by Reverend Michael M. Boland
Living the Culture of Life
“The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’ message.” With this statement, Pope John Paul II began his 1995 encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), appealing to every person in the world, in the name of God, to “respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life!” He urged all members of the Church throughout the world to work to increase justice and solidarity so that “a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.”
This “Culture of Life” is at the very heart of Catholic Charities’ mission. For 91 years, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago has dedicated itself to creating a “new culture of human life” for the millions of poor and vulnerable people we have served in Cook and Lake counties.
At Catholic Charities, “Respect Life” is far more than a slogan. It is a way of life. Since our founding in 1917, a belief in and reverence for every human life from the moment of conception to natural death has permeated every aspect of our service to people of all ages, races, religions and economic backgrounds.
Last year, Catholic Charities was privileged to serve 1,016,565 persons in our 159 programs at 156 locations with competence and compassion. Here is a sampling of our programs that helped to rebuild precious lives and restore human dignity and a better life to our brothers and sisters in need.
Infants and Children: Nourishing Life
Catholic Charities nurtured the bodies, minds and spirits of more than 178,000 children from before birth through adolescence with dozens of child- and family-centered programs, including:
• Catholic Charities Adoption and Maternity services assisted 375 maternity clients and staffed a 24-hour hotline.
• Day care and after-school experiences benefited more than 1,800 infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school children. More than 500,000 meals were provided at our nine child development centers.
• 60,000 children received immunization and early vision screening throughout the region.
• Catholic Charities manages the 18 Women, Infants and Children Food and Nutrition Centers throughout the city of Chicago. Last year, 126,125 infants, toddlers and children through age five, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers and their infants, had access to the essential, healthy nourishment they needed.
Through several of Catholic Charities’ school-year and two-year programs, 1,956 pregnant and parenting teen mothers learned to care for their 1,500 children with love and skill, so that they can build stable, loving homes for their babies. They also participated in counseling sessions with the children’s birth fathers and their families.
Our Elders: Living with Dignity
At the other end of the life spectrum, Catholic Charities is honored to care for our frail elders who are struggling to maintain their health, their homes and their dignity.
• More than 80,000 seniors received services from at least one of Catholic Charities’ 27 programs offered at 43 sites in Cook and Lake Counties.
• Nearly 1,500 low-income seniors live in dignity in 18 beautiful low-income senior residences built and managed by Catholic Charities.
• Our Senior Centers welcomed more than 6,600 local seniors to a noon meal and social activities. Our Commodity Supplementary Food Program (CSFP) improved the nutrition of almost 15,000 low-income seniors with monthly food packages.
• Senior Services enabled seniors to stay in their own homes: home-delivered meals, homemaker services, Catholic Charities Home Care; elder abuse, neglect and exploitation investigations; Respite Care services, adult day care centers, and case management.
• Emergency food, clothing and shelter were provided to more than 25,000 family members and individuals in Cook County; and more than 12,000 people in Lake County.
• Almost 2 million meals were distributed to hungry families and individuals from 10 Emergency Food Pantries in Cook and Lake Counties.
• Our Family Self-Sufficiency Program in Lake County broke the cycle of poverty and homelessness for 696 low-income single parents and their children through housing, education and employment.
• Catholic Charities’ 120 New Hope Apartments in Cook County suburbs house formerly homeless families comprised of nearly 583 family members who are achieving self-sufficiency.
• 166 homeless veterans found safety, dignity, job opportunities and the path to permanent housing and self-sufficiency at the St. Leo Residence for Veterans; 82 homeless veterans suffering from addiction received services and a new start in life at Cooke’s Manor.
By living Christ’s “Gospel of Life” daily, Catholic Charities is constantly creating the visible, viable “Culture of Life” that Pope John Paul II envisioned “for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love,” where all God’s children can live in justice and charity:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.
…Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
For current information re: “Culture of Life” issues, visit: (www.usccb.org):
• November, 2008 statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops affirming the sanctity of and the respect due to human life from the moment of conception until natural death: “Respect for Human Life: The Church’s Constant Teaching.”
• December 12, 2008: “Dignitas Personae” (the Dignity of a Person): an Instruction from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).