HARTFORD – A grateful Archbishop Leonard P. Blair has attended a dozen fund-raising luncheons and dinners this year to personally thank former donors and to request their continued support for the 2016 Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.
During a reception and luncheon on Feb. 21 at the Hartford Marriott Downtown, he greeted 330 contributors and discussed the theme for the 2016 appeal, “God’s Mercy at Work.”
“I am moved by your kindness and generosity,” Archbishop Blair told his guests, “and especially by your prayers for me.”
Msgr. John J. McCarthy, pastor of St. Dunstan Parish in Glastonbury, also welcomed and thanked the donors, explaining that the appeal “extends beyond the scope of our individual parishes and brings help and hope to our neighbors in need.”
In 2015, 43,963 households pledged a total of $10,573,357, Archbishop Blair said. Of that total, 238 priests pledged more than $254,000. “That was a record-breaking year,” he added.
More than $3.2 million raised in 2015 went to Catholic Charities and other good works of the church. “Catholic Charities has provided more than 40 services at 34 locations to 8,500 people in need of behavioral health services alone,” the archbishop stressed.
Through the Vicariate Outreach Program, last year’s annual appeal was also able to provide funds to 245 worthy local charities, such as soup kitchens and other agencies, in communities throughout the archdiocese, the archbishop said. “Because of the success of last year, we’ve been able to increase this amount to almost $1 million,” he added.
The annual appeal is not just about the corporal works of mercy, the archbishop pointed out, but also about the spiritual works. That includes the development and education of priests and deacons, faith formation for youth, and tuition assistance. Funds were also allocated for evangelical outreach and health services for senior priests.
While the archbishop expressed gratitude for the monetary pledges, he urged the faithful to participate actively in all of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The video shown at this year’s fund-raising dinners specifically focused on helping the homeless and the incarcerated.
“There are a lot of people who do good in the world, who do good things, who don’t even believe in God,” the archbishop said. “But what is it that we bring? The deeper question is ‘What did Jesus bring?’”
According to the archbishop, Pope Benedict answered this question by saying that Jesus did not bring the world peace or prosperity. “Jesus brought God and the truth about our destiny, including faith, hope and love,” the archbishop said, quoting the pope emeritus.
That’s why we should “move beyond our comfort zones” and actively engage in acts of mercy, the archbishop said, including visiting those in prison. “Jesus said this,” the archbishop stated. “It’s clear it’s something we are obliged to do.”
He acknowledged the fear and apprehension that most people feel when first considering this request but, based on his own experience celebrating Mass in prison, countered it by saying, “You will never find better readers, singers and servers. Maybe that’s not for you, but your generosity allows others to serve in prison ministry.”
Throughout the afternoon, many donors who attended the luncheon at the Marriott said they were thrilled to meet the archbishop and would donate to the 2016 Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.
Suzanne Berwick, who attends St. James Church in Manchester, has been giving for more than 15 years. “I chose to give because there are so many charities to give to, it’s hard to choose. What persuaded me is when I saw the list of charities, I was pleased.”
Marc d’Avignon, Suzanne Berwick’s brother, agreed. “The Vicariate [Outreach Program] reaches beyond the church. This is the first place I’ve seen the list. I was taken by that, as well. I was kind of overwhelmed. It shows that the money is coming back to the community. It’s a nice circle.”
Elizabeth Grace, from St. Paul Parish in Glastonbury, said she and her husband Dick donated to the appeal for many years until he passed away in November of last year. She was not up to at-tending the fund-raiser in Glastonbury in January but had second thoughts by late February and accepted an invitation to the event in Hartford.
“I thought it might be nice to continue with our tradition,” Mrs. Grace explained, “so I called the archdiocese and asked if I could bring a dear friend.
“We never realized the extent of how the archdiocese helps so many people,” Mrs. Grace said. “One year we even toured the Malta van. That was unbelievable, like a mini- doctor’s office. It was so well-equipped.”
Angelo Messina of St. Mary Parish in Unionville attended the fund-raiser with his wife Pat and said, “We’ve been fortunate in our lives and are happy to give back. Catholic Charities is one charity we’re especially proud to give to, and all the food pantries and soup kitchens.”
In contrast, Rick Bayna, from the Cathedral of St. Joseph, said he cannot select a favorite charity. “They’re all great. It’s like trying to pick your favorite among your kids,” he said. “The appeal is like giving to a mutual fund; it covers all the bases – retirement, schools. I trust the archbishop. I just do my part.”
Mark Prisloe, who lives in West Hartford and attends St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford, had no trouble selecting his personal favorites from among the long list of charities. “The House of Bread is near and dear to our hearts,” he said. “I also love the Birthright organization.”
He was equally enthusiastic about meeting Archbishop Blair. “We greatly appreciate the archbishop’s hospitality, his presence and his personal greetings,” Mr. Prisloe said, “and wish him every success with this year’s appeal.”
The 2016 appeal is ongoing and includes in-parish and online giving. For more information, visit: www.archdioceseofhartford.org, www.facebook.com/ArchdioceseofHartford, and www.twitter.com/ArchbishopBlair.