The Gift of Suffering

Lent brings forth reflections on suffering, the cross, and other sacrificial aspects of life and love more profoundly than any other time of the year for me. Therefore, I am sharing a few thoughts on suffering, what I have learned, and how it continues to influence my life. While none of this is new, I am keenly aware of our tendency to avoid pain and suffering as much as possible, sometimes at the hefty cost of not accepting life in its fullness. Our desire to evade suffering often leads us to make mediocre decisions that may have consequences for us, those around us and the generations that follow us. For example, our inclination to avoid difficult conversations and close an eye on injustice in our community are some everyday choices we make to avoid pain/discomfort. Understandably, no one wishes to embrace suffering as a joyful gift, as did the early saints whose lives were marked by pain and suffering, as well as immense hope and joy. Drawing inspiration from The Passion Week and the Crucifixion, I seek to explore how our lives are intertwined with suffering and the everyday joys of life. What does the suffering on the cross and the agony in the garden teach us?

One of the first lessons I took from Passion Week is the acknowledgement of the impending pain and suffering that awaited Jesus on the cross; the agony in the garden makes it real for us. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it is the reason we are afraid of pain and suffering. The crucifixion of Christ serves as a reminder that suffering often makes you feel isolated, abandoned, and afraid that you will not have the strength to endure the trials. Sometimes, we want to give up rather than go through it, and that is when Jesus offers light and hope with his prayer in the garden and reveals humanity in suffering.

Jesus’ approach demonstrates how accepting rather than escaping the pain and suffering can lead to something greater. However, to see beyond the obvious, one must have faith, hope, and patience to recognize the life lessons learned from the experience. Acknowledging pain and suffering as an integral aspect of life enables us to overcome the fear of obstacles that could derail our plans, impede our growth, and deter us from taking risks or confronting life changes.

Another lesson and gift from the cross is that it pushes us to expand our perspective beyond our boundaries. It beckons us toward greatness and illuminates our purpose on earth as interconnected with the rest of humanity. Just as a diamond is refined through fire, a life that embraces and traverses suffering, discerning its purpose, radiates light upon the world. The lives of saints and countless leaders who preceded us serve as testaments to this truth, as they left lasting marks on the world through their life choices and sacrifices.

Apart from the theological and religious significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection on the cross, it offers many transformative lessons for everyday people who may not engage with the deeper religious connotations. It reveals our inherent humanity, fragility, and the ultimate sacrifice one can make for another. In our daily choices, when we strive to positively impact others through our actions and existence, whether for family members, children, neighbours, colleagues, or the broader collective good, we acknowledge the potential for pain and alienation. This acceptance of pain and suffering also teaches us to confront our fears and silence the negative voices that hinder us from overcoming harmful addictions, addressing lingering hurts, forgiving those who have wronged us, letting go of toxic relationships, etc.

In essence, the Death on the Cross is not merely a great example of pain and suffering, but rather an invitation to live and embrace life fully, with unconditional love and a commitment to “love your neighbor as yourself” even amidst life’s hardships. It is about living for and with others, enriching our existence with empathy and compassion and offering hope to the world. By embracing this truth, we impart an invaluable gift upon our children and future generations: the realization that life is a delicate balance between despair and joy, presenting opportunities for personal growth and fostering a deeper love and care for humanity.

 

Cardinal Thomas Collins Palliative Care & Gerontology Scholarship

Catholic Charities of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto (CCAT) is pleased to announce the creation of the Cardinal Thomas Collins Palliative Care & Gerontology Scholarship, which is designed to recognize the wise counsel and strong support Archbishop Emeritus Thomas Cardinal Collins offered to CCAT.

“Cardinal Collins served the archdiocese in countless ways in his 16 years as Archbishop and then as Cardinal. On top of his leadership of the Archdiocese, he was also the chairman of Catholic Charities’ board,” says CCAT Executive Director Agnes Thomas. “We want to honour his guidance and dedicated support in a way that reflects his extraordinary care for his community.” This is a timely tribute, as 2023 marked the 50th year of the ordination of the Cardinal in May of 1973.

