Because of You: A foundation for mission

Aaron Lambert

This is the first part of a series of articles showcasing the many ways the annual Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal enables and furthers the divinely-instated mission of the Archdiocese of Denver.

In this Year of Mercy, the time is approaching when Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila appears on TV and projector screens in parishes across Northern Colorado and introduces the annual Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal (ACA).

The theme for this year’s ACA is “Because of You,” a simple way of saying that none of the ministry and work carried out each year by the Archdiocese of Denver would be possible without the faithful of Northern Colorado and those who generously give to the ACA.

“God has put in our hearts a desire to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy. When we do not have opportunities to do them, we can connect to the works others are doing by making a donation,” said Father Randy Dollins, vicar general of the archdiocese. “‘Because of you’ reminds us that even though we might not be the person directly performing the work, it would not be possible were it not for the donations that support the existence of the ministry in the first place.”

There are a lot of moving parts in the Archdiocese of Denver that allow for it do to the work it does on a daily basis. Parishes play an integral role in the mission of the archdiocese, and are a part of a bigger structural system in place that lays the foundation for the mission to happen, one that wouldn’t exist without the ACA.

Strong foundations

The offices that make up the Pastoral Center are referred to as the Archbishop’s Curia, and their mission is as such: to assist the archbishop in the administration of the archdiocese, communicate his vision, support his pastors and personnel, and bear witness to Christ and the Church’s teachings through a lived example. 

Father Dollins is the moderator of the Curia, and he said that the work done by the offices Pastoral Center is the unseen part of ministry.

“The work that’s being done by the Pastoral Center supported by the ACA forms a foundation underneath the building where all the ministry can happen,” Father Dollins said. “The ministry doesn’t just happen without all of these other support structures.”

The work of the Pastoral Center and all of the support provided to parishes is made possible each year through the Archbishop's Catholic Appeal. (Photo by James Baca/Denver Catholic)

The work of the Pastoral Center and all of the support provided to parishes is made possible each year through the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal. (Photo by James Baca/Denver Catholic)

Father Dollins also said that the Pastoral Center and all of its teams and offices are here to support all 109 parishes in the diocese.

“Parishes have a much bigger staff available to them than they do at their own parishes,” he said.

The ways in which the Curia supports parishes are many, Father Dollins said. For example, the Human Resources department at the Pastoral Center helps parishes with their own human resources operations, training business managers and creating hiring and screening procedures for all parishes to use.

Connections and community

With the recognition that parish communications are integral to the churches health and mission, the Office of Communications at the Curia launched the Denver Parish Connect initiative. Today, 73 separate parishes or archdiocesan ministries have taken advantage of one or more of these services. The Office of Communications offers free digital tools, on-site training to parishes, points parishes to free resources, and helps parish staff adopt best practices from others who may be very effective in a particular area.

To introduce this initiative, two free training sessions were held for staff from 41 different parishes at the Saint John Paul II Center. A highlight of the Denver Parish Connect initiative has been the widespread adoption of Flocknote which allows pastors and parish staff the ability to text or send digital newsletters to their communities. Additionally, other parishes have websites or newsletters for the first time.

Many parishes have reported having clear and reliable channels for the first time. “We’re making people feel like they’re truly welcome because we’re meeting people where they’re at by showing up on a text message or in their email,” said Sarah Johnson, communication coordinator for St. Vincent and St. Mary of the Crown parishes in Carbondale. “It’s a great tool in our toolbox to allow us to better build community and make people feel like they are included and invited to be a part of our parish community.”

“These least brothers of mine”

Another manner in which the Curia supports parishes is through its various ministries. One of the most crucial of these is the Office of Hispanic Ministries and Centro San Juan Diego, headed by executive director Luis Alvarez. Latinos account for more than half of those in the pews in the archdiocese, and the goal of these two entities is to integrate the Latino population more fully into not only the life of the Church, but also society as a whole.

“‘Because of you’ reminds us that even though we might not be the person directly performing the work, it would not be possible were it not for the donations that support the existence of the ministry in the first place.”

Alvarez cites Matthew 25:40 as the basis for his office’s ministry, in which Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

“We are serving a portion of the population who, in many senses, qualifies as the ‘the least’ because they’re strangers in a strange land,” Alvarez said. “The Office of Hispanic Ministries and Centro San Juan Diego help the archbishop live out his mission for this portion of his flock.”

