by Lisa Tramontana
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” — Matthew 25:35-36
These words from the gospel of Matthew illustrate one of the most basic tenets of all religions — mercy. Defined as compassion or forgiveness toward those in desperate situations, mercy is something all of us have the power to extend. At Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, staff and volunteers are constantly performing acts of mercy to create hope and healing in our community.
“Our strength is our diversity and the number of programs we offer,” said Carol Spruell, communications coordinator. “We touch the lives of people of all faiths as we serve those who need our compassion.”
Indeed, Catholic Charities ministers to pregnant women, prisoners, refugees, seniors, families in crisis, and many other populations. The agency covers a 12-parish area and since 1964 has improved the lives of thousands of people. Catholic Charities also partners with local nonprofits, other faith groups and churches, foundations and universities to provide financial, educational and spiritual support.
Spruell highlighted three of Catholic Charities’ ministries — pregnant women in crisis, refugee resettlement, and prisoner support.
“Sanctuary for Life is a housing program for pregnant women, many who don’t know where to turn,” said Spruell. “This is a time of high crisis. Some women are abandoned by their families, and some of them are encouraged to have abortions. It’s one thing to be pro-life but another to actually support pregnant women and new mothers. They need jobs, housing, counseling and medical care. We help with all of those things.”
Refugee resettlement is another ministry often associated with Catholic Charities. After the fall of Vietnam in 1974, Catholic Charities took the lead in providing services to refugees. This includes establishing housing, employment help, financial advice, and guidance to help them acclimate to a new culture.
“These family arrived in the United States with only the clothes on their backs, having fled violence and war in their home country,” said Spruell. “We make sure they have a place to live, hot meals, clothing, and eventually jobs. We help them find schools for their children, learn the bus routes, handle emergencies. We offer English classes so they can speak the language. There is a lot involved. Fortunately, we have a great number of resources, and if we don’t have a way to address a need, we can refer to other agencies that can help.”
Since Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, Catholic Charities sponsors a program to help former prisoners adjust to life in mainstream society. Imagine what it’s like to leave prison after 20 or 30 years and walk into a society that has completely changed. The challenges of successful reintegration are staggering.
“Our Joseph Home provides traditional housing for homeless men after they’ve been released from prison,” Spruell said. “Each man has his own apartment, but lives in a community with other men in the same situation. They can receive counseling, join support groups, and attend substance abuse meetings. Without emotional support, newly released prisoners are five times more likely to re-offend.”
One of Catholic Charities’ best qualities is its ability to match people of means to people with needs. And not just wealthy patrons, but working families who have a little extra to share with those less fortunate. A good example is The Community Comes Together for Christmas. Over the holidays, the program helped more than 500 families and seniors. Sponsors and donors signed up to purchase gifts such as clothing, blankets, shoes, gift cards and toys for children.
Catholic Charities has been a blessing to the community for more than 50 years, but it relies on the support and generosity of others, and always will. Volunteers are needed in so many ways. Do you own a business that needs workers? Can you teach English? Do you have baby clothes packed away in boxes? Are you knowledgeable about finances? Are you a counselor? Can you help someone with his tax return? Do you like to spend time with the elderly? Can you provide transportation to someone in need?
Everyone has time, talents and gifts that they can share with others. If you are interested in volunteering or making a donation, contact Catholic Charities at (225) 336-8700 or visit www.CatholicCharitiesBR.org.