Eligible applicants for the scholarship, which will be up to $5,000 annually, will be seeking to study issues related to palliative care or gerontology. This reflects the Cardinal’s passionate concern for older people and his desire to offer positive answers and alternative to the growing number of Canadians opting for MAiD, or physician-assisted suicide.

The Cardinal Thomas Collins Scholarship is the latest offering in a total of five new scholarships, which will be available as of this year. The newly created awards are designed to support learners from diverse backgrounds and capacities, including newcomers and people seeking refuge in Canada, outstanding and dedicated youth, and adults seeking to earn a degree or diploma or augment their skills in the services sector, such as in social work, community development, disability studies, and social services. All scholarship recipients will be announced during Catholic Charities Week, which runs the final week of September.

These newest awards join the Fr. Paul Lennon/Doreen Cullen Social Work Scholarship, which was established in 2013 on the occasion of CCAT’s 100th anniversary.

For more information on our scholarships and awards, including how to apply, please visit our website.

We are, at our heart, a church that flows from the life and experience of refugees.

Millions of Christians around the world are readying to celebrate Christmas, recalling an event that has at its heart a migrant family forced to flee persecution. Our homes are decorated, the gifts bought, and seasonal cookies and favourite meals are being prepared.

Yet right here on our doorstep, more than two thousand years after the birth of Christ, we face a refugee crisis of our own. Residents of Toronto have been shocked this year to find refugee claimants sleeping on the streets because there simply are not places to house people fleeing their home countries or seeking a better life in Canada. Complicating matters has been various levels of government bickering over who is responsible for related issues. The expedited release of the federally committed $97 million, to provide shelter for refugee claimants, would help ease the current pressure being felt in the City of Toronto.

As a result, with the city facing other societal pressures, from budget battles to a rise in homelessness, there simply have not been enough beds to provide people who had placed their hopes in Canada. And with winter soon upon us – and the cold weather already here – the situation is becoming more urgent every day.

Recently, the Social Justice and Advocacy Committee of Catholic Charities met with Loly Rico, the Executive Director of FCJ Refugee Centre to discuss homelessness and the plight of refugee claimants. The FCJ Refugee Centre was established with the help of the Sisters of Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ.) to help uprooted people overcome the challenges of rebuilding their lives in Canadian society, offering an integrated model of refugee protection, settlement services, and education, including shelter for women and their children.

The meeting was informative but concerning. The Refugee Centre, for example, is serving not only many refugee claimants but also precarious migrants facing homelessness. Precarious migrants include temporary foreign workers, international students, victims or survivors of human trafficking, and undocumented individuals. While there are limited shelters and other support available to refugees, there are no specific services for these precarious migrants, and a recent Toronto Star investigation exposed just how vulnerable migrants can be to various forms of abuse.

Recent information indicates that many new immigrants, refugees, and refugee claimants are in the shelter system. Unfortunately, funding has not increased to help shelters cope with the increased need.

While Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and staff are exploring various solutions, pressure mounts daily. Exacerbating the housing problem for refugees are delays in the immigration process. A backlog in the process contributes to refugee claimants not being able to access some support services as the eligibility criteria do not allow them to participate in some supportive programs.

And, while governmental help is appreciated, it is often not enough. For many refugees who are eligible for social or emergency financial assistance, the single-person support of $392 for rent is not enough as the rent of a bed with a bathroom is now about $1,000 in Toronto.

When the City of Toronto witnessed newly arrived migrants and refugees sleeping on the streets earlier this year, various places of worship opened their doors, although often the arrangement has not been sustainable in the long term. It’s time for all of us to think more creatively about where we can find spaces to house migrants and refugees, including spaces in private homes, creating more shelter spaces, and repurposing underused buildings. It’s simply wrong to tell people they are welcome only to arrive and find nowhere to stay.

