The impulse to give

Friday, January 14, 2005 - Updated: 12:01 am
Patricia Bartos, Senior Staff Writer
From destruction along Pittsburgh s three rivers and its many creeks " flooded yet again last week " to countries in southern Asia devastated by tsunami waves, people are suffering and desperate.

And others are helping.

Area Catholics contributed more than $400,000 in parish collections following the Sept. 17 flooding to aid their many hard-hit neighbors.

In collections taken up over last two weekends, they gave again, this time to aid the millions of people uprooted by the tsunamis of Dec. 26.

From church poor boxes to international aid agencies, efforts to aid the homeless, hungry and sick begin with that impulse to give.

Christian tradition calls it a corporal work of mercy, an expression of compassion flowing from love of God and neighbor.

It s bonding, said Fred Just, executive director of the diocesan St. Vincent de Paul Society, which provides hands-on service to the poor. It s an understanding that we re all in this together.

It is compassion, he said. It s grace.

Vincentians have depended on the good will of the wider community to do their work here for 125 years.

We ve been faithful to the mission, Just said. People have come to trust us. They know we ll do exactly what we say we ll do with their contributions.

Joyce Rothermel, head of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne, which supplies hundreds of parish food banks in the area, agrees.
Many of our donors are older and people of faith, she said.

They have a sense of the corporal works of mercy, and their generosity is tied up with their own living out of what they believe: Jesus said to feed the hungry ... and As often as we do it for the least of these ...

Another element of such generosity, she said, is that people give to organizations that they trust and that they believe utilize the gifts they receive to fulfill the mission efficiently.

In the case of tsunami aid, relief agencies are reporting unprecedented generosity.

For a tidal wave of misery, said one commentator, a tidal wave of concern and help. Americans have given $200 million thus far and the contributions continue.


Crisis is the key word, Just said. When people see a crisis " in our own case with the recent flooding " they help with an outpouring of food and cash.

People see the graphic images, the suddenness, the extent of the devastation, he said. It just hit people, and at this season people are ready to give. It brings out the best in people.

That season is year-round at St. John Neumann in Franklin Park, where generosity in both money and volunteer efforts has long characterized the parish community.

We think of the wider world, not just our immediate community, said Father William Bovard, pastor.

The perfect example of this came the weekend of Jan. 2, when parishioners donated $14,556.39 in a special collection for tsunami relief.

Those donations came in addition to the parish s Sunday collections and its regular first-weekend-of-every-month giving for the nearby Perry-Hilltop Food Bank.

We have such a tradition here at St. John Neumann, said Sarah Schneider, community outreach coordinator. People are so used to living the Gospel, not just listening to it.

Parishioners staffed crews that went into Etna to help in the wake of the Sept. 17 flooding; they have completed 18 work camps in Appalachia and 13 Habitat for Humanity projects; they work in the inner-city with the Pittsburgh Project; volunteer at area shelters and soup kitchens; and help pack clothing, medical textbooks and school supplies for World Vision International s warehouse in Sewickley. Each spring the parish sponsors the Wheels of Love collection of used bicycles for Nicaragua.

These are just a few of the ways we witness our faith and live the Scriptures, Father Bovard said.

We leave our comfort level here, Schneider added. That s what Father Bovard wants us to do, that s where we find Christ.

Faith through action is such a tradition here " living the faith through actually doing.

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