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Healthier priests mean stronger communities -- for all of us.

In a world that often depends on virtual communities, where contact with others is increasingly limited, our priests stand in contrast by being present. Our priests are vital to forming and strengthening our communities. Our priests have always been there for us -- we need to be there for them.

This fall, at the Celebration of the Priesthood dinner, more than 1,500 people stood in support of our priests and the extraordinary work they have accomplished throughout the decades. Our Church leaders and pastors work tirelessly to serve our Church, both within and well beyond the walls of our parishes. Many in Boston may not know, for example, that Father Frank Kelley, Father Bill Joy and Boston urban priests created what we know today as the Pine Street Inn. Rostro de Christo is another agency serving those on the margins, providing life-changing service opportunities for young adults in Ecuador. While continuing to shepherd Rostro, Father Jim Ronan also serves as pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Sienna in Charlestown, where hundreds of families look to the parish food pantry for groceries. Across the city in Dorchester, the pastor of St. Ambrose, Father Linh Nguyen, leads a strong and vibrant faith community while also providing civic support for his parishioners, many of whom came here from Vietnam with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. My own pastor, Father John Unni of St. Cecilia's in Boston and Father Dan Mahoney, pastor of St. Francis de Sales in Charlestown, serve our community as chaplains for the Boston Fire Department. As Fire Commissioner Joe Finn recently shared, "Chaplains are usually the first call when we have a tragedy. We've been blessed with some outstanding chaplains who are really involved in the lives of our members. They commit so much time and energy to firefighters, it is a blessing to the Boston Fire Department."

The work of our priests in helping others may often go unnoticed, yet the impact is real and life-changing.

Building stronger communities depends in many respects upon the health and well-being of our priests -- it's the fuel to their ministries. Providing counsel and guidance, celebrating Mass, presiding at our marriages, bringing young people closer to God, feeding the hungry, helping those on the margins, visiting the sick, and blessing our loved ones as they are called home to our Lord is a lifelong vocation. It is work that can be extremely rewarding but can also be exhausting.

At the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust, we provide the support priests need to fully live the life they have chosen -- to be in service to others. Our support goes beyond paying bills for medical care and retirement. The Clergy Funds is proactive and vigilant in the support we promise. With our Intentional Living Program, we are committed to promoting preventative health and wellness for all priests, including the support of a wellness coordinator. There are now 175 men, both active and senior, wearing Fitbits and actively engaged in building healthy lifestyles. Our Care Team of professionals offers one-on-one support and advocacy to all priests with health concerns, particularly as they navigate our complex health system. And of course, Regina Cleri cares for senior priests in a state-of-the-art facility, staffed by professionals, so they can continue living their faith in community.

Healthier priests mean stronger communities -- for all of us.

This Christmas, as we join with our families to celebrate the birth of a child who forever changed the world, may we also keep in mind his priests. In doing so, may I ask that one of the gifts you give this holiday season go to the special collection in support of our priests at the Christmas Masses in your parish. Your gift will have an immediate impact on the health and well-being of the active and senior priests in our archdiocese who tirelessly serve all of us.

Thank you for your kindness and generosity. Merry Christmas.

MARK VACHON IS THE CHAIR OF THE CLERGY HEALTH AND RETIREMENT TRUST, AN INDEPENDENTLY MANAGED TRUST WITH A MAJORITY LAY BOARD OF TRUSTEES. ALL FUNDS FROM THE SPECIAL CHRISTMAS COLLECTION IN PARISHES AT CHRISTMAS MASSES ARE USED FOR THE SOLE BENEFIT OF ACTIVE AND SENIOR PRIESTS IN GOOD STANDING.



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