We are, at our heart, a church the flows from the life and experience of refugees. The Christmas narrative that begins Jesus’s earthly ministry includes his family having to flee to Egypt, just days after his birth, to escape King Herod’s brutal edict to murder young children.

With the refugee experience now documented for millennia, it seems reasonable to hope we have learned as a world about the horrors faced by refugees. We should be mindful that millions of people experience great suffering because they must uproot themselves because their safety – and that of their loved ones – is threatened daily. Yet today, the number of refugees is climbing, with  an estimated 35-million people  around the world considered refugees, forced from their homes for many reasons, including political, cultural and economic persecution.

This, therefore, is not a problem unique to Southern Ontario. But Canada does stand apart from many other places in that we are a country at peace, with plenty of natural resources and, inflation notwithstanding, a pretty strong economy. There is more we can do, as individuals

Many biases and misconceptions exist about refugees, including what they are entitled to when they are accepted by Canada. They receive basic financial support and basic healthcare, with some guidance as to how to settle. Some communities – e.g., church groups – serve as private sponsors, working with the federal government to house the newcomers and help them find employment. But this support – and the obligations assumed by private sponsors — is temporary, and settling in a country far from home, with different customs and languages, perhaps a radically different climate, and numerous forms to fill out, among other challenges – all far from family or friends– must be very challenging.

The pressure is on from the time refugees land in Canada, since assistance is limited and temporary.  Finding stable employment can be hard, and locating affordable housing can seem impossibly difficult in the overheated real estate market of the Greater Toronto Area.

That’s why the Catholic community needs to educate ourselves about the issues surrounding refugees, digging deeper than superficial headlines. Many of the member agencies of Catholic Charities see refugees on a regular basis and can attest to the exceptional challenges refugees live out daily as they attempt to build a new life in Canada.

Education includes understanding that anyone filing a refugee claim is thoroughly vetted before being accepted. And, as numbers of claimants rise, it is important to remember that, as crises grow around the world, Canada remains, mercifully, a beacon of hope and promise. People who have been involved in sponsoring refugees describe the experience as life-changing, for both refugees and sponsors.

Sadly, modern life continues to create refugees, whether fleeing war in Ukraine, or war in the Middle East, or the ongoing sorrows of Afghanistan. It’s a reality that, for Catholics, should bring to mind Matthew Chapter 25.

“And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing?” his disciples ask Christ, and he explains that any time we encounter someone in need, we are encountering him. The question is how we respond.

Advent: Shifting from Fear to Hope

“Beware, keep alert….”

The opening and closing words of the gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent (Mk 13:33-37) seem particularly timely this year, as many of us feel on edge. We live in particularly challenging times. Wars rage, with the impact at times felt locally. Food bank usage is up, while fewer and fewer people are able to find affordable housing. A surge in floods and forest fires and uncontrollable storms makes it impossible for us to deny the reality of global warming.

Therefore, the caution to be alert is almost ironic, coming as it does when so many of us are fearful of more bad news from around the world or lie awake at night because of local concerns, worried about everything from finances to our children’s futures. We are alert to issues in ways we may never have anticipated, and many of us would simply like to be able to relax a bit.

But the notion of being alert in Advent is a concept that should foster hope, not fear, because it is a calling to be mindful of the coming of the Christ child into our lives. That presence exists in many ways, whether it’s Jesus as eternal saviour entering into human history and living on earth as our redeemer, or the coming of Christ into our lives daily, whether through the reception of the sacraments or in encounters with our neighbours, or, finally, the coming of Christ into our lives at the end of time.

The constant presence of Christ in our lives, no matter how dark the days of early December may feel, should give us hope and inspire us to move forward, no matter how wary we might be. If we have the promise of redemption held out to us, we should become people motivated by gratitude, good will and abiding hope. Rather than pessimists, we should become optimists, knowing better days are ahead.

