October 14, 2005

National president speaks at
Catholic Charities Summit

By Brandon A. Evans

Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, joined Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein in addressing the archdiocesan Catholic Charities summit in Indianapolis on Oct. 5.

It was believed to be the first time that Catholic Charities agency directors, council members, employees and volunteers from every part of the archdiocese were gathered for such an event.

“This historic gathering is exciting, and I feel, a unique opportunity to celebrate together the many acts of love that are carried out every day for the poor and the vulnerable,” Archbishop Buechlein said.

The summit started with a prayer service led by the archbishop at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral, which was followed by a presentation from Father Snyder and lunch across the street at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center.

The theme of the summit—“We Are Family”—was used as a way to focus on the bigger picture and to put individual ministries in an archdiocesan context.

The summit follows a recent decision to synchronize the names of the various Catholic Charities agencies in the archdiocese to show their unity and their connection with the broader network of agencies across the country that make up Catholic Charities USA.

Father Snyder, who recently spent more than a week in the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina, used his experience to expand that “family” picture past the state of Indiana.

Though his national office—composed of about 50 people—helps to provide disaster relief and coordinate emergency funds, it is the sweat and struggle of

individual agencies, like those in our archdiocese, that provide the real muscle during a disaster.

Some of those Catholic Charities members working in Louisiana and Mississippi, he said, were also put out of their homes by the disaster. They were both victims and relief workers.

Catholic Charities USA has provided about $9.4 million in hurricane relief so far.

Nationally, Father Snyder said, the various Catholic Charities agencies provide aid to more than 7 million people and have a combined budget of about $3 billion.

Internationally, Catholic Charities is part of “Caritas Internationalis,” and all of the charitable work of the Catholic Church is tied together in the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.”

Father Snyder said that the challenges faced by Catholic Charities here are the same as anywhere else, and at the top of the list is how to address such great needs with so little resources.

Part of finding resources means taking financial help from the government, which, he said, rightly understood is a means to bring about the common good but Catholic Charities must always make sure that its identity stays intact.

Another challenge, he said, is to care for those groups whom we are tempted to think are not our “neighbors”—like AIDS victims or undocumented aliens.

The role of national president is one that Father Snyder took on about eight months ago—previously he headed Catholic Charities in the Minneapolis and St. Paul Archdiocese.

Moving to the national level has given him the charge of helping local Catholic Charities agencies convene and train as well as coordinate disaster relief.

Catholic Charities USA, like all the agencies that compose it, exists to fight poverty, strengthen families and build communities.

The one thing that he said he misses is being involved more in the direct work of fulfilling those mission goals.

Especially as a priest, he considers his role now to be far more an exercise of leadership than administration; a role of inspiring a vision and keeping Catholic Charities firmly set in its Christian identity.

Father Snyder said that all that Catholic Charities does is rooted in a scriptural understanding of man as created in the image of God. He referred to several places in Scripture, and also to the famous passage in the Matthew 25 where Jesus tells those who served others that they were truly serving him.

It was a passage that was proclaimed during the prayer service that morning.

“Christ’s message is clear,” Archbishop Buechlein said, “service to the poor is not optional, it’s not incidental to Christianity; it’s mandatory and central to our mission.

“As disciples of Jesus, we are responsible for sharing the good news of salvation with the poor. As women and men who seek the face of the Lord to satisfy our own restless hearts, we’re instructed to look for him in the faces of those who are truly poor—materially, emotionally and spiritually.”

Following the theme of the day, the archbishop challenged those present to look beyond their ministries to the larger picture.

Every time anyone is served by Catholic Charities staff in Tell City, New Albany, Terre Haute, Bloomington or Indianapolis, “it’s the Church that is providing loving care,” the archbishop said. “As Catholic Charities, and as parish communities, we are never isolated, alone or independent. We are not islands unto ourselves, but rather we are sisters and brothers united in faith and hope and charity.”

It is this aspect of faith that makes Catholic Charities unique, he said.

“Wherever we are, we serve in the name of Jesus Christ, who became poor, and who suffered, died and rose again, so that all men and women might become spiritually rich and enjoy the fullness of life,” he said. “This distinguishes… Catholic Christian service from secular social service.”

A renewed sense of spirituality is something that David Siler, executive director of Catholic Charities, stressed when he addressed those gathered for the summit. He handed out copies of “A Plan for Spiritual Renewal” for the different agencies to review.

The true head of Catholic Charities, Siler said, is the Holy Spirit.

To again emphasize the spiritual, the archbishop and Father Snyder led a commissioning ceremony for those gathered who were headed back to their work.

Keith Stormes, director of Catholic Charities New Albany, said that re-establishing a sense of spirituality and giving it a “jump start” is something important.

Stormes brought three advisory council members and seven other staff members from his agency to the summit.

“I wanted them to see the larger family that they were a part of that we don’t always get exposed to,” he said.

The event was successful in reaching that end, he said, and he hopes to see it become an annual event.

“I think for me it was a real learning experience,” Stormes said.

Stephen Lanterman, director of Catholic Charities Tell City, brought two of his council members to the event, and said that it gave them not only a chance to bond, but also to see the whole archdiocesan Catholic Charities family.

Lanterman said that the archbishop and Father Snyder addressed “the challenge of linking … our agency with our archdiocese. That is particularly acute for us in southern Indiana.”

The relationship between the Tell City area and the archdiocese has been historically strained, he said, but that the archdiocese’s continued devotion to Catholic Charities Tell City—particularly its ministry to addicts of meth amphetamine—is a “crucial turning of the corner.”

Another challenge that Lanterman said his agency faces is the perception locally that they only serve Catholics—he added that it is a perception that, through continued ministry to many non-Catholics, is changing.

Archbishop Buechlein concluded his remarks at the prayer service by encouraging everyone in their work.

“I pray,” he said, “sisters and brothers in Christ, that each of us—no matter how large or small we may think our role is in Catholic Charities, I pray that each of us—may see that what each of us are building is nothing less than the Kingdom of God on earth.”

(For more information about Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, log on to www.CatholicCharitiesIndy.org). †


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