Ed Langlois/Catholic SentinelA crowd gathers at the Portland airport March 28 to welcome Guatemalan teens being reunited with their mother. Catholic Charities helped pave the way for reunification. A new Oregon Catholic initiative will help people serve, learn and engage in the church’s social mission.
Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel
A crowd gathers at the Portland airport March 28 to welcome Guatemalan teens being reunited with their mother. Catholic Charities helped pave the way for reunification. A new Oregon Catholic initiative will help people serve, learn and engage in the church’s social mission.
A statement from the Archdiocese of Portland and church charity leaders

“Can you help me? I don’t know what to do or where to go.” The mother held an infant child tightly in her arms. Another child stood by her side, firmly holding the mother’s hand. The children looked on with concern in their eyes. The mother spoke with a trembling voice, fear etched in her face. This encounter, and many others like it, are becoming more common at Catholic Charities and its various offices. People come for help, not knowing which way to turn. They are desperate.

Needs are growing daily for some of the most poor  and vulnerable members of our communities. For example, impending state budget reductions are likely to result in cutbacks in services. There are growing obstacles to refugees fleeing from situations of extreme risk and to their being reunited with family in the United States.  Some families are facing the increasing possibility of being divided — parent from parent and parents from children. It is also likely that changes to health care coverage and access to public benefits will disproportionately impact poor and vulnerable families and individuals across the spectrum. Others are facing a constant struggle just to stay afloat, let alone get a step ahead.

The growing needs along with increasing uncertainty have led to significant levels of concern in many communities, families and individuals.

However, these pressing needs also have brought about a wonderful and generous response. While many people are calling and asking for assistance, many others are calling to ask how they can be of service. Offers of support also are coming from many parishes and groups across the Archdiocese of Portland. It is a great example of faith in action that is rooted in our Catholic social teaching.  

To meet these needs swiftly and to respond as effectively as possible, Catholic Charities of Oregon, the Archdiocese of Portland, and El Programa Hispano Católico have been working to establish a new center — the Pope Francis Center for Justice and Charity — to meet individual, family and community needs, engage volunteers, and provide community education. The center will include a website and will have a staffed call-in number.

The center will serve as a clearinghouse to match volunteers, parishes, donors, and others to ongoing opportunities for service, charity, advocacy and prayer for those most in need. In this way, the center will support the archdiocesan pastoral priority on works of mercy that was launched at the 2016 Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly. To do this, the center will help people: 1) Find ways to serve those in need through corporal and spiritual works of mercy; 2) come to a deeper understanding of the church’s social teachings and their application; and 3) engage in action and advocacy to bring about positive social change on issues such as life, the environment, immigration, homelessness and the criminal justice system.

The center remains an exciting and urgent work in progress as plans are made for further collaboration with parishes as well as Catholic and other faith-based organizations throughout Oregon. The focus of the center is intended to be broad and to address a variety of needs. These include immigrants and refugees; those experiencing homelessness, disability and mental illness; those in poverty, returning from prison, elderly, and struggling to make ends meet; and those struggling with all life issues.

While the church is not partisan, our faith requires that we monitor and address the impact of our decisions and policies on the most vulnerable. This is part of Catholic social teaching, which has a long tradition that helps guide our faith in action. As followers of Christ, we are challenged to act in ways to accompany and support those in greatest need. This is part of our baptismal call, being true to compassion, mercy and justice. Archbishop Sample encourages support of the center in his latest Sentinel column, “One in Charity.”

In a talk to charity workers last year, Pope Francis said, “Charitable initiatives are the ripe fruit of a Church that serves, offers hope and shows forth God’s mercy. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, your mission is a great one! Continue to live out charity in the Church and to manifest this charity in all areas of society with the zealous love that comes from God.”  

Pope Benedict also saw this clearly. In his 2005 encyclical,  Deus Caritas Est, he declared, “Within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is needed for a dignified life.”  

In his 1987 encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope St John Paul set the tone. “A consistent theme of Catholic social teaching is the option or love of preference for the poor,” he wrote. “Today, this preference has to be expressed in worldwide dimensions, embracing the immense numbers of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care, and those without hope.”

In 2013, Archbishop Sample summed it up: “The new evangelization will be largely emptied of its power and effectiveness if we do not witness to the love of Jesus Christ in our care for those in need….I would like to invite all of you to help care for those in need in a very concrete and practical way by supporting the good works of Catholic Charities.”  

To find out more about how you or your parish can get involved, either as volunteers or financially, call 844-814-4950 or visit catholicjusticecenter.org.