It is certainly noteworthy that Christ’s time on earth was marked by challenges. Before he was even born, his mother faced the risk out becoming a public outcast because of her pregnancy. Mary and Joseph faced persecution, and the challenge of having nowhere to stay, with Jesus born into the humblest of circumstances. Political upheaval made them migrants, and they lived a modest life.

In other words, the Holy Family faced many of the challenges that many of the people who interact with the member agencies of Catholic Charities today face – and that should be a powerful reminder to all of us to set judgment aside and replace it with a desire to help. We encounter Christ not only in Mass, not only in prayer, but every day we engage with the world and its inhabitants.

As the gospel says, “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.”  That’s a reminder not only of our own mortality and readiness for death, but also for the unexpected encounters we have in small ways. It reminds us to acknowledge that a small child in a stable in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago continues to change lives and offer us hope, and that we are called to be party of that change, models of that hope.

Therefore, be alert!

Joining Together to Pray for Peace

The images emerging from the Middle East are searing. Children killed, seniors held hostage, entire families losing their homes and forced to flee, innocent people on both sides of the current conflict between Israel and Gaza, as well as others in neighbouring countries, living in fear of what comes next.

While the hostilities are happening thousands of miles away, the tension can be felt locally, as well. Canada is home to the fourth-largest Jewish population in the world, with more than 335-thousand people identifying as Jewish,  and Statistics Canada’s latest figures show that more than 45-thousand people of Palestinian descent live in Canada.

With many people from each community living in the Greater Toronto Area, the anguish of each group is highly visible, with everything from protests to posters – and, sadly, sometimes hate speech and vandalism—reminding us daily that a significant part of the world is in turmoil.

We cannot turn away from this crisis, yet the entire situation can leave us feeling frustrated, trapped by not knowing how we can help, how we can attempt to bring about peace.

This Friday, though, there is an opportunity to engage, to stand in solidarity with all people suffering in the Middle East. Pope Francis has declared Friday, October 27 to be a day of fasting, penance and prayer for the world, allowing all of us the opportunity to engage in one or more activities with others throughout the world who desire peace for all. The Pope has expressed his desire that the hostages be released, that humanitarian aid be allowed into Gaza and that paths of peace in the Middle East and elsewhere be forged and cultivated.

Archbishop Francis Leo has echoed the Pope’s call for this Friday, inviting people to “participate in a way most suitable for their community. This may include Eucharistic Adoration, Daily Mass with special intentions for peace, praying of the rosary as well as clergy and the faithful offering their own personal prayer time, fasting and penances for this intention.”

These days, when we speak of fasting, many Catholics think of Lent, and the notion of “giving up.” In this instance, fasting offers us a very practical reminder of the suffering of others. A brief few hours without food is not hard for most of us, but the resulting hunger pains can point our hearts and minds back to the suffering of people we’ve never met, making us more aware of our own blessings, and of the onus on us to help in whatever way we can. (Of course, taking the money saved from fasting, especially if it becomes a periodic habit, and donating to a related cause, lending another layer to the notion of “giving up.”)

When we talk of penance, understandably our mind goes to the sacrament of Reconciliation and specific actions assigned us. But when embraced, penance can also become an ongoing process of conversation, examining our failings and our sins and working to eradicate them and to embrace the light instead of the dark. It is unreasonable of us to judge others when we haven’t turned our minds to our own failures. By working to improves ourselves, we cannot help but contribute to a more peaceful society. So ask yourself: have I caused conflict in my own daily life? Do I hold biases regarding certain people? Is my approach to others one of anger versus kindness? Taking Friday to engage in some self-examination can be a fruitful start to eradicating the things we do that do not contribute to peace.

And, of course, there is always prayer. Sometimes we make the process of prayer more challenging than it need be, feeling we have to pray specific prayers clearly stating specific goals. When we try too hard, we can come up short, allowing structure and process to stand in the way of sincere conversation with God, to stop us from listening to God.