Centro San Juan Diego is home to many classes, courses and ministries for Latinos. They offer everything from accredited college degrees to faith formation classes to family ministry certifications. Last year, they also helped to make all Natural Family Planning methods available in Spanish for parishes and marriage preparation instructors to use. 

Though Centro San Juan Diego is where a lot of the ministries and classes happen, it doesn’t all happen there, Alvarez said. The Office of Hispanic Ministries makes a point to go to parishes and offer training there, and Alvarez often meets with pastors and collaborates with them to address any needs they may have when it comes to their own Hispanic ministries.

“The people contributing to the ACA are helping to reach out to these people who otherwise might not be tended to,” Alvarez said.

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COMING UP: Punishing the poor and needy

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Every afternoon in downtown Denver, homeless men, women and children are given shelter, food and a place to wash themselves. Not far away, hundreds of people are receiving high quality medical care at one of our Catholic hospitals or Marisol Health. Some local parishes also distribute food, clothing, or help with rent. Whether you are on the Eastern Plains, the Western Slope or along the Front Range, people of faith are contributing their skills and resources to your community and making it a better place to live, and especially for the less fortunate.

Since we celebrated our nation’s independence about a week ago, the ability of people of faith to make a positive contribution to our society has been on my mind. People of faith make our society a better place as they seek the good and the true, and the right to live our faith in the public square is guaranteed by the Constitution. Unfortunately, there are forces at work trying to change that, and if they succeed it will be the vulnerable who are hurt the most.

Many people are familiar with Jack Phillips’ case because he recently received a favorable verdict from the U.S. Supreme Court. In brief, Jack was sued by a gay couple for refusing to make them a wedding cake, since doing so would contradict his belief that God created marriage to be between a man and a woman. His case – and others around the country – clearly show that there are people who want to silence Christian people and use the force of law to make them act against their faith or be punished.

Tim Gill, the multimillionaire who is funding and directing many of these efforts, plainly stated his intentions in a June 2017 Rolling Stone interview. “We’re going into the hardest states in the country,” he said. “We’re going to punish the wicked.” According to Gill, people of faith are “wicked” when their views do not agree with his. In this worldview, there is no room for differences on matters of prudence or conscience.

What you won’t hear from activists like Tim Gill is that the people who will suffer the most from his campaign against faith and the freedom of conscience are the homeless, children waiting to be adopted, or those needing hospital care. In short, the people who will be hurt are those who rely on the charitable activity of people of faith.

Take, for example, the Catholic Charities adoption programs in Boston, Illinois, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. that have been forced to shut down because they believe it’s not in children’s best interest to be placed with a same-sex couple. In Illinois, Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Springfield estimates that about 3,000 children were impacted by their closure. As was predicted, the state is now experiencing a shortage of quality foster families. Surely, this does not benefit society.

It is unexpected, but homeless men and women are also being impacted by changes to regulations. In Sept. 2016 the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development finalized rules that require homeless shelters to accommodate transgender people by placing them according to whatever gender they present themselves as, rather than their biological sex. Most often, it is men identifying themselves as women who approach the shelters, and this frightens the women, especially since many of them have been victimized by men on the streets.

Religious freedom can seem like an abstract concept, but when you look at the fruits of this basic liberty, its importance becomes clear. Moved by their faith, Catholics and others in the Archdiocese of Denver spent 2017 providing over 212,000 nights of shelter, emergency assistance to 28,000 households, 714 job placements, and almost 73,000 volunteer hours through Catholic Charities.

Further, hundreds of immigrants are assisted with English as a Second Language classes, business training, and faith formation through Centro San Juan Diego. In the name of Jesus, tens of thousands of sick people receive medical care at Catholic hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. This list doesn’t include other Christian, Jewish, or Muslim charitable endeavors, nor does it include individuals whose faith guides the way they run their small business or their work for their employer.

It is a convenient and worn-out argument to accuse people of discrimination to pressure them into giving up their beliefs, but this tactic ignores the people who suffer the most from the intolerance of those insisting people of faith give up their beliefs. Our country has long recognized and benefited from the gifts of faithful people, and restricting this spirit of generosity will make our society poorer.

I am grateful that the Supreme Court recognized that Jack Phillips’ right to religious freedom was infringed, but his case will certainly not be the last. As Christians, we must respond to this pressure with the joy that is born from faith, with loving, persistent resistance and forgiveness. Let us respond to Pope Francis’ appeal that he made as he spoke in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. “Let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom. Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of each person, each family, each people, which is what gives rise to rights.”