God’s Work, Our Hands: Showing God’s Mercy and Ministry through the Annual Catholic Appeal
A child receives the Eucharist. A couple anticipates the sacrament of marriage. A teenager considers the priesthood. A homeless man eats a warm meal. All of these people are examples of those who seek Christ through the hundreds of ministries provided through the Catholic Diocese of Memphis each and every day.
Ministries that teach, heal and sanctify. Ministries, which are made possible through the prayers and donations from dedicated Catholics through the Annual Catholic Appeal.
The Annual Catholic Appeal encompasses a vast number of ministries, such as seminarian education, family life ministry, religious education, Catholic Charities and priest retirement which benefit not only Catholics of all ages in West Tennessee, but the entire community within it as well.
Saint Teresa of Avila said in prayer, “Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His Body. Christ has no body, but yours.” Her words embody the theme for the 2020 Annual Catholic Appeal – God’s Work, Our Hands. Catholics become the hands, feet and eyes of Jesus as they spread God’s love, mercy and compassion to others through the many ministries provided through the diocese. “Christ truly has no body but ours,” said The Most Reverend Bishop David P. Talley. “Diocesan ministries are the face of Jesus for those in need, in distress or imprisoned. We could not have them without the generosity of the faithful.”
The Catholic Appeal finances the education of future diocesan priests, who complete their studies at different seminaries throughout the U.S. Currently, the diocese supports 21 seminarians, which according to the Reverend Robert Szczechura, director of vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis and pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Bartlett, Tenn., is rare for a diocese the size of Memphis. “We are very blessed to have twenty-one men studying to be ordained as priests,”
he said. “These are men, who upon ordination, will come to serve our diocese as priests.”
The education of future priests is so imperative that almost 50 percent of the funds from the Catholic Appeal support seminarian education. Education which can last from five to eight years, depending on each seminarian’s level of collegiate study. Father Szczechura says that the education of diocesan seminarians is necessary and crucial.
“Seminarians are our future priests,” he said. “Without priests, we can’t receive the sacraments. If we don’t have priests, the Church cannot exist.”
The Catholic Appeal supports many family life ministries throughout West Tennessee, including marriage preparation, couple’s enrichment programs and bereavement programs for individuals and families who have lost a loved one through death or divorce. One particular ministry, which is available to every Catholic family during a time of emergency or crisis, is the After Hours Emergency Response Team ministry.
Known as AHERT, the ministry’s purpose is to contact a priest, at any hour of night, to visit a hospital patient in critical condition and perform Last Rites. Thirty volunteers act as an answering service at all hours of the evening and contact diocesan priests to visit patients immediately. Area hospitals and hospital chaplains have access to an emergency number when a Catholic family requests a priest in an emergency situation. All Catholic families have to do is request a priest and a hospital employee or chaplain can call the number.
“We respond to the call no matter the time of day,” said Sharon Kowalke, pastoral life administrative assistant and AHERT volunteer for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. “Volunteers meet the needs of Catholic families who are distraught and may not know how to reach their parish priest when the parish office is closed. The diocese provides a service they need which gives families a sense of hope and comfort during a trying time.” The ministry was developed several years ago and Kowalke says the process is effective. “It’s a seamless process and a priest can be on site in as little as an hour,” she said. “This process works so well that it’s been replicated in other dioceses in the U.S. We’re able to meet the needs of Catholic families who need a priest during a health emergency immediately.”
Theology of the Body
Another family life ministry offered through the diocese at various Catholic Churches is Marriage Preparation which now takes a turn to teach Saint Pope John Paul II’s teachings and reflections on human sexuality through his Theology of the Body. Alexis Zamora, ministries director at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Memphis, Tenn., teaches a four-week course through Ascension Press, a provider of Catholic faith formation programs, on what the Saint’s teachings mean for single people, married couples and priests.
Giving us a glimpse into what we can expect from this new program the diocese will soon offer Zamora says that all Catholics benefit through faith formation ministries. “After Catholics learn about Theology of the Body, they are enriched in their understanding about dignity, self worth and respect,” she said. “You discover the importance of sexuality in marriage and celibacy for priests. You come to understand that sexuality is wonderful and made by God. This ministry helps us strengthen and understand our Catholic faith.”
Religious Education is important for youth and adults seeking to learn and receive the Sacraments of Initiation. Thousands of children and adults are initiated into the Church in the diocese each year. However, some Catholics or those seeking to learn more about the Catholic Church aren’t able to travel to a parish to participate in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults or attend Mass. Brenda Kindelan, a parishioner at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Memphis, participates in the diocese’s prison ministry. Once a month, she visits the Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center in Henning, Tenn., to pray with women who are incarcerated. She delivers books, Bibles and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to women who are interested in learning more about the Catholic faith.
“These are women living in our diocese who seek God,” Kindelan said. “They have hit rock bottom and discovered that God is there with them in prison. They can’t come to the Church, so we bring the Church to them through prayers, scriptures, words of encouragement and hugs.”
Additionally, diocesan priests visit jails and prisons throughout West Tennessee to celebrate Mass and administer sacraments. “These are people forgotten by society, but we want them to know that God is there with them,” said Kindelan.
The Catholic Appeal provides funding for the training and support of comprehensive youth ministries, which includes diocesan retreat programs, scouting, diocesan youth events and leadership training. Additionally, the diocese offers program training for adults who work with youth as mentors of discipleship at parishes throughout the diocese.
“Young people are missing from our pews,” said Sam Mauck, director of youth, campus and young adult ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. “By the time a teenager leaves high school, there’s a good chance he or she will leave the Church. Our youth are future parents, religious and priests. We need to spread the Gospel and provide specialized support for them or we won’t be able to effectively win those souls back.”
Catholic Charities of West Tennessee
Catholic Charities of West Tennessee is the social services arm of the diocese. It’s one of the largest nonprofit, multi social service organizations in the Mid-South and provides assistance to those who face chronic poverty in West Tennessee. It offers children’s programming, immigration services, veterans’ services and emergency services to those in need regardless of religious beliefs, socio-economic status or ethnic background. The Catholic Appeal supports the non-profit organization and its ministries.
The Catholic Appeal provides housing for retired priests in the diocese. The facility, located in Cordova, Tenn., contains eight one-room bedroom suites with a living room, dining area, kitchen, bathroom and office. Priests can prepare meals and live independently in their own suites.
“We are blessed to have such a nice facility like this in our diocese,” said Monsignor Al Kirk, who lives at Villa Vianney. “Not many dioceses in the United States have a residence for retired priests.”
Prayers and Giving
The diocese’s goal for the 2020 Annual Catholic Appeal is $2.1 million. Jim Marconi, director of development for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, stresses that prayers, not just donations, are welcome and needed. “Prayer is a form of giving and enriches the lives of many who benefit from the Catholic Appeal each year,” he said.
“Every gift, no matter the denomination, is appreciated. By coming together through giving, each one of us becomes the heart, hands and eyes of Jesus.”
For information on ways to make a donation to the 2020 Annual Catholic Appeal, go to www.cdom.org and click on the ACA icon. For additional information on ways to donate, call the Catholic Center at 901-373-1273.