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Catholic Charities' annual Spring Celebration goes virtual

  • WCVB-TV anchor Mary Saladna hosts Catholic Charities’ virtual Spring celebration May 19. Pilot photo/courtesy Catholic Charities via YouTube
  • Justice and Compassion Award recipient Sister Norma Pimentel offers remarks during the online celebration. Pilot photo/courtesy Catholic Charities via YouTube

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BRAINTREE -- Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston held its annual fundraiser, Spring Celebration: Compassion Now, in a virtual format on May 19.

WCVB-TV anchor Mary Saladna hosted the 30-minute program, which was presented by the Cummings Foundation. Throughout the event, instructions appeared onscreen explaining how viewers could donate to Catholic Charities online or via text message.

During the program, Catholic Charities board chair and interim president Kevin MacKenzie spoke about the organization's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that COVID-19 "became real" for Catholic Charities when the mother of a child in one of their childcare centers tested positive for the virus. Since then, he said, they have implemented changes across their four core programs -- basic needs, workforce development, immigration services, and family services -- to continue serving clients while observing health and safety measures.

MacKenzie said that, in one recent week, Catholic Charities served approximately 5,500 people and distributed 65,000 pounds of food -- almost a fivefold increase since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

"The greatest pressures are felt on the front lines, where we provide food, shelter, and living assistance. Our workers and volunteers are fully aware of the risks, and unfortunately some have contracted the virus, and are being treated and are recovering. But still, every day our team donates gloves and masks to care for residents and pack and distribute food," he said.

The Spring Celebration included a video message from Mayor Marty Walsh, who thanked the staff of Catholic Charities' shelters and food pantries for their service.

"These are vital resources that make a world of difference to people who are struggling right now," he said.

Catholic Charities honored Sister Norma Pimentel with its annual Justice and Compassion Award. A sister with the Missionaries of Jesus, Sister Norma has served as the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley for over 12 years. She has received national recognition for her work with asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"In the midst of this isolation and suffering that the whole world is experiencing, this award highlights the importance of caring," Sister Norma said in a recorded message.

If we have learned one thing from this pandemic, she said, it is "how frail and how vulnerable we all are."

The program also included a video about Catholic Charities' work, featuring testimonials from employees, volunteers, donors, and clients.

Father J. Bryan Hehir, the archdiocese's secretary of Health and Social Services, spoke about Catholic Charities' role in society. To illustrate the reason for its work, he pointed to three different parts of the Bible: the creation narratives, the prophets, and the Gospels.

The very first lines of the Book of Genesis describe God creating the world, which Father Hehir said is a poetic statement that every person is made in the image of God.

"Catholic Charities exists to create the conditions in the world (that ensure) that people who are the image of God are treated with that kind of respect, given the resources needed to live their human dignity. That's where the work of Catholic Charities begins, with the sacredness of the human person," he said.

He then pointed to the Old Testament prophets, who he called "the conscience of Israel."

"The Hebrew prophets always said the quality of your faith is dependent on the character of justice in the land. Where you stand with God depends on how you stand with each other," Father Hehir said.

He said the prophets' "test of justice" in a society was how it treated its orphans, widows, and resident aliens.

Finally, Father Hehir drew attention to Jesus' parable of the Judgment of Nations in the Gospel of Matthew. In this parable, admission to the kingdom of heaven is granted to people who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for prisoners, and respected human life.

"The work of what we do reaches from Genesis to the New Testament, and it reaches to our day today," Father Hehir said.

He explained that this work is made possible by Catholic Charities' donors.

"We will do the work, but we need a support system that makes it possible for us to carry on the message from Genesis through the prophets to Jesus to our own time, caring for the sacredness of every human person," he said.

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