by Bill McCarthy 

In December, as we were anticipating and looking forward to joyful and festive times with family and friends, we all stopped in our tracks as we learned of the horrific, senseless and unimaginable tragedy that took place in Newtown, Connecticut.  Since then, all of us have cried, mourned, prayed, questioned and reacted to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives of 20 young children and six heroic teachers and administrators.  I am sure every single one of us has asked why someone would inflict such pain and loss on a community and rob the community, our country and world of so many lives full of possibility.  Many of us are also wondering how this kind of tragedy can be prevented in the future.   If these questions can be answered, the answers are complex and multifaceted.  What we are to do in the wake of this tragedy is unclear, especially at what is supposed to be a joyous time of year, a time of preparation, giving, hope and celebration.  What can we do?

Perhaps what we can do at Catholic Charities is to continue what we have been doing.  As I look around Catholic Charities, I see generally busy people in overdrive, making sure that the people we serve experience the joy of the season and preparing to spend special time with clients, colleagues, family and friends.  The way you celebrate this season at Catholic Charities is to do more, give more and love more.  Here are a few extra things that have been going on around the Agency

  • Our colleagues from the Community Services Division offices at Lexington Street are collecting gifts for the men of Holden Hall.
  • More than 165 staff and volunteers gathered at the St. Vincent’s Villa gym to create a spectacular Winter Wonderland filled with more than 100 beautifully decorated Christmas trees for the children of St. Vincent’s Villa. And the Kids at Work group, a group of children from St. Vincent’s Villa, initiated a food drive starting at Thanksgiving and are donating the food and supplies to Our Daily Bread after Christmas.  This is a wonderful example of how our colleagues are helping the children celebrate their blessings and work to help others during this holiday season.
  • Our colleagues in Development and Communications adopted two families from the Child and Family Services Division and participated in the Catholic Center’s Angel Tree by buying specific gifts for children living at Sarah’s House.
  • One of our colleagues for Our Lady of Fatima I and II  Senior Housing rallied the residents of both buildings to donate toys and other items to the children of St. Vincent’s Villa.
  • The Esperanza Center has organized an adopt-a-family program through which local universities, parishes and companies can provide children and families in need with gifts for the holidays.
  • St. Jerome’s Head Start celebrated the 20th Anniversary of its Super Store through which parents earn points for participating in the program and can shop for new gifts for children and family members with points earned. New gift items are donated by individuals and organizations. Carroll County Head Start similarly held a Super Store for parents, and Harford County Early Head Start worked  in partnership with churches and other community organizations to provide gifts for Early Head Start families.
  •  At My Sister’s Place, our colleagues decorated the Center and will distribute gift bags to the women and children they serve.  Similarly, at Our Daily Bread Employment Center, our colleagues decorated the building and planned several special Christmas celebrations.
  • Our annual Agency Leadership Breakfast, which happens early each December, has come and gone.  This event raised over $3 million to help us operate our programs and help more people this year.
  • The beautiful Catholic Charities Christmas Festival was held last week to celebrate the season through song and to benefit our senior housing programs.  A number of our colleagues made this happen and helped us engage volunteers, donors and partners from across our community.
  • Across programs and within departments, Christmas luncheons and events are in full swing.  In so many ways, we are hard at work to let those we serve and those with whom we work know that we care about them and to help them experience the joy of Christmas.

I do not know how to prevent what occurred in Newtown from ever happening again, but there is one thing I do know for sure.  You and people like you are a big part of the solution.  You spend so much of your time loving and, by doing so, giving hope to people in despair as a result of their own troubles or the troubles of our ailing world.  Pope Benedict XVI ends his encyclical (or letter) entitled Deus Caritas Est – or God is Love — with the following.  I think it gives us guidance now:
Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.  Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God.  [We are called to] experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world.