My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This year, we celebrate the 54th World Day of Peace. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen the theme “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace.” This can certainly bring about a peaceful situation among individuals and nations. Peace is not just the absence of war, as Pope Paul VI, who instituted World Day of Peace, tells us. It is much more. It is the collaboration and care of our people that makes all the difference.
As we begin 2021, we still endure the coronavirus, and for the near future, most probably, the pandemic will be with us. This time, however, gives us a tremendous opportunity to exercise care for one another because this is not a time for indifference. In setting up the theme for this year, Pope Francis reminds us that God, as Creator, is a source of the vocation for care, citing many Old Testament examples for us.
At the same time, he teaches us that God is the Creator and an example of care because the human race lost its original justice because of original sin. God gave back to the human race the inspiration to understand the dignity of the human person; respect for one another, a respect that always leads towards justice in the world.
The caring ministry of Jesus gives us perhaps the best example as Jesus fulfills the Messianic proclamation of Isaiah of care for all, especially the poor, and to bring Good News where it is lacking. How important it is during the time of the pandemic that we need to hear good news. The good news is that we do care for one another, that we, as followers of Jesus, take seriously corporal works of mercy. That we must care for one another no matter who the other is. We must move out of ourselves to make sure that others find the means of survival during this critical time.
The Holy Father has outlined a program of caring, a “Culture of Care,” which is based on the social doctrine of the Church. Basically, Pope Francis calls this the grammar of caring or the rules that allow us to care for one another as we promote human dignity; seek the common good, develop solidarity among people and nations, care for and protect creation itself because this will become the compass pointing to the common path for peace and a more humane future for the world.
If we look at our own situation today in Brooklyn and Queens, we recognize that we have done much to assist others during this time of the pandemic. I highlight the work of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens and all of the donors who have been so generous to help make the abundance of charity work possible.
Catholic Charities was blessed with the assistance of so many volunteers; I wish to especially thank the many members of the Knights of Columbus who joined and assisted Catholic Charities at the height of the pandemic last spring. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Catholic Charities has seen a dramatic increase in food requests. The agency has distributed over three million meals and most parish-based food pantries have seen a 1000% increase in clients.
Many times, during these past months on our nightly news, Currents has highlighted the “pop up” emergency food distribution tents that Catholic Charities has set up around the diocese in our poorest areas for food distribution. The type of food distributed by Catholic Charities is truly amazing, as they have contracted with Upstate farmers who bring fresh produce that is combined with the non-perishable food that each recipient receives. Catholic Charities partners with 49 parish-based food pantries throughout the diocese, ensuring that those who come to us, no matter who they are, never go away hungry.
In addition to the massive emergency food distribution that Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens undertook at the start of this pandemic, we can also be proud that the agency never closed; the essential work of Catholic Charities continued at the mental health clinics, where the dedicated staff assisted those struggling with the mental effects of the pandemic.
The Catholic Charities Call Center continued to be a critical resource for individuals and families in need. If you know of someone in need of assistance, please have them call the Catholic Charities Call Center at (718) 722-6001 Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. I wish to thank all the dedicated staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, who, from the beginning of this pandemic, truly lived out the Gospel message of caring for those most in need.
I would also like to highlight our Futures in Education Foundation scholarship organization that raised an additional $900,000 in donations that were awarded to over 1,000 families in need through the Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund. These are families who would no longer have been able to keep their children in our Catholic schools.
The special grants allowed these families to weather the storm during the pandemic until they, hopefully, are able to regain their employment and be able to participate in the tuition payment system. We continue to be inspired by our faithful donors, whose sacrifice led to a record $8.4 million in total scholarships last academic year, despite some donors having their own struggles throughout this pandemic.
These are just two examples on the diocesan level of what has been accomplished during these past ten plus months. I know that our parishes, too, have helped people with their food pantries and other means of assisting those in special need at this time.
We all remember the old saying, “Charity begins at home.” Well, this is home for us, Brooklyn and Queens. These are God’s acres, the 114,000+ acres that have been given to us in Brooklyn and Queens, and we represent the care and love of God as followers of Jesus Christ. This year we certainly will have to put out into the deep of establishing a Culture of Care. Each of us needs to assist in this work, our families, our schools, our parishes, our organizations.
We all need to work together to make sure that we develop a culture within our grasp, which always points to peace, the peace of God and peace among ourselves. This can only be achieved, as Pope Francis reminds us, through a Culture of Care. No matter what storms will pass during this coming year, our caring for one another will enable us to weather whatever comes our way.