Local parishes lend a helping hand in times of need and crisis

Denver Catholic Staff

There is no doubt that it is more rewarding to give than to receive; to help than to be helped. Reaching out and helping others not only changes the life of those who receive the support, but also those who open their hearts to do an act of kindness. 

Often, people may believe that they’re not in a financial position to help anyone, and therefore cannot help in any sort of tangible war. However, there are many other ways to help our neighbor besides financially. Parishes and their many ministries often serve as a catalyst for loving our neighbors. There is always something we can do for our brothers and sisters and to bless those around us; we just need a willing and open heart. 

Stephen Ministry 

That is exactly what the Stephen Ministry has done for the past 45 years: reach out to others and help those who need it most. Founded in 1975 by pastor and psychologist Dr. Kenneth C. Haugh, the Stephen Ministry has helped thousands of people and reached out to more than 13,000 congregations around the world. 

After seeing the great need to “equip saints for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12), Dr. Haugh decided to help congregations coach their members to serve all those struggling with a variety of life difficulties, ranging from the loss of a loved one to financial needs. This how Stephen Ministers, or caregivers, were formed. They are lay congregation members trained to provide one-to-one Christ-centered care. 

Marlene Julian has served as a caregiver for the past 13 years and is currently the ministry leader for Saint John XXIII Catholic Church in Fort Collins. After experiencing the loss of her husband, Julian felt the need to help other people, not only financially, but emotionally. Through her friends from the parish, she heard about the Stephen Ministry and decided to attend one of the courses that was about to begin. 

“We want to provide them a compassionate face and confidential caregiving… we recognize that God is the cure giver and we are the caregivers,” said Julian. “We get to witness God’s work in people’s lives in amazing ways. We’re there to serve our parishes and anybody that needs help with any kind of a problem. It could be family challenges, hospitalization or illness, faith issues, financial difficulties, etc. 

I’m amazed at how brave people are and how courageous it is for somebody to reach out to a complete stranger and share what’s going on in their life, then we get to witness God work.

Marlene Julian, Stephen minister at St. John XXIII Parish in Fort Collins

“Being a Stephen minister has added so much to my life,“ she added. “It touches my heart every time I meet somebody. I’m amazed at how brave people are and how courageous it is for somebody to reach out to a complete stranger and share what’s going on in their life, then we get to witness God work. My faith in these last 13 years has just grown so much.”  

The Stephen Ministry not only recruits its caregivers to help as volunteers, it also guides and prepares them so that when they meet their care receiver, they know how to listen, pay attention to their needs, and guide those who are going through difficulties in life. To be part of the ministry, it is necessary to complete 50 hours of training, where various topics are taught, ranging from ‘grief ministry skills’ to how to recognize when an individual needs additional professional help.  

Among the numerous services that the ministry offers, its caregivers are trained to support people who are going through illness, family changes, depression, death of a loved one, divorce, loss of employment, financial difficulties, questions of faith, among others. Caregivers meet with people in need as often as necessary to provide emotional support, at no cost. 

Liz Hollowell, leader of the Stephen Ministry at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Fort Collins, knows that the work she does in her ministry is just God working through her. 

“I just can’t tell you how much it has changed my life,” said Hollowell. “With my very first care receiver I remember she said to me, ‘You’ve helped me so much!’ and I thought ‘But I didn’t do anything.’ It’s really the Holy Spirit working through you, listening, and letting them talk. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger.” 

For more information on the Stephen Ministry, visit: www.stephenministries.org.

Social Ministry 

Parishes are also there to help with some of the more mundane yet still pressing needs that people may have. Robert Fisher is in charge of the Social Ministry office at Holy Ghost Parish in Denver, and much of what he does is help Colorado residents get essential paperwork and identification; things that are a necessary part of everyday life. 

“Today, I’m primarily known around the city for helping with identification,” Fisher told the Denver Catholic. “So if they need a Colorado state I.D. or their license, I can pay for those through donations. If they’ve had one before, it’s pretty easy to get another one, and if they haven’t then we help them getting the other documents, too. The other thing we’re known for is birth certificates. I’m one of the few that does out-of-state birth certificates. 

“I’ve also just recently started helping with Social Security cards because they’re not doing in-person [applications],” he continued. “They’re now doing applications through the mail, so I’m able to do that with them, just fill it out and mail it in for them.” 

Among the other services Fisher provides with Holy Ghost’s social ministry office, he helps newly-employed folks get the proper tools they need to do their job and assists with prescription medication payments. 

