The early Christian community faced the same challenge we do today: How to live in accord with the commandment Jesus gives us: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” And again: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." The early Christian community took that message very much to heart. They modeled a new way of living, charting a new course in a world that so often seemed uncaring.
During this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis calls us to renew our commitment to building a community based on love and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  

These include feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, visiting the imprisoned, comforting the afflicted, forgiving offenses, and praying for the living and the dead.  This shared work of charity is the passing on of Jesus’ love for us, and it not only brings God’s mercy to those in great need, but brings us together in a special way, united in the Holy Eucharist with Christ at our center.  

I recently called together the volunteer board leaders and executive staff who oversee the network of charitable organizations we call “Catholic Charities” for a full day retreat in Mount Angel. Catholic Charities was formed some years ago as an umbrella for the growing number of agencies created in collaboration with the Archbishop of Portland beginning in 1933.  Today Catholic Charities includes seven agencies:  Catholic Community Services (CCS) of Portland (formed in 1933 and merged with Catholic Charities in 1994), CCS Salem (1938), the CCS Foundation, Catholic Youth Organization (1945), CCS of Lane County (1954), Caritas Housing (1991) and, our most recently formed member agency, El Programa Hispano Catolico (2015).  

As a network, these organizations have been an indispensible backbone of charitable service in the archdiocese for more than 80 years. It is truly hard to imagine our community without their service to tens of thousands of individuals and families each year! Generation after generation of the faithful have responded with heartfelt and passionate concern to the pressing human needs that rise up in every era. This spirit of charity and service remains alive today across the archdiocese in the wonderful and powerful charitable work led by parishes, schools and religious organizations. This service is done by children, youth and adults; by clergy, religious and lay people alike.  

My time with the leaders of Catholic Charities touched me deeply. Together we dreamt about the future and shared a vision of greater unity in and through our charitable work.  Here are the key themes that emerged:  

• Making God’s love visible  

• Forming deep interconnectedness and relationship

• Continually learning and changing to meet needs as they emerge

• Building unity, shared community and collective impact

• Serving the whole person and those at the margins of society

• Working closely with parishes and the Archbishop

• Providing loving service from a heart connected to Christ

• Celebrating the diversity of gifts in our community.

At the close of our meeting I commissioned a task force comprised of chairs of the board of each agency.  The charge given to this task force is to provide me with recommendations concerning how to organize the energy and passion of the faithful to expand and accelerate the work of charity in the archdiocese in line with the above themes and the Holy Father’s call to mercy.  I have asked Chris Corrado and Mark Ganz to co-chair this work and Rick Birkel, executive director of Catholic Charities, to assist.  

I have a special place in my heart for Catholic Charities and its member organizations and for the community that flows from them. I believe the work of charity in the archdiocese can bring us together in a special way, with Christ at our center, reaching out in a unified way as a Church to those most in need all around us.  I am excited about the work of this task force and anxious to hear and move ahead with their recommendations.

I leave you with this quote from our Holy Father, Pope Francis:

“As we can see in Sacred Scripture, mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors that are shown in daily living. The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our well-being and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel. As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.”