evangelizes, goes out to encounter humanity, proclaims the liberating Word of the Gospel, heals people’s Spiritual and physical wounds with the grace of God, and offers relief to the poor and suffering.’ This is a great description of what campus ministry is about, as well as what parish ministry is about.”
It is so important that the Appeal be recognized as a benefit to all walks of life in the diocese, said Bishop da Cunha, including the next generation of the Church. “It is so critical for the future of our Church that we don’t neglect the young people,” said the bishop. “All of us, we’ll be gone one day and who’s going to replace us? The programs that enrich the faith of the young people like campus ministries and CYO is vital for the future of the Church.”
The bishop had final approval over the 15 videos created for this year’s Appeal. Each of the five deaneries had its own video highlighting the special ministries and programs within its borders, and each deanery video was in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
One thing that is unique to the annual Appeal, said Campbell, is that no annual quota or a certain goal amount is set — only a hope that each year does better than the last. This year though, Campbell is trying to change the landscape and is challenging pastors to consider putting forth a goal to their parishioners, but not necessarily in dollars but in donors to try and encourage more people to get in the habit of contributing annually to the Catholic Charities.
“It is clear, year in and year out, how central and important the pastor is to the success of an individual parish,” said Campbell. “Coincidentally, what is most important for the overall drive are the parishes. We do community and corporate outreach as well, but the success or failure of a particular campaign really is dependent upon the passion, articulation and reinforcement that each pastor makes within their community.”
For more information on the Appeal or to watch a video, please go to www.frdioc-CatholicCharities.org.