Holy Ghost Parish stands as a “field hospital” in the midst of Downtown Denver. It is home to a very active social ministry that helps people get essential documentation, tools, meals and more. (Photo by Andrew Wright | Denver Catholic)

“[For] people who have a job and can show it or prove it and just need a little bit of tools to help them perform the job, I can help pay for those,” he said. “And I can [help] pay for medication for individuals if they can provide proof that it’s prescribed.” 

While these services may not seem like much and perhaps even unusual for a parish to offer, they’re very helpful for people who have moved to Colorado from out of state, whom Fisher said make up most folks seeking his assistance. 

“That’s probably the biggest group that I get that need help, is those that have moved in,” Fisher explained. 

Another staple of the ministry is the sandwich line and serving other meals to those in need. Free meals are not too difficult to come by in Denver, Fisher said, but he recalled that when the COVID pandemic first hit, he did notice an increase in the demand and the amount of people coming to Holy Ghost for a meal. This is partly because due to social distancing protocols, some of the usual places had to temporarily shut down. 

“Once COVID hit, a lot of places stopped and we were one of the few that kept going,” Fisher said. “We were able to change some things around and had guys distance six feet. And we were serving what was the most that I’ve seen and heard about, which is about 100-150 a day. The average now is 30 to 40 a day, and before COVID, the average was 60 to 70.” 

Before working for Holy Ghost, Fisher was a missionary for Christ in the City, where he did outreach to the homeless and others in need. He is grateful for the opportunity to continue helping those in need and forming relationships with them, which is the best part of his job. 

“I think I just find the most joy hearing from them and talking with them and just sitting with them, especially when they don’t need something, because that’s when they’re just searching and they’re open,” he said. “They’re open to sit down and share or talk. We can just have a conversation. That’s what I love the most.” 

‘Standby’ Ministry 

When the COVID pandemic hit in March and the world shut down in the months that followed, Father Peter Wojda noticed something very peculiar: Nobody seemed to need any help. 

“It wasn’t exactly what I expected,” Father Wojda, pastor of the Catholic parishes of Grand and Jackson Counties, told the Denver Catholic near the end of October. “I set up a charity account and I let people know so they could start donating to it because I figured we’d have people that were losing jobs and whatnot.” 

However, a grand total of just two people came seeking help over the past eight months. 

“I had one person come looking for a hotel room, and they’re not a parishioner, they were just kind of passing through, and then someone else passing through, when their car broke down, one of our parishioners sold them a fantastic vehicle for dirt cheap and we helped out with that as well. That was it in the last eight months.” 

A similar thing happened when the East Troublesome Fire hit Grand County and forced the residents of Granby and the surrounding mountain towns to evacuate. The parishes went on “standby,” so to speak, and were available to help with whatever was needed. 

The remains of a home burned down by the East Troublesome Fire. (Photo courtesy of Father Peter Wojda)

“I know of three parishioners that lost homes,” Father Wojda said. “As far as I know, all of our parishioners evacuated safely and found housing with family or friends. I know there are people who escaped with just the clothes they were wearing, but they didn’t come our way. I have been asking around but everyone I talk to have been doing relatively well. The community in the county was amazing, with lots of people helping other to evacuate homes and ranches.” 

Despite many of the material needs in the wake of the fire being met, Father Wojda said the parishioners up in Grand and Jackson counties found other ways to help, especially on the nights when the temperatures dipped to below freezing. 

“The sheriff asked for help from some of the tradespeople like plumbers and stuff and he got 40 or 50 people, including a couple of our parishioners, to go up with his officers to try to shut off water in the homes to prevent further damage to homes that may have actually survived,” Father Wojda said.  

It’s been impressive to see the willingness of his parishioners and others from the local community to step up and help, Father Wojda said.  

Parishioners of the Catholic parishes in Grand and Jackson counties helped out however they could as the East Troublesome Fire raged in surrounding areas. (Photo courtesy of Father Peter Wojda)

“[There’s been] so many people just saying, ‘oh, I can do that,’ and showing up, not getting paid or anything, but [they] just recognized this is needed,” he said. “I’ve seen that in many different ways. In that sense, it’s been really good … [it’s] one of those things where I feel like it’s almost a shame that we need these big crises and tragedies for us to become who we’re supposed to be. But it’s beautiful.” 

Father Wojda expects the most pressing needs to become more apparent in the aftermath of the fires. Until then, the parishes remain on “standby,” ready and willing to help however they can. 

“The more difficult part will be working with the people who lost their homes, next week, next month… that kind of thing,” Father Wojda concluded. “In my mind, that’s going to be where we are doing more. We’ve been getting a list of people to call and we’ll be trying to keep in touch with them and taking more initiative in that way.” 

Rocio Madera and Aaron Lambert contributed to this report.  

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!