The Church Will be There

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time,

especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes,

the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that

is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts. (GS #1)

These eloquent words of the Second Vatican Council remind us that the followers of Christ cannot be isolated from the world in which they live. And while the words are relevant for every age, somehow they seem especially important for our own time. The Church has to be attuned to the problems and suffering so many people are experiencing at the present moment.

Without a doubt we’re living in a time of unprecedented economic crisis, profound social change, and intense political debate. It’s important to remember, however, that behind all the rhetoric, numbers and words, the survival of real people is hanging in the balance. We can never lose sight of the human face of the current crisis.

On a national level, we’ve just witnessed the inauguration of a new president, from many perspectives, a truly historic moment. Regardless of our political inclinations, we should pray for our President – that he and his family will be safe, and that he will govern with wisdom, courage and compassion, and certainly, with respect for human life. In light of the enormous challenges he’s facing on both the international and domestic fronts, President Obama will need a generous portion of God’s grace if he’s to succeed.

We’re also very aware of the extraordinary economic and social challenges we have in Rhode Island. The dysfunctional state budget – which in turn creates severe problems for public safety, healthcare, education, public pensions, and human services – coupled with unemployment, home foreclosures, rising costs and the burden placed on non-profits and religious communities – are realities that touch the lives of every Rhode Islander in one way or another. Our Governor and the leaders and members of the General Assembly should also be in our prayers. They too need God’s guidance in their important work.

There are many uncertainties about the future, and we don’t know where all this will end. But the one thing that is certain is that the Church will be there, as it has since the beginning of our nation and state. And the presence of the Church will be expressed in many ways, including the delivery of social services and charity.

The Catholic Church has a long and proud record of providing services in education, healthcare and social assistance – including food, clothing and shelter – to many, many individuals and families in need. This of course is complemented by the spiritual support and pastoral ministry the Church offers to its members and our friends in the community.

It’s that context that the Diocese of Providence has recently undertaken some very creative charitable programs. The best known of these is the “Keep the Heat On” campaign which, in the first three years, raised over $600,000 to provide heating assistance for two-thousand households throughout the state.

Other recent initiatives include the purchase of bus tickets to provide much-needed transportation for individuals during the high gas prices of last summer; the awarding of $75,000 in emergency assistance grants to local homeless shelters, meal sites and food pantries across the state; and now the arrangement with the Rhode Island Catholic to offer free help-wanted ads and seeking employment ads to connect unemployed Rhode Islanders with companies offering jobs.

In undertaking these initiatives, we’re fully aware that we cannot meet every need and solve every problem. And we, too, are affected by the recession and have limited resources. Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to know that we can make a difference for at least some folks. Through these assistance programs, we wish to demonstrate that the Church is present to our community; that the Church really cares about individuals and families in need. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “the grief and the anguish of the people of our time, especially the poor and afflicted, find an echo in our Christian hearts.”

None of this would be possible, of course, without the wonderful assistance of the faithful who continue to support the Church and its various programs with outstanding generosity, even during these difficult times. For their concern and generous support we are deeply grateful.

In his Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict wrote that, “Love of neighbor, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level. As a community, the Church must practice love.” (#20)

As a Church, then, let’s practice love. Let’s always do our best to be alert to the needs of those around us and to respond with generous hearts. In that way, we can guarantee that regardless of what the future holds, the Church will be there.