But anyone reading headlines or watching TV news should feel confident in recognizing that now is a time to let the cries of our hearts be heard, and to appreciate the power of raising our voices collectively.  There are millions of others like you who are disturbed by the crisis in the Middle East and, for that matter, unrest around the globe. We may not always understand or appreciate complex world situations, but we can all understand wanting to end suffering.

We must also remember the many other countries and regions in conflict with one another across the world and the innocent people who are caught in between.

And so, if your heart urges you to cry out, “Peace, please!” please do. And this Friday, know that you are not alone but adding your voice to those heard around the world.

“Home is Where the Heart is.”

“Home is where the heart is.”                                                                                                            “Home, sweet home.”                                                                                                                         “There’s no place like home.”

 It can be easy to be sentimental about the place called home when, like many of us, you have never had to worry about having a roof over your head.

 But for many of the people seeking assistance from Catholic Charities’ member agencies and affiliated organizations, finding a safe, affordable place to call home can be a brutal, worrying struggle.

 Each day, it seems, news headlines tell horror stories about the scarcity of rental housing in the GTA, as well as what feels like ever-increasing prices, with rental costs soaring far beyond the reach of those on a fixed income,

 Particularly shocking is the wait for subsidized housing, a problem seen across Canada. In Toronto, for example, it can take 14 years for a subsidized one-bedroom unit to become available. It is upsetting but hardly surprising, therefore, to see tent cities sprinting up, with residents unable to find anywhere else to go.

 Recently, Canadians were shocked to discover that asylum seekers were sleeping in the street in downtown Toronto because there simply were no shelter beds available. For many observers, the response was the same: “This is simply unacceptable.”

 But every day, our agencies see people struggling to find a place to live. Teen mothers, people struggling with substance abuse or with mental health issues, the elderly… the length of the list should make all of us uncomfortable. It may also surprise as well because, for example, many seniors living in poverty are women who have had full careers and yet cannot afford rent. Housing is often a more precarious issue for people than we know.

 For people with limited income, finding a place that is within budget is just one piece of the puzzle because, if you don’t own a car, you also have to calculate such challenges as whether there are grocery stores within a reasonable distance, and whether public transit is close by.

 We are always grateful when member agencies are able to address immediate housing needs. At Rosalie Hall, for example, pregnant teens who have faced trauma have a safe place to stay while they learn how to become moms.

 And St. Michael’s Homes offer a safe place for men with mental health and substance abuse problems.

 At Mary Centre, they provide a variety of residential services for people with intellectual disabilities.

 While not all our agencies offer a residential component, staff at all agencies will attest to the extraordinary housing challenges facing people on the margins. It’s a problem we hear about daily. We know we all need to do more. Without stable housing, everything from holding down a job to ensuring children’s education is uninterrupted is at risk.

 There are many ways you can help your vulnerable neighbours in what is increasingly being labelled a crisis.  Obviously, all levels of government need to work together to figure out productive ways to create more subsidized units,

 The province of Ontario needs to extend rent controls to all rental units rather than merely those built before 2018 so that tenants are not surprised by unanticipated rent increases that can seriously damage renters’ budgets. 

 There also needs to be a stronger crackdown on what is known as “renoviction,” which sees tenants evicted, with upgrades done to the property so that landlords are able to rent the unit at a higher price.

 And, of course, we need immediately to increase the supply of emergency beds available to people in a housing crisis. 

 No doubt there are numerous creative ways all levels of government can respond to ensure that the right to safe, affordable housing is protected, but that requires cooperation and, as always, for the rest of us to raise our voices to say that we care about this pressing issue.

 For our communities to function properly, let alone to flourish, we need to let policymakers know how strongly we feel about ensuring there are homes for all. We shouldn’t even have to consider this topic up for debate. 

 It’s a matter that should be particularly close to Catholics’ hearts, as the earthly ministry of Jesus begins with the Holy Family having no shelter, and soon after becoming migrants. We are a church that stems from an understanding of the harshness of this issue, and we are called to do more.

