August 19, 2016

Parishes study pastoral letter to help evangelize through charitable outreach

“Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana” and a reflection guide on the pastoral letter have helped Catholics across central and southern Indiana understand the spiritual roots of the Church’s ministry of charity, and consider new ways that they can reach out to people in need, which is itself a form of evangelization. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

“Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana” and a reflection guide on the pastoral letter have helped Catholics across central and southern Indiana understand the spiritual roots of the Church’s ministry of charity, and consider new ways that they can reach out to people in need, which is itself a form of evangelization. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Sean Gallagher

During the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has spoken often and shown through his actions how the Church is called to proclaim the Gospel by showing compassion to people in need.

Catholics across central and southern Indiana have sought to follow the pope’s example by prayerfully reflecting on “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana,” a pastoral letter issued by the five bishops of Indiana in March 2015, and considering how they could enhance their charitable outreach to the broader community.

Parishes have delved into the pastoral letter by using a reflection guide developed by catechetical and Catholic Charities leaders in the archdiocese.

Theresa Chamblee, archdiocesan director of Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, said the reflection guide can help Catholics across central and southern Indiana come to a greater understanding of the spiritual basis for the practical charitable help that the Church gives to people in need.

“It’s one thing to be able to give a can of soup because someone’s in need of food,” Chamblee said. “It’s a completely different thing to give the can of soup, but understand and embrace the richness of our Catholic teaching on love and mercy that goes behind giving that can of soup.”

She said that when Catholics are more conscious of the faith behind their actions, it has an effect on the people who receive their Christ-like care.

Members of the stewardship commission at St. John the Baptist Parish in Starlight used the pastoral letter and reflection guide this year to learn about poverty in Indiana, and to consider how they could bring the Gospel to those in need through their assistance, actions and attitudes.

Lisa Heck, the chairperson of St. John’s stewardship commission, said the pastoral letter was enlightening for her and other members of the commission.

“I think we were all aware that poverty was there but we weren’t confronted by it—so out of sight out of mind for some of us,” Heck said. “This study is an eye-opener for us all. We have questioned our reactions to others that are in need, and how we can and should respond.”

She noted that St. John already has an outreach program in place, but hopes because of her reflecting on the pastoral letter to increase the number of parishioners participating in the ministry.

“I would hope that we could educate our parishioners to become more involved and do more as a parish as a whole to help,” Heck said. “Working with our [nearby] parishes would only enhance the program, and we hope to be able to do more of that in the future.”

For Father Wilfred “Sonny” Day, pastor of St. John, studying the pastoral letter with members of his faith community’s stewardship commission was a way to take on the attitude of the Holy Father.

“I’ve been motivated by the attitude and the approach of Pope Francis to so many things,” Father Day said. “He’s full of mercy and compassion. And then when the bishops [of Indiana] issued this, I thought that it was right in line with what the Holy Father is trying to tell the Church what to be.”

The pastoral letter helped him understand how many people in the state suffering from poverty are part of the “working poor.” In the past, he thought, along with many others, that people in poverty “just want a handout” and “are lazy.”

“This just proves that that’s a false judgment on so many, many people,” Father Day said.

Monica Robinson, coordinator of youth ministry at SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, joined with other parish staff members in reflecting on the pastoral letter during Lent earlier this year.

“It brought about rich conversations,” she said. “It got us thinking about reaching out and engaging those who are less fortunate. What can we do on a regular basis for others?”

SS. Francis and Clare already operates a food pantry, gives assistance to people who need help with utility bills and rent, and has sponsored programs in recent years to educate parishioners about human trafficking and youth homelessness.

Studying the pastoral letter helped Robinson understand more clearly how the Catholic approach to charitable activity involves showing a loving presence to those in need in addition to giving them material assistance.

“Be a witness and evangelize through your words and actions,” Chamblee advised. “They’ll know that there is a Catholic base to this, and it’s us living love and mercy to the fullest extent.”
 

(Links to “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana” and the reflection guide for the pastoral letter can be found at www.archindy.org/holyyearofmercy.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!