Build a community of love

“In some way or another, the Annual Catholic Appeal has a big impact on all the members of the parish,” says Joel Aquino, a member of St. Benedict-Our Lady of Montserrat Parish in Stamford.

“It’s like us,” his wife Alexandra says in agreement. “Our kids have been in Catholic schools since pre-K3. Our youth group helps at the food pantry, which goes to people in need. Our parish has a new priest, Father Abelardo, only seven months ordained. He does a lot with the youth, and invites the parents to join him. We all benefit from that.”

Joel and Alexandra met when they were both in the youth group at Our Lady of Montserrat. In their continued support of parish activities they are following the example set by their parents. “We came to this country from Guatemala on a Thursday,” says Joel. “On Sunday, the family was in church. There was never a break or hesitation. When I was in youth group, my father and I were both lectors at Mass.”

“The parish has always been our second home,” says Alexandra. “In some way or another we’ve always been active in the parish.” The couple has been facilitators in pre-Cana sessions, and Alexandra is currently on the parish council. She is also part of the V Encuentro Nacional, engaging Hispanic Catholics, and by their example the whole Church, to reach out to those who have fallen away and tell them of the saving love of Jesus and the Catholic faith.

As they carry on the example of parish involvement set by their parents, they are encouraging their children to continue that tradition. Their two daughters have been altar servers at the parish, and their son may follow in his turn.

“A parish is a family of families,” says Father Gustavo Falla, pastor of St. Benedict-Our Lady of Montserrat and St. Mary parishes. In the same way, the diocese is a family of parishes, working together. “When we join together in the Annual Catholic Appeal, we strengthen the community, helping others, reaching out to the needy, providing for elderly priests and forming seminarians to become future priests.”

“The appeal lets us help on a larger level,” adds Joel. “It goes to strengthen our schools and religious education programs and youth activities. It goes out to people in need, to feed those who are hungry.”

Because they realize the importance of the community working together, the couple agreed to be featured on the Annual Catholic Appeal Spanish-language video. “We’re really shy, actually,” says Joel. But they realized that too many people did not know about the many ways the appeal helps them and those around them. “It’s our responsibility to speak out.”

“People hear about the appeal, but they don’t always know why they’re being asked to support it financially,” says Alexandra. She hopes that, once they know the programs the appeal supports, they will want to help in even more ways.

“The soup kitchen and food pantry at New Covenant Center in Stamford help people in need,” she says. “We want to encourage people not just to be sure there is food, but actually be there to serve the food—to become part of the way we help our community.”

Most important of all, Joel and Alexandra both agree, the appeal helps form new priests for the future of the Church. “We have had wonderful pastors,” says Joel. “The reason this parish has grown so much is because of them. We’ve had great, marvelous priests. Financial aid to seminarians will bring more priests. They are the key to the future.”

The appeal assists in the education of seminarians entering St. John Fisher Seminary, in the continuing formation of active priests and in care for retired priests at the Catherine Dennis Keefe Queen of the Clergy retired priests’ residence.

“The Church is a community of love,” says Alexandra. “We are trying to build a better community. This is the way we thank God for everything we have.”

(To donate to the Annual Catholic Appeal, contact Pam Rittman: or 203.416.1470. You may make your gift online at:

(Para leer este artículo en español, vea la página 27.)