Sarah Granger
Sarah Granger
" We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. " Pope Francis
It was raining in Rome on the evening of Friday, March 27. The camera caught the raindrops slicing the sky as it followed Pope Francis’ walk into an empty St. Peter’s Square. It was 10 a.m. here in Portland, and as my children played and argued in another room and my husband typed away on his computer next to me, my eyes welled with tears as I watched the pope stand before the world and articulate how we are all feeling.

“We find ourselves afraid and lost,” he said. “Like the disciples in the Gospel (Mk 4:35-41) we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat … are all of us.”

In need of inspiration and comfort a week later, we read these words aloud during a video conference call with nearly 100 Catholic Charities staff members gathered for the first time since our lives were drastically changed by the spread of COVID-19.

Many of us are now working from home with the daily challenges of watching children, attending to sick family members, and struggling with family turmoil because of job loss. But we are putting aside our own struggles so that some of us can continue to offer immigration legal consultations, counseling sessions and financial coaching by phone. And, of course, we continue to raise money.

Other staff leave their homes each day and work the front lines. Outreach workers meet up with those on the streets in need of hygiene kits and food. Drop-in center staff run our center for women experiencing homelessness who have no other place to shower or do laundry. Still other staff and volunteers coordinate a newly formed food distribution network. We are all called to row together.

During that Friday morning all-staff phone meeting, Pope Francis’ words offered us consolation and reminded us why we row, even when we are disoriented and full of fear. The call to offer hope lies at the heart of Catholic Charities’ mission. It is why we answer the phone.

We recently received a call from a man in his 70s who is living in his car just down the street from Catholic Charities’ headquarters on Southeast Powell Boulevard. He said he was afraid of getting sick, so he wouldn’t leave his car for a shelter or a free meal. And he’d run out of money, gas and food.

As a boy, his mom had told him that if he ever was in need, he should turn to the church for help.

When he called, a member of our counseling team named Samantha, who was working from home, took his calls. With each call he became more anxious and more hungry, so she figured out a way to coordinate with someone who was at our headquarters to provide him with a monetary gift card.

He arrived at our front door desperate and unsure. As the gift card was placed in his hand, he began to cry. “I wouldn’t let myself trust I would really be given this gift card,” he said. “Samantha promised me, but I couldn’t believe until it was actually in my hand.”

To offer someone hope when they no longer trust is a gift — a gift for the receiver as well as the giver. When fear clouds our days, we must answer the call and row together, and offer gifts of hope that break through like sunshine.

Granger is senior development officer at Catholic Charities of Oregon.