 

Every Child Matters

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a recent – but very powerful – addition to the Canadian calendar.

The day was introduced on September 30, 2021, as a way to remember the children who were sent to residential schools and never came home, as well as the survivors of those schools, their families, and communities. They were all isolated from their families and struggled with loneliness – pining for family and community connections.

Between 1867 and 1996, the Canadian government ran 140 residential schools, often working in tandem with religious communities, including various Catholic orders. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission so thoroughly documented, often the children attending these boarding schools were forcibly taken from their families, and their own Indigenous culture was stripped away, with Indigenous languages lost. No matter how well-intentioned the creation of the schools may have been, many of these schools often inflicted harm that resulted in a life of trauma. Many children attending schools across the country were subjected to physical, sexual, spiritual, and emotional abuse.

Worst of all, of course, was the fact that many children died while attending residential boarding schools, far from their homes, and families were not informed of these deaths, with no marked graves to allow family any sense of connection or a place to grieve, creating an ongoing sense of loss.

As Catholics, we play a role in this sorrowful legacy and have a great deal to learn about what happened, how we can properly express contrition, and how we can help. We have inherited a very painful part of Canadian history. There are still many survivors in Canada today, scarred by their experiences in these schools. Many children and grandchildren live with intergenerational trauma, recognizing the suffering of their ancestors, whether it is the lingering sadness over a lost childhood or even the challenge of being a parent when there were no parental models growing up, or of having trouble showing affection when none was shown to them as children.

Pope Francis’s visit to Canada in July, 2022 was an important step in beginning to heal the suffering caused by residential schools. His request for forgiveness from Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people answered #58 on the TRC’s list of 94 Calls to Action.

The papal visit served as a key moment in the church’s relationship with the Indigenous people of Canada. But what can we do as individuals? The first step is to learn about what happened, because it is impossible to engage in the process of reconciliation without knowing what the problems have been. A good place to start is the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s website: https://nctr.ca/records/reports/. Another excellent resource is Listening to Indigenous Voices, which explores Indigenous worldviews, examines the history of colonization, and concludes with sessions on righting relationships, decolonization, and indigenization.

Voice your support for the ongoing cooperation of our church in providing documents and records to help the process of finding answers. Watch documentaries and attend lectures. Pray for the missing children and their families, for survivors and for finding ways to help the healing.

And today, put on your orange shirt – or wearing anything orange you might have– because orange is a visual reminder that every child matters. It’s a small gesture but it represents extending a hand to begin the process of understanding, which is key to reconciliation.

When you are out and about today, whenever you see an orange shirt, think of the lost children and the suffering of so many because of those losses. And make that mindfulness a daily thing, so that we think of reconciliation not only on special days of the year but on a regular basis. It is a first step in healing the past. No amount of work will resolve the loss. However, efforts towards reconciliation make us hopeful for a future where communities can find peace with one another and learn together.

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:37-40

 

Inspired and Guided by the Great St. Michael

It is fitting that Catholic Charities Week should close today, September 29, which is also the feast of the Archangels – Sts. Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael. While Catholic Charities’ patron is St. Vincent de Paul, and our history begins on Sept. 27, his feast day, St. Michael, as the patron of Toronto, is thus an inspiration and a protector for the work that Catholic Charities and our 20 member agencies engage in every day throughout this archdiocese.

It is impossible as a Catholic to lose sight of the importance of St. Michael to our archdiocese. From our great cathedral basilica to a world-class hospital and a renowned university, many major institutions bear the name of St. Michael.  

While all angels are considered messengers, archangels hold the special role of chief messenger, delivering very special information. We know from the Gospel of Luke, for example, that it was Gabriel who came to Mary to inform her that she was to be the Mother of God, while Raphael, although not mentioned in the New Testament, has traditionally been known for healing.

