Call to Charity: Join Pope Francis in the culture of encounter

As Catholics, we all know we should have a preference for the poor. What does that look like? Pope Francis calls it a culture of encounter rather than a culture of exclusion. Volunteering is one way you can show your love and preference for the poor. And we have a new way to do that through Catholic Charities.

Volunteering can take many forms. Last week, 15 people (including yours truly) committed to raise money for Catholic Charities homeless shelters by riding the six-day, 471-mile Ride the Rockies bike event. Nearly 300 people have donated to Team Samaritan House, raising more than $28,000 to support five homeless shelters in northern Colorado, which serve those in the greatest need.

Other volunteers, as always, are giving of themselves through the many ministries of Catholic Charities, to serve lunch, make dinner or drive someone who needs a ride to the doctor, or to Mass. Others volunteer as part of Savers of Souls, taking turns praying in front of Planned Parenthood (across from our Lighthouse Women’s Center) for an end to abortion every hour of every day it is open.

To see all the volunteer opportunities—and express in action your preference for poor—we invite you to go to the Catholic Charities website and click on “Volunteer” to see our new Volunteer site.

There you can register and review dozens of volunteer opportunities to find one that fits you. We will be working throughout the Archdiocese of Denver to assist parishes in their volunteer efforts, since charity begins at home—and in your parish.

Join Pope Francis in the culture of encounter and help us help those who need the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. A hair stylist—who every month cuts the hair of residents at the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver—said it well. “I don’t have money to give,” she said. “But I have a talent.”

Please think of us, pray for us, and if you feel so moved, also send a donation of whatever size fits your budget. Thank you and God bless.

Larry Smith is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Denver Archdiocese. Visit online at www.ccdenver.org or call 303-742-0828 to learn more, volunteer or make a donation.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”