How time flies!
As I look back over my eight years at Catholic Charities, certain images remain in my mind. These images spoke so powerfully of service, holiness, and care for others. They captured the good work of Catholic Charities and our donors, staff and volunteers.
If I may, I would like to share three with you today, and I invite you to reflect upon them.
The first scene is the weekly dinner we host for the hungry through our St. Maria’s Meals program. Cardinal Wuerl normally joined us two or three times each year to help and share the gift of his presence. The homeless knew him, loved him, and enjoyed spending time with him during those meals.
Here’s the image I want you to see: It starts with a homeless man in need of shoes, and he happens to wear a size 17EEE. We looked all over to find shoes that fit, which we eventually did with the help of the Washington Wizards, who are just down the street from us. As the man came for his dinner the Wednesday after the shoes arrived, I asked Cardinal Wuerl if he would like to give them to the man.
He did, and so much more. Cardinal Wuerl got down on his knees, unlaced the new shoes, and placed them on the man’s feet. I’ll never forget that image of the cardinal in his goodness and care for others in front of the homeless. The man had warmth and care for his feet, and I’m sure he also had warmth in his heart because Cardinal Wuerl treated him with respect and dignity as a brother in Christ.
The second image is one that many people around the world saw on television. It happened four years ago when Pope Francis visited us at Catholic Charities, blessed our building and our chapel, and then stepped outside our offices to see some four or five hundred people waiting to greet him and to serve a meal to those who are homeless.
It was a magnificent occasion, but the lasting image for me is Pope Francis coming out the front door of our offices and walking straight past the microphone where he was going to offer a prayer and heading immediately to the people. He spent the next 20 or 30 minutes greeting and lifting up those who were without homes and in need of a good meal. His love for the poor was so evident that I will never forget that moment.
The third scene has happened four or five times through the years, and it affects me every single time. Picture yourself looking down on the gym floor at the University of Maryland’s Xfinity Center, home to the nationally ranked men’s and women’s basketball teams. The floor is jammed, but not with skilled basketball players. Instead, 100 dental chairs fill the surface, each with a patient being cared for by one of 500 dental and medical professionals who have graciously donated their time and talent over a two-day period. Five hundred general volunteers are there over the course of the event as well, to help. It is a magnificent bustling scene of service, of assistance to those in need, and of care for others.
It’s called the Mid-Maryland Mission of Mercy (MOM), and we are blessed to do this every year in a great partnership with the University of Maryland School of Public Health, Cigna and Kaiser Permanente. This year’s event just took place last week, and about 1,100 people received dental care and assistance over three days. They received cleanings, had cavities filled, new crowns, overdue root canals, X-rays, and more. All left with smiles on their faces – healthier and brighter smiles – knowing that dental issues that in many cases had grown worse over the years were finally taken care of!
The sad part for all of us is that we cannot accommodate every individual who comes for help. It breaks my heart that we have to tell a number of people each day that we have no more space left. We turned away about 1,000 people this year who wanted and deserved services they cannot afford.
The annual Mission of Mercy is a powerful image and a great example of an effective partnership. Each year, more than one million dollars in pro bono service and healthcare is provided in just three days, which is staggering. I couldn’t be prouder of our partners, our volunteers and our staff, including Deacon Jim Nalls, one of the leaders of the effort.
Thanks to all of the unsung heroes who make so much good possible. Thank you to all who were part of the three images that stay so vivid in my mind. They speak to me of the Lord’s call to serve, the importance of our response, and Catholic Charities at its best.
I’ll leave you with one more image. There may not have been 18,000 cheering fans at the Xfinity Center, as there are for basketball games, but I absolutely believe Jesus was cheering for the dental and medical professionals, the patients, volunteers and everyone else. I believe he was there when Cardinal Wuerl knelt down as Jesus did as he put shoes on a homeless man. And I believe he was there and working through Pope Francis as he reached out to our clients to speak with them, pray with them, and love them as brothers and sisters.
Jesus is there every time we serve others, in us and those we serve. May our acts of service, big and small, create lasting images in all our minds of how much God loves each and every person created in His image.
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