BY ANDY BARTON
This past week, on a Good Friday, that none of us will ever forget, I stood with Father Ron Raab in the parking lot at Sacred Heart Church in the Westside neighborhood of Colorado Springs, watching our homeless get a hot meal from a Salvation Army food truck. The Sacred Heart parking lot is one of two locations that has allowed for the mobile meal service: many others, including city parks, have prohibited the temporary onsite service.
As Father Ron and I talked, a guest approached with his meal in hand and asked Father Ron if he remembered him. “Yes”, he replied. The man continued, “Remember I told you that everywhere I go, Catholic Charities always takes the best care of people.” He thanked Father Ron and walked away to eat his lunch on the steps outside the parish offices.
The man was not commending me, an employee of Catholic Charities, for the work of the agency; instead, he was thanking the pastor of the Catholic Church from whose parking lot he was being fed. The gentleman used the “charities” of our agency name; however, it was clear that he meant the singular “charity.” Catholic charity – the broader work of the church that takes place through its parishes, schools, and agencies. He was right to be identifying the whole Church in his gratitude.
Pope Francis, in his encyclical letter “Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) wrote: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Those words, written in 2013, feel prophetic in our present, stay-at-home, world. Our Church, like our lives, feels bruised and hurting. So much of the tradition and ritual has been taken from us by this pandemic. It has interrupted the personal relationships that form the backbone of our parish communities.
Indeed, as Pope Francis wished for seven years ago, the Catholic Church is out on the streets. We are serving hundreds of sack lunches every day at the Marian House. We are providing diapers, wipes, and formula to families in crisis. We are coordinating the delivery of food boxes and other emergency items to our poor in Douglas County. We are providing family and pregnancy counseling, case management, care navigation, immigration support, and even English as a Second Language classes by phone or video conferencing.
We are providing meals for the homeless isolation shelter in Colorado Springs and we are working to make clean drinking water available to the unsheltered homeless in our community. We are keeping the doors open at our food pantries.
This “we” is not just the staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities: it is the Church. If you are a parishioner, you are playing a part. Because those of us whose job it is to work on the front lines with our poor and vulnerable cannot do the work without the support of our parishes. We do it together. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his final encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth): “Man’s earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family.” Charity and the city of God are inextricably linked and without our parishes and pastors – and the support of them through both offertory and prayer – the critical work of Catholic Charities would wither.
We are engulfed in uneasy, but not unprecedented, times. The coronavirus has shaken the foundations of our institutions, tested the limits of science and, perhaps most importantly, reminded us of the inconvenient truth that mankind is subject to, and not master of, the world in which we live. These days call on us all to stand firm in our faith and support for the mission of the Church. Now is not the time to wither: now is a time to grow and produce fruit amidst the thorns of fear and sickness.
Andy Barton is the President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. This article first appeared in the Colorado Catholic Herald.