By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – Pope Francis “raised the bar” on the importance of being available to people, the president of Catholic Charities USA told local Catholic Charities representatives Monday.
Dominican Sister Donna Markham was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the corporation of Catholic Charities Worcester County. She talked about meeting the Holy Father and watching him interact with the homeless on his recent U.S. visit.
The pope’s visit was a “clarion call for us to clarify the vision,” Bishop McManus said in his remarks.
“The mission of the Church is to continue the ministry of Jesus,” he said. He said he is very proud of what Catholic Charities does, and believes that those who work there see it not as a job but as a ministry.
Catholic Charities is celebrating it’s 65th anniversary. It was one of the first pastoral ministries Bishop Wright established after the Worcester Diocese was formed.
“Sister, you make this celebration very special by your presence,” the bishop said.
Sister Donna, who had a meeting with directors of Catholic Charities from New England (arch)dioceses the next day, told listeners she felt so blessed to be with them.
“Thank you a thousand times for all that you do,” she said. “Thank you for being the hands of Jesus in this part of New England.”
She told about being invited to meet Pope Francis with about 20 other people.
“He didn’t need to be with people like us,” she said. “He needed to be with the clients.” But the opportunity brought her close to tears.
“I felt like I was standing face to face with utter compassion,” she said. “I was given the … gift of renewed energy and hope and joy in the work.” Some days one wonders how to handle one more story of suffering, she said. She told listeners she asked for the Holy Father’s blessing, which he gladly gave her, and that she received it for all of them.
This is such an important time for Catholic Charities workers, a new moment, she said. The voice and witness of the Holy Father – “it calls us to a different level of responsibility.”
She talked with homeless people waiting to eat lunch with the Holy Father at St. Maria’s Meal program of Catholic Charities of the Washington Archdiocese. Many didn’t even know what a pope was, she said. When she asked one man if he was excited, he said he didn’t much care; he and his child were hungry.
When Pope Francis arrived, he went straight to the child, who was crying, and blessed the child and father.
“We watched him walk (into the crowd of people) unexpectedly – they couldn’t contain him,” Sister Donna said. He bypassed the microphone, everyone got up and swarmed him and she thought a Secret Service agent would have a heart attack.
His smile was broad and his eyes intent and people were so moved by him, she said. Afterwards the man with the child said he saw what she meant about the pope being a holy man and he understood why everybody loves him.
“I hope that with each encounter you and I have” with the homeless and others in need, those people will experience the compassion and tenderness of Jesus that Pope Francis shares, Sister Donna told listeners.
Sister Donna, who was president of the Behavioral Health Institute for Mercy Health when chosen as the first female president of Catholic Charities USA last January, talked about her work with the severely mentally ill, whom she said are often today’s lepers.
“They have changed me and have spoken to my heart in ways that I could never imagine,” she said.
She encouraged listeners to be out among the people, spending time with them, “knowing we are called to conversion, just as we extend ourselves in the healing mission of Jesus.”
She told the agency’s members of the board, corporation and staff that their work is sacred. In the United States Catholic Charities has about 70,000 employees and 250,000 volunteers and serves about nine million people annually, she said.
“The government takes us seriously,” she said; she has serious conversations with the president, vice president, senators and congresspersons.
Bishop McManus talked about Pope Francis’ message to Congress. He noted that the pope invoked the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and said he hoped members of Congress really reflected on that.
Individuals will be judged, for their eternal salvation, on how they treated those in need, the bishop said. He referred to a Pope Francis quote in a booklet about Catholic Charities’ programs and services, distributed Monday: “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.”
Preaching at the All Souls Day Mass that preceded the meeting, Jesuit Father William Reiser, a member of the Catholic Charities board, spoke of remembering those who “made us who we are.” The Son of God remains connected with human beings; he will never lose the marks of the crucifixion, he said.
Bishop McManus celebrated the Mass for the repose of the soul of Msgr. Edmond T. Tinsley, a former director of Catholic Charities, who died Sept. 19.
The bishop and Catherine Loeffler, Catholic Charities executive director, presented the Bishop Daniel Patrick Reilly Award in memory of John Going, who worked for, then volunteered with, Catholic Charities in North County for years before his death last January. Receiving the award to present to Mr. Going’s elderly mother, who was not there, was Brian Calnan, administrator of Catholic Charities North County Area.
Pope Francis provided inspiration to help those in need, Joseph J. Bafaro Jr. said in his president’s message. He concluded his term as president of the board of directors Monday, but is still on the executive committee.
Incoming president J. Michael Grenon spoke about his introduction to Catholic Charities – helping his father with bishops’ dinners at Thanksgiving and Christmas – which he continues with his children.
Also in new positions on the board are Anthony Rozevicius, vice president; Michael J. Bovenzi, treasurer. Kevin M. Kieler remains the clerk. New members of the board are Henry Camosse and Devon A. Kinnard.