And then there is St. Michael, our archdiocesan patron. He is associated with courage and valor and is a protector, guarding the faithful – and the Church –from evil. He is a patron to many, including the sick, and he battles for justice.

Thus, for so many of the above-mentioned reasons, St. Michael is a role model for us. His courage inspires, and for the people working in our agencies, courage is something they hope to see take root in flourish in the people they deal with each day. His message to us is one of going forward, taking on the challenges of the world to serve all we encounter.

At a time when we face so many challenges, whether it’s global unrest and unease, or fears about economic upheaval and climate change, or any of the countless issues that can cause us worry, it is reassuring to know we are not left on our own, and that Michael is guiding and guarding us.

Perhaps key to our relationship with Michael, though, is his role as defender of our faith. Catholic Charities is rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, which compels us to seek justice and equity for all, regardless of the religious beliefs of the people who seek our help. All are welcome in the Catholic Charities world. But our motivation as an organization stems from the Gospel, and the great commandment to love one another. Our work flows from the faith of the Church, and Michael’s presence in our prayer lives is therefore an important reminder of why we do what we do.

St. Michael holds a place of special significance in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Our work plays out in that very diocese, and the good people of the Greater Toronto Area support the work that we do. Therefore, our lives remain intertwined, with the wingbeat of Michael never far away, guiding us, protecting us, and leading us onward.

St. Michael, pray for us!

Catholic Charities and ShareLife: Working & Serving Together

Since 1976, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto (CCAT) and ShareLife have been working together to help care for some of the most vulnerable people living in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Although Catholics throughout the archdiocese will be familiar with both names, many may not know that ShareLife’s primary purpose is fundraising, while Catholic Charities’ duties involves oversight of the agencies receiving those funds, as well as the distribution of those funds, in consultation with ShareLife, based on needs-based assessments. With an ongoing relationship between CCAT and our 20 member agencies, Catholic Charities also attends to administrative details, such as facilitating the sharing of services between agencies and arranging regular meetings of agencies’ executive directors, and CCAT takes on an advocacy role, voicing concerns on our members’ behalf about challenging social issues, and support for solutions to improve lives.

When Catholic Charities was established in 1913, Archbishop Neil McNeil appointed Fr. Patrick Bench superintendent of the umbrella organization, designed to oversee the affairs of existing Catholic charities in the city. Fr. Bench was given a small office on Church St., but no budget, as the agencies under the new organization already were raising their own funds.

As time passed, Fr. Bench recognized that while existing agencies were doing a good job, there were still needs to be met, and so Catholic Charities’ work expanded. In 1919 Catholic Charities joined the Federation of Community Service, which was established to pool funding for a network of agencies, regardless of religious affiliation, and the results gave various Catholic charities a strong financial boost.

This relationship was short-lived, however, as in 1927 the federation determined that Catholic agencies would receive no funding in the following year. Some cited an anti-Catholic bias, while others suggested the decision reflected the fact that Catholic Charities, caring for a significantly larger community of new arrivals to the city, received a greater share of funding than other agencies.

Archbishop McNeil responded quickly, launching the Federation of Catholic Charities, reorganizing the existing agencies to include a fundraising wing, and in three short weeks, raised $178,000, a stunning foreshadowing of what was to come. 

During the war years, Catholic Charities joined the United Community Fund, the precursor to the United Way. It was a smart move, because the fund’s size and stability allowed CCAT to expand services, improve facilities and offer better pay. 

In 1976, Catholic Charities faced a crisis of funding as it withdrew from the United Way.  How can the Church continue to sustain its good works?  This time, the answer was to create a fundraising appeal:  ShareLife.  True to its mission, ShareLife has been alongside CCAT to ensure that the most vulnerable people living in the Archdiocese of Toronto have been provided the support they need, and we continue to respond with Gospel hope.

