The Catholic Foundation helps parishes get extra $1 million-plus

Parishioners from 39 churches in the Archdiocese of Denver took advantage of a financial opportunity over the past year by digging deeper into their wallets and now their parishes have more than $1 million to use for such needs as a church remodeling, an altar replacement and new widows for a parish school.

The Catholic Foundation of Northern Colorado agreed to match up to $10,000 if parishes raised money outside of the weekly offertory collections. Through June, the parishes raised $652,214 and the foundation added the $390,000 matching funds.

One parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel in Aurora personally met the match with a $10,000 donation after listening to Deacon Steve Stemper, CEO and president of the foundation, explain the program.

“I think that we probably would not have gotten that $10,000 donation if Deacon Steve had not spoken at the church about the matching funds,” said Pastor Father Terry Kissell.

Other parishioners also have made donations, Father Kissell said, and the money is being put into an endowment fund for future uses.

“The response has been fantastic,” Deacon Stemper told the Denver Catholic Register. “We’re offering parishioners an opportunity to help their parish and in the process double the money. The weekly offering helps the parishes keep the lights on and keep the programs in place running. This money allows them to go over and above those basic needs.”

The program will run at least through 2014 with a possible extension into 2015 and other parishes still can take advantage of the matching funds, Deacon Stemper said. The money comes from the foundation’s Bridge Fund, which benefits a variety of Catholic ministries through grants determined by the board of trustees.

Each parish determines how the matching money will be used. For St. Mark in Westminster the money allows the parish to begin a long-needed remodel project for the church and offices, said Father Ken Koehler.

“People here really have been generous,” Father Koehler said. “They listened to how the program would work and how we could get the remodel project.”

Father Koehler hopes the building improvements will help attract more young families to the parish, which has an older congregation.

St. Peter Parish in Greeley with the help of the local Knights of Columbus was able to raise the matching funds and replaced its aging tabernacle altar with a new tabernacle and a high altar from Spain. Additionally, the church plans to use part of the money to help an orphanage in Ghana, said Father Matt Hartley.

“When we told our parishioners about the matches they did the rest,” he said.

Other projects among parishes that met the matching funds, include: Sts. Peter and Paul in Wheat Ridge plans to use the money for new windows and air conditioning primarily at its parish school; St. Nicholas in Platteville plans an addition of classrooms for religious education; and St. John the Baptist in Johnstown wants to eventually build a new church.

The Catholic Foundation, a nonprofit agency founded in 1998, oversees the matching funds for the parishes. The foundation provides financial guidance for the parishes and legal protection so that the money is used solely for the parish.

In addition to the matching fund program, Deacon Stemper also has asked parishioners to consider remembering their churches in their wills. Unlike other nonprofits or universities, the Catholic Church has not historically asked for parishes to be beneficiaries, Deacon Stemper said. Any financial gift, including designating the Church as the beneficiary on 401-K or bank accounts, would benefit the designated parish, he said.

“The most significant gift can be made at the end of one’s life and the most worthy recipient is the Church,” Deacon Stemper said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.


Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.