In 2020, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory spent Thanksgiving in Rome, as he had lunch that day with Pope Francis that included not turkey but pasta, and then two days later was elevated to the College of Cardinals.

Upon returning home to Washington where he serves as archbishop, Cardinal Gregory has been celebrating Masses of Thanksgiving at parishes in different regions of the Archdiocese of Washington, to offer special thanks to local Catholics for their generosity  to the archdiocese’s Annual Appeal and to their parishes during a challenging year marked by the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.

At a Dec. 10 Mass at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, Cardinal Gregory, after being welcomed by the pastor, Father Roberto Cortes-Campos, noted that normally he has the chance at a reception at St. Matthew’s Cathedral to personally thank people for their generosity, but because of the pandemic and safety restrictions on public gatherings, “it’s easier for me to come to a number of parishes.”

“The message is still the same, and the message is gratitude, and I say it from the heart. Thank you for your generous support of the Annual Appeal, and thank you for your support of your parish communities,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Gregory speaks during a Dec. 10, 2020 Mass at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Hyattsville, Maryland. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

In an email interview, David Cook, the director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Annual Appeal, noted, “As we come to the close of the 2020 Annual Appeal, we have received 12 percent more gifts this year compared to 2019, resulting in nearly $600,000 more donations made this year over last year.”

Cook pointed out that as in every year, 100 percent of gifts made to the 2020 Annual Appeal directly supported more than 70 local ministries and charitable works, including campus ministries, religious education programs, seminarian education, and prison and hospital chaplaincies. 

An average of 188 families at each of the 139 parishes in the archdiocese made a gift to the Annual Appeal in 2020, with an average of 22 families at each parish making their first-ever gift to the Annual Appeal. 

“We are incredibly grateful both to the families who renewed their giving, and to the new donors who were inspired to give in 2020,” Cook said. He emphasized that, “It is an incredible success story to witness the generosity of the people of our archdiocese through this pandemic. We have seen that people want to help, and they want to support causes they know are serving those in greatest need during this pandemic, whether it be at the parish or archdiocesan level. Again, we wish to assure those supporters of the Annual Appeal that their generosity is having a tremendous impact.”

Cook noted that some programs in the archdiocese have been able to increase their impact since the pandemic began, reaching more people through digital means like Zoom.

Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington also demonstrated their generosity on Dec. 1 on Giving Tuesday right after Thanksgiving, when 106 local Catholic organizations participating in the #iGiveCatholic program raised more than $323,000 collectively from 1,864 donors. 

Joseph Gillmer, the executive director of development for the Archdiocese of Washington, noted that since May, thousands of donors also provided more than $500,000 in support of parish and school food pantries, and another $250,000 in support of the Needy Parish Fund.

“The good works of the Church are a critical part of communities throughout the greater Washington region. This year, Catholics have stepped up to support programs that will benefit tens of thousands as we enter this particularly challenging winter. The generosity of the faithful is nothing short of breathtaking and heartwarming,” Gillmer said.

Cardinal Gregory elevates the Eucharist during the consecration at the Dec. 10 Mass at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Hyattsville. At left is Father Roberto Cortes-Campos, St. Mark's pastor. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The cardinal’s Mass at St. Mark the Evangelist Church had a special poignancy, because that parish, like many other parishes throughout the region, has been a hub for essential outreach during the pandemic.

The food pantry at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish has been in operation since 1991, almost three decades. The St. Mark’s food pantry distributes food every Tuesday, and on July 7, volunteers there gave out food to 352 individuals and families. Before the COVID-19 crisis, the panty was serving about 80 families a week. That amounts to a more than four-fold increase.

The pantry at the Hyattsville parish relies on donations from parishioners, and also gets food from the Capital Area Food Bank and Catholic Charities, and the parish has done fundraising and sought donations from local governments and community groups. 

In his homily at the Dec. 10 Mass at St. Mark the Evangelist Church, Cardinal Gregory reflected on the Christmas season and lessons in giving that children learn as they grow up.

“When you grew up and became an adult, you realize that the greatest gift that any of us can give is the gift of giving of yourself for others,” he said.

Again offering thanks for people’s generosity to the Annual Appeal and to their parish ministries and outreach, the cardinal said, “Thank you for helping this archdiocese in many, many different ways fulfill its mission of charity, support and outreach to the poor, education, formation of seminarians, (and) support of our senior priests. 

“That’s what our Annual Appeal does,” Cardinal Gregory said. “It provides an opportunity for us as a community, as a family, to attend to the needs of those who benefit from your generosity. It is my great honor this evening to simply say, ‘thank you,’ thank you for all you have done in this most recent appeal. You represent decades of generosity in your parishes to this local Church.”

Cardinal Gregory speaks at a Dec. 9 Mass at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church in Leonardtown, Maryland. At left is the pastor, Father David Beaubien. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

At a Dec. 9 Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church in Leonardtown, Maryland, Father David Beaubien, the pastor, welcomed Cardinal Gregory and congratulated him on his new role within the Church. 

“May I take this opportunity on behalf of us all to congratulate you on your appointment to the College of Cardinals in which role you will assist our Holy Father Pope Francis in his oversight of the universal Church,” Father Beaubien said. “Your Eminence, as the shepherd of our local Church, a special appreciation of your role given by our Holy Father does honor us as well. Above all may it inspire us to even greater service of those in need and to those who look to the Church as a sign of hope, especially in these difficult and challenging times.” 

People pray during Cardinal Gregory’s Dec. 9 Mass at St. Aloysius Church in Leonardtown. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

In his homily at St. Aloysius Church, Cardinal Gregory expressed gratitude to people for their generous support of archdiocesan and parish ministries and programs. 

“Thank you, thank you for your devotion to the Church,” he said. “Thank you for your devotion to your parish and to the schools that educate our children and the religious education programs that educate them in the faith and to all those services that parishes and the archdiocese through the appeal make possible.”

Cardinal Gregory offers a final blessing at the end of his Dec. 9 Mass at St. Aloysius Church in Leonardtown. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Cardinal Gregory told those gathered at St. Aloysius Church and those watching it via livestream that, “We do the best work of caring for the poor and reaching out to our neighbors when we do it together – when we embrace the Lord’s yoke and walk next to Him and bring our contributions in communion with Him to care for the poor (and) to care for our neighbors. We take the Lord’s yoke because He is walking right next to us, and together by being generous and being faithful, we plow the earth and produce a bountiful harvest.” 

(For more information on the Annual Appeal of the Archdiocese of Washington, go to https://adw.org/ways-to-give/annual-appeal/ . Josephine von Dohlen contributed to this story, reporting on the St. Aloysius Mass.)