In The Worst of Times, The Church is There

Wherever news is made that signals the need to alleviate human suffering — Afghanistan, Haiti, the latest efforts to rein in COVID-19, the rapid responses to aid victims of Hurricane Ida, and more — there is an accompanying story: The Catholic Church is there with a compassionate, effective infrastructure of service.

Too much “breaking news” in secular media warns us things are “breaking down.” Appropriate warnings of danger are a good thing, but such information is ultimately incomplete if we fail to see the Church’s stature as a bulwark. It’s the world’s largest humanitarian institution, conducting the widest array of efforts to make suffering less fearsome.

Take a look at current developments in the news. While headlines may focus on the termination of U.S. involvement in the 20-year war in Afghanistan, groups like Aid to the Church in Need are taking the long view. This Catholic charity, which serves persecuted communities of faith around the world, says it will not cease to pursue opportunities for evacuation of Catholics and Christians now at grave risk.

In Haiti, reeling from a devastating earthquake on Aug. 14 that exacerbated catastrophic hunger, health, and security woes, a longstanding and substantial cadre of Catholic organizations and clergy is already in place. Catholic Relief Services staff members began taking action immediately, and new aid shipments from CRS and other groups are on the way from offshore sources.

The Brooklyn Diocese itself has taken up special collections for Haiti assistance at its churches, and donations to the diocese’s Compostela Fund are invited, backed up by Catholic Church precautions to ensure the safe delivery of funds. Important inspirations for this wave of compassion from the diocese include its large Haitian American population and the recently deceased Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, who for decades operated the National Center of the Haitian Apostolate.

Ongoing struggles to rein in the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic reveal the many dimensions where the Catholic infrastructure of compassion operates. It contributes on a national scale through Catholic schools, hospitals, and senior citizen residences, to name a few.

As Hurricane Ida swept into Louisiana on Aug. 29, we quickly heard a story about one church, without power, serving as a storm shelter for displaced residents. One can expect additional reports of tensions eased by faith-filled organizations like Catholic Charities and by people of all religions desiring the common good. These include New York police officers, firefighters, and other first responders heading down to the storm-ravaged region to offer assistance.

We need to be looking more carefully for signs of good news that accompany simplified headlines leading to hopelessness. Stories that seek out deeper truths are not Pollyanna-ish. In light of the Church’s remarkable presence, they are based on experiences of encounters with suffering and sacrifice.

Without this, the news we report and consume will be less complete. With this, the news is more meaningful for all concerned.