In this set of teaching editorials, Church leaders in the areas of worship, formation, service and administration will reflect on what we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and how that might inform ministry going forward.
The very existence of Catholic Charities as the humanitarian arm of the Church is a reflection of the injustices and disparities that have always simmered beneath the surface of our society. Our many programs and services wouldn’t exist otherwise. We carry out the mission of the Church in that gap between God’s dream for the world and for every woman, man and child and the harsh reality of what life is like for many of God’s children.
During this pandemic, people already in need faced even more barriers. Others, who were stable under normal circumstances, found themselves in new and difficult situations. This challenging time forced us to adapt at Catholic Charities, and in the end, our services are even stronger. We have realized how truly skilled we are in our service to others, and the pandemic has taught us to believe in the things we can accomplish with God’s grace. The lessons learned will continue to inform us and our work as we move forward.
We honor one another by being safe and following the necessary protocols during the COVID-19 crisis, but we’ve also learned the importance of being connected. We strengthened that connection through means that seemed small but loomed large. During the lockdown last spring, our Staff Care Committee compiled a playlist of the music that was keeping our spirits up, while a staff person with the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative made a standing appointment to call a certain client every single day at the same time — so that trafficking survivor, living alone, heard a caring voice every day.
Across the country and Commonwealth, though the government sought to support groups through emergency legislation, many systems were not equipped to handle the influx of people needing access to services. In March 2020, as other food pantries in the area closed, we saw a vast increase in families coming to Sister Visitor Center for assistance. Similarly, as graduates of our Common Table program lost jobs in the food service world, our staff had a hard time connecting them to much-needed social services because those providers were so overwhelmed with new clients.
In response, Catholic Charities extended its outreach and partnership with many others to meet increased need across our 24 counties of the archdiocese. To date, Catholic Charities has distributed more than $690,000 it received from federal and local grant monies and private donations to aid those experiencing need due to the COVID-19 pandemic — mostly helping with rent/mortgage payments, utility bills and food. In addition to providing direct aid to individuals and families, Catholic Charities has disbursed funds to individual parish relief efforts, like food pantries, and community-partner organizations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that we can do things differently — even though the adjustment process was painful at times. Our immigration program has long prided itself on excellent service, accompanying clients along their legal immigration journeys. Until the pandemic, that meant meeting clients face-to-face and making a personal connection. Even in the worst of times, through job loss, illness and death, our clients still have to meet the deadlines set by the U.S. Government: for the documentation to work legally; to formalize and secure their right to remain; to reunite with family members whom they may not have seen in decades. So we adjusted to the pandemic by speaking with clients on the phone and by sending and receiving forms and documents from our clients via mail or email, potentially never even seeing them in person.
While our work became more remote, our compassion was unchanged. In each of our Catholic Charities programs, we didn’t stop what we do because we were confronted with new challenges. We came together to explore what CAN be done.
We learned much from those we served in these difficult times. Our clients are even more resilient than we thought, and that is saying a great deal because they have always demonstrated great strength, adaptability and perseverance. We learned in new ways how to look up to those we serve as models and inspiration for us all. It is a privilege to be in their company.
We have established wonderful relationships and, going forward, we will be a greater resource, support and partner with many doing the works of charity and justice throughout the archdiocese. We also learned that self-care can no longer take a backseat. We must care for ourselves with the same passion and intensity that we place on serving others. It’s what enables us to continue.
If a silver lining to the pandemic exists, it is that the experiences, tools and new skills will allow us to be even more effective going forward, and more importantly, as Archbishop Kurtz pointed out in the first teaching editorial, to dream the path to a better future, which is nothing less than God’s dream for our world!
Lisa DeJaco Crutcher is the CEO and Deacon Lucio Caruso is the director of mission for Catholic Charities of Louisville.