BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has appealed to Catholics in the Diocese of Bridgeport to raise $1.5 million as part of the Annual Catholic Emergency Appeal because of an increased demand for services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused “continuing uncertainty and suffering.”
“In the past six months we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who came to our outreach programs seeking food, housing, educational assistance, psychological support and spiritual consolation,” Bishop Caggiano said. “Many have lost family members, found themselves without jobs, are suffering ill health and are unable to return to work or unable to meet their family’s basic needs. This human suffering will not end anytime soon. In many respects, it continues to grow.”
The appeal, which has as its theme “Love never fails,” taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, has raised $6.7 million since it began in February and has allowed the diocese to accomplish the following:
- Serve an additional 700 meals a day at its soup kitchens and other non-profit nutrition programs and homeless shelters. Catholic Charities served more than 500,000 meals from March through August, almost three times the usual number.
- Provide housing for more than 70 homeless individuals at a Shelton hotel where they receive three meals a day.
- Meet the demand for counseling services at a time when depression and anxiety are on the rise.
- Provide scholarship assistance and distance learning for all diocesan Catholic schools and students receiving sacramental preparation and religious instruction. This year has seen an increase of 800 students in Catholic schools.
- Celebrate Masses and liturgies online through live-streaming.
- Support hospital chaplains bringing Christ to patients and families who were often separated during this crisis.
Bishop Caggiano said the pandemic has affected the Church and larger community and that many people find they are in need of assistance for the first time in their lives. He expects there will be more difficult times in the months ahead.
“Suffering has taken its face in those around us,” he said. “Many have lost family members, found themselves without jobs, are suffering ill health and unable to return to work or unable to meet their family’s basic needs. This human suffering will not end anytime soon. In many respects, it continues to grow.”
He expressed gratitude to donors who have given to the appeal during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. “Over the last six months, we have seen so much need and suffering in our midst, but through your generosity, the Church has been able to respond generously and in many ways even heroically,” he said. “Given the extraordinary circumstances and the hardships many people are experiencing, the response to the appeal has been gratifying. The diocese has pulled together as a family and has shown a concern that has inspired me and made me proud.”
Joseph Gallagher, who was named chief development officer of the diocese in June, said, “I’ve been with the diocese for four months and have been struck by the overwhelming willingness of parishioners to respond during the crisis. I am very grateful to everyone.”
Gallagher emphasized the importance of the Annual Catholic Appeal, which meets the immediate needs of the diocese, as opposed to long-term needs covered by the We Stand With Christ capital campaign. He stressed that the appeal provides for the faithful in three basic areas—Catholic education, charitable services provided by Catholic Charities, and faith formation.
He said the success of the appeal is based on a partnership with parishes that are working to reach their goals. One of those parishes is St. Pius X of Fairfield, which achieved 111 percent of its goal.
When asked what the secret was, Father Samuel S. Kachuba, pastor, responded, “I did nothing. That’s the absolute truth. The most important thing is that people at St. Pius are extraordinarily generous. This is a parish that has folks who are committed to the good of the Church, and they recognize there are things that not only need to be done at the parish level but also need to be done at the diocesan level. There are people in need and there are causes that the Church must support—and they want to be part of it. The Annual Catholic Appeal provides them with the opportunity to be involved when they might not be personally.”
Father Kachuba said many of his parishioners are committed to the work of Catholic Charities and Catholic education. Some of them were graduates themselves or have children who attended Catholic schools.
“They want to see Catholic education thrive and grow, and they recognize that not everyone can afford Catholic school, so they are very willing to make those gifts so that Catholic education can be strong for others,” he said.
In addition, many St. Pius parishioners are involved with the work of Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport and other ministries and have seen firsthand the need that exists in the community.
“They recognize how blessed they are and want to give back,” Father said.
While the parish reached 111 percent of its goal, Father said he wished the rate of participation were higher. “We have a lot more people who participate in the regular parish offertory than who participate in the annual appeal, and that is always the biggest challenge for parishes—how to encourage more people to give.”
He believes the COVID pandemic inspired many to give sacrificially because they realized, “We’ve got to do something because the needs are significantly higher and greater than they have been in the past.”
He has also seen greater participation in the parish’s food drive. “In some ways, I suspect the pandemic has actually brought out the best altruistic characteristics that people have,” he said.
Pamela S. Rittman, director of development and the Annual Catholic Appeal, praised Father Kachuba for the success at St. Pius.
She also said that the diocese responded to the increased need by sending letters to donors, instituting a ministry video, social media outreach and wellness calls to parishioners. She thanked those who participated in the appeal, some of whom were first-time donors and others who made two gifts.
“With the challenges and uncertainty presented by COVID-19, we have found ourselves living in a world very different than it’s ever been before,” Rittman said. “The demand for services increased tremendously, and one thing for certain is our parishioners, in the most difficult situations, continue to reach out in compassion to one another and support not only those in most need, but the programs and services that provide for all ministry and school programs. We still need your help and are grateful for your sacrificial giving.”
By Joe Pisani