Today, ShareLife is a familiar name in Catholic parishes throughout the archdiocese, with speakers from various member agencies of Catholic Charities often addressing parishes during the annual spring campaign. What people may not realize is that most of Catholic Charities’ funding comes from ShareLife, which also raises funds for St. Augustine’s Seminary, as well as other Catholic operations. 

CCAT staff and board members are in constant communication with the staff at ShareLife, informing them of member agency needs, and drawing up budgets to ensure funds raised and available to Catholic Charities are used in the most productive manner, assisting as many people as possible. We appreciate ShareLife’s strong stewardship and financial acumen and, given the challenges of tough times such as the pandemic, its commitment to its mission.

We remain deeply grateful for ShareLife’s annual campaign, which reaches out to parishioners and parishes, Catholic schools and businesses for support, offering a straightforward way for the people of this archdiocese to help their neighbour, ensuring funds are handled – and delivered – in a manner than ensures trust and a confidence that our neighbours are truly cared for.

Catholic Charities has been creative and resilient in the face of the challenges – and opportunities we have faced over the past 110 years. Now, with ShareLife standing alongside us, we know we can continue to serve the people of this archdiocese in faith, hope, and charity.

The Model of St. Vincent de Paul

September 27 is a day of celebration at Catholic Charities for two key reasons: the day marks the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, an ongoing inspiration for all of us, and it is also the anniversary of our founding in 1913.

 It is no surprise that St. Vincent de Paul is the patron of Catholic Charities, as his tireless efforts to respond to poverty are remarkable. He also worked with prisoners and created seminary education to ensure that priests had proper education to help them minister effectively. The saint co-founded the Vincentian order, as well as the Daughters of Charity. It is said that when he died, all of Paris mourned. His name remains in the public eye in part because of the work of the chapters of St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers in parishes.

Today, learning from the model of St. Vincent de Paul, the 20 member agencies of Catholic Charities serve five key constituencies in our community: children and youth; young parents; people with disabilities; seniors; and community and family services. A cynic might say that not everyone on the above list is experiencing poverty but such a literal interpretation would indeed be short-sighted, for poverty is not just about one’s bank balance but about the absences in lives that create barriers to living the most productive, rewarding life possible.

That poverty could take the shape of loneliness, for example, and our member agencies are a place to find a friendly face and, often, activities that provide social interaction. Society of Sharing, for example, sends volunteers out to visit isolated, housebound seniors, brightening their day and reducing social isolation.

That poverty could also be a lack of knowledge to help confront new situations. Agencies such as Rose of Durham working with young parents, offering workshops and information to support marginalized young moms and dads, allowing them to flourish in their new roles.

Catholic Crosscultural Services responds to the needs of newcomers, who arrive in the Greater Toronto Area often facing a lack of any – or all of – housing, employment, language skills or connections. CCS offers settlement services, allowing newcomers the ability to imagine that one day their new home really will feel like home.

If we are being honest, some form of poverty touches all of us at some point in our lives, whether it is spiritual, emotional or practical. Agency staff and volunteers are keenly aware that each person they interact with may be carrying a burden at that moment, whether seen or unseen. That knowledge creates compassion and community, because it is a powerful reminder that we live not in isolation but in community, and that we are called to serve one another.

While he was born more than five centuries ago, there are many quotations attributed to St. Vincent de Paul that are remarkably timely and timeless.

“If God is the centre of our life, no words are necessary,” he is believed to have said. “Your mere presence will touch hearts.”

This truth should serve to comfort those who feel they have not done enough to answer the endless needs of modern life. Being present to other people is an invaluable gift, one our staff and volunteers know intuitively.

He is also believed to have said “Charity is the cement which binds communities to God and persons to one another.” Simple but powerful. And absolutely true, whatever form that charity takes. Sometimes it is a donation, and other times the willingness to be present and listen.

St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us.

 

Let’s do our best beginning right now…to give ourselves to God in everything always, and everywhere, in order to be hungry and thirsty for this justice.

~ St. Vincent de Paul (CCD XII:137)