October 1, 2010

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

100 years of help and hope

David SilerOn Sept. 25, 1910, at the request of the bishops of the United States, hundreds of people from various Catholic ministries dedicated to serving the least among us gathered at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. This historic event marked the formation of the National Conference of Catholic Charities, which would later change its name to Catholic Charities USA.

Fast forward 100 years to Sept. 25, 2010, and you will find Catholic Charities as one of our nation’s largest associations of social service providers.

In fact, in 2009, 1,700 Catholic Charities agencies, organizations and institutions provided help and created hope for more than 9 million people—regardless of their religious, social, ethnic, or economic background. The only requirement to be served by Catholic Charities is to be in need.

Many people mistakenly think that we only serve Catholics, which is completely inaccurate. As John Etling, our agency director at Catholic Charities in Terre Haute likes to say, “We serve everyone—even Catholics.”

If you are Catholic or in any way a contributor to the Church, you are part of this vast network of individuals committed to carry out the work of Jesus Christ in serving those in need—since all of the work carried out by Catholic Charities is done so in the name of the Church.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has had a presence from nearly the beginning of Catholic Charities’ formal history. St. Elizabeth/Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services, originally called St. Elizabeth’s Home, was founded locally in 1917—thanks to the Daughters of Isabella—and is now one of the nearly 35 programs that we operate in central and southern Indiana.

History is certainly important, so today we stand proudly on the shoulders of all those who came before us and have witnessed to us how to share the love of Christ with our vulnerable brothers and sisters.

At the same time, we stand firmly in the present and recognize that this anniversary affords us the opportunity to recommit ourselves to the holy work of sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, caring for the orphan and the widow, and welcoming the stranger.

Catholic Charities USA, our national organization, has taken this opportunity to look back in order to learn from the past, and to chart a path for the future that will mean fewer people living in poverty.

Our present social service “system” in the United States is in desperate need of an overhaul. Catholic Charities has much to teach our nation’s leaders about giving people a “hand up” while providing a “hand out” when necessary.

Catholic Charities USA has presented a framework for new national legislation that is designed to revamp the systems that were originally designed to pull people out of poverty but have, in practice, worked in reverse.

I invite you to join us in celebrating 100 years of service. I also ask for your prayers for a revised national agenda to reduce poverty and for our local work, which is carried out each day to shine Christ’s light on some of the darkest places.

To learn about Catholic Charities USA, log on to www.CatholicCharitiesUSA.org. To learn about Catholic Charities Indianapolis, log on to www.CatholicCharitiesIndy.org.

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at dsiler@archindy.org.)

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