I am blessed every day to see firsthand how beautifully our Catholic Charities employees and volunteers serve those in need. Much of this happens quietly in shelters and offices as meals are distributed, counseling is provided, a warm coat is given on a cold day, and so much more. At the same time, there are also moments where the sheer number of people needing help is almost overwhelming.

Picture this scene: The Xfinity Center, the athletic arena for the Maryland Terrapins women’s and men’s basketball teams, is filled with excitement. That’s not at all unusual. After all, this is the same court where the Terps play other big-time colleges, where our own Mark Turgeon (a parishioner at Holy Redeemer Parish in Kensington) coaches, where the women’s team consistently ranks among the top five teams in the country. This time, though, it’s not basketball. Thousands of people are at the Xfinity Center because they are either providing or receiving free dental care.

The lack of proper dental care is a much bigger problem than you may realize. Those who are homeless and jobless certainly can’t afford it, but this is one need that often also extends to those who do have homes and jobs. Many people in our region have just enough money for food and rent each month, with nothing left to pay for other things that are still important, including visits to the dentist. A survey by the Maryland Health Department a few years ago showed that one in five state residents had not been to a dentist for at least five years. These can be teachers, public servants and our neighbors.

You can see why the Xfinity Center is filled with activity when free dental care is made available. And it’s why we at Catholic Charities are so thrilled to participate for the fifth straight year in the Mission of Mercy (MOM). The entire floor of the Xfinity Center is filled with dental chairs. Each chair has a dentist and hygienist, enabling more than 1,200 adults to be seen by dentists volunteering their services for Catholic Charities and in partnership with the University of Maryland School of Public Health, Center for Health Equity and the Maryland State Dental Society. These professionals graciously do everything from cleanings and fillings to extractions and even root canals.

Just like at the basketball games, people wait in line to get in, and even though we have increased our capacity through the years, we will still have to turn away hundreds of others. At the end of the Mission of Mercy, we will have provided over $1.2 million in free dental services to the people of our community.

This great event of love and service takes place this weekend. On Thursday, hundreds of volunteers join us to prepare for the crowds who will come for dental care. Once all the registrations are completed, clients show up early Friday morning – some even in the middle of the night – to make sure they get a spot. Our clinic opens at 7 a.m. and continues until 5 p.m. There is a Maryland football game on Saturday, so the clinic will be closed that day but open up again on Sunday for another full day of service.

The whole Mission of Mercy event is an amazing and moving scene, one that reminds me of the crowds that came to see Jesus hoping to be healed. People come from as far away as West Virginia, hoping and praying they can join the list of those receiving care. I’ve written before about the value of partnerships, and this is a perfect example of the good that can come when people and organizations work together to serve our community.

You can be a part of this service by praying. Please say a prayer for all those who struggle with any sort of physical or dental issues, and while you are at it, say a prayer of thanks for all the volunteers who will make this weekend and our Mission of Mercy so successful. Thanks also to the leadership team from Catholic Charities, headed by Deacon Jim Nalls. For him and for all involved, this is a labor of love – loving God by loving our neighbor and meeting Jesus in those we serve.