What is true charity?

The Christian struggle of encountering a homeless person on the street

Coming across a homeless person on the street can turn into a real battle for Christians. Not knowing how to respond or what to do, some feel guilty for not helping and others ignore the situation. A mixture of skepticism and the calling of Jesus to help the poor can cause a real discomfort that leads to the golden question: “Should I give money to the homeless person?”

Mike Sinnett, Director of Shelter Services for Catholic Charities of Denver, thinks there is a better way. He believes Christians can practice true charity in two ways: by acknowledging the person’s presence and dignity and connecting them to a place that will give them the opportunity to get back on their feet.

“One of the things we [Catholic Charities] talk about is that we try to see the face of Jesus in anybody that is in need,” Sinnet said. “The primary goal is to restore their dignity and get them out of the street, get them on a trajectory of recovery that allows them to go back into housing.”

Sinnett said the primary step is to recognize a person facing homelessness as a human being.

“One way you could respond is just to ask them their name and see if they have any immediate needs: Are they hungry or thirsty?” he pointed out. “You can recognize them by saying, ‘Hey, Joe, I’ll pray for you tonight and I hope God gives you the direction you need to get out of the street.’ Having someone know that you care enough to remember their name and that you’re going to pray for them that night is a pretty good encounter.”

Recognizing a homeless person’s dignity leads to step number two: offering real help.

A place of rebirth

Rather than giving people money, Sinnett recommends being a bridge to finding true help for them — help that can assist them with getting back on their feet. This is due to two reasons, he explained.

On the one hand, “We don’t understand where they are in their life journey: Are they on their way to recovery or are they continuing to slide down?” Sinner said. “We should try to offer resources to them because the professionals that take care of those experiencing homelessness understand better the needs and boundaries that are necessary in taking care of someone [struggling].”

On the other hand, there are many resources people don’t take advantage of and, to the surprise of many, one of the biggest challenges is finding ways to connect people experiencing homeless with the programs that offer resources for them, Sinnett explained. Helping a person find these services can go way farther than two dollars, for it can help them find a good job, overcome addictions and find a home.

Sinnett believes an important way Catholics can respond to Christ’s call is by understanding what Catholic Charities is about: “We are the charitable arm of the Archdiocese of Denver and our mission statements says that we extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor and those in need,” he said.

Having someone know that you care enough to remember their name and that you’re going to pray for them that night is a pretty good encounter.”

More concretely, Samaritan House, a ministry operated by Catholic Charities, has helped people earn living wages and affordable housing since 1986.

It walks with people facing homelessness in a journey of around 120 days which helps them find a job, save money, secure sufficient food and clothing, and find an affordable home.

Answering the call

Other than helping people in need find these resources, he also encourages Catholics to help by giving of their time, talents or treasure with Catholic Charities and the Samaritan House, which are always in need of help.

“[You can always help], whether that’s by donating your time teaching a class at Samaritan House, working at the kitchen to serve the meals we serve each day, [or] maybe you’ve been blessed and you’ve got money you can send to Catholic Charities that we will put into services to those experiencing homelessness,” Sinnet stated. “You can also help with your talents — if you’re good at something in particular that could help us at CC, where we wouldn’t have to go out and hire someone to do that.”

The perfect opportunity to do exactly that will take place this Aug. 13-27, as the 32-year old Samaritan House will undergo improvements. During the two-week project to remodel the kitchen, Samaritan House will need assistance feeding the people it is caring for.

Catholic Charities is asking the community for support with time, talents or treasures — whether that be by serving meals, cleaning or donating to buy disposables.

“The beauty that we see is that those that actually walk through the doors of our shelters are not there to scam us. They’ve made a decision to get help,” Sinnett concluded. “They’ve made the decision that they’re done living the life that they were living and that they want to make a change. So, we invite them into a trajectory of recovery …. That person experiencing homelessness can be Jesus in disguise.”

Serve at Samaritan House

If you are interested in helping, visit samhousedenver.org or email shdvolunteers@ccdenver.org.

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.