Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Charities’

ANOTHER GREAT PRIEST OF THE DIOCESE GOES TO THE HOUSE OF THE FATHER

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. conducts Benediction service at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

I am woefully late in posting this tribute to a great priest of the diocese who recently went home to the “house of the Father”. Father Christopher Fitzgerald, IC a priest for fifty-six years died just as I was leaving for Rome and the ordination to the diaconate of Rev. Mr. Ryan Boyle. It is interesting to me that on the very day I was ordained to the diaconate at St. Clement’s parish church in Fort Lauderdale by the late Archbishop Edward McCarthy, a wonderful Lithuanian priest with whom I lived at St. James parish in North Miami, suffered a major and eventually fatal heart attack (Father George Razutis) and I went right to his hospital room after the ordination and I have not forgotten what he said to me then: “It is all right, Bob, today God gives his Church a new priest and takes to Himself an old one.” When I arrived in Rome and learned of Father Fitz’s death, I immediately thought of that moment thirty-seven years ago.

Father Chris’ final years were spent in the loving care of his long-time Associate Pastor at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Seffner, Father Michael O’Neill. Aided by a staff which clearly loved their founding pastor, they were all able to take care of him until skilled nursing care was required but they never abandoned him to the loneliness of a nursing home but were present to him as often as they could be. Father Fitzgerald was ordained a priest in 1958 having been born in Ballyporeen in County Tipperary, Ireland on January 3, 1932. He was ordained as a member of a religious order called the “Institute of Charity” in Tanzania and served his first two years there before having to leave because of serious health issues. His order sent him to Florida where he first served for eleven years at Blessed Sacrament in Seminole and then briefly in Port Charlotte and then St. Paul, St. Petersburg.

In 1973, he became pastor of St. Anne Church in Ruskin where he served for fourteen years. While there he fell in love with the growing Hispanic population, mostly Mexican and strove not just to minister to them but to learn their language as much as he could. He was a faithful son of Anthony Rosmini who founded the Institute of Charity to serve the poor and needy in a diocesan priest-like formation and ministry program. Rosmini was ahead of his times in many ways and irritated the established clerical system of the time and found himself condemned in a way by the Holy Office (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). The fathers of his order, however, continued to pursue the charism of their founder despite the “cloud” under which Rosmini stood. Father Fitz gave me a copy of a biography of Rosmini when I first came and I found it fascinating. The I.C.’s staff the parishes of Blessed Sacrament Seminole, St. Theresa in Spring Hill, and St. Francis of Assisi in Seffner and they have been great priests in this diocese and we are indebted to them.

In 1987, Father Fitzgerald was made the first pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish, newly abuilding in Seffner with parishioners “cut off” from the then gigantic Nativity parish in Brandon (much to the chagrin of the Brandon pastor at that time, Monsignor Jaime Lara, who was still complaining about the “theft” in 1996 when I came here as bishop in 1996). St. Francis under Father Chris’ leadership became quite a faith community and the turn-out for this funeral (nine days after his death) attested to the love which they had for him. During his time there, his order chose him as Provincial of the Province in the United States and he had to travel more than he would have liked because he missed the parish so much. His contribution to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg as my personal delegate placed him right where he and Rosmini would have liked him to be – on the front lines of charity. Father Fitzgerald would live to see the total rehabilitation by no less a person than Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the same Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which once had condemned Anthony Rosmini and he was able to attend his beatification in Rome. Now Pope Benedict XVI would beatify Anthony Rosmini in November, 2007.

Every bishop when he buries a priest buries a brother in the priestly ministry and I am finding it increasingly difficult to preside over these moments because I am saying good-bye to my contemporaries who in so many ways have served the Church better than perhaps I have. Father Fitz and I had a special relationship and he asked that I both celebrate his funeral Mass and preach at it as well. Twelve hours after getting off the plane from Rome, I did as asked and I wish to share with you my homily for this great priest which you can read by clicking here.

+RNL

THE CHILDREN OF CENTRAL AMERICA

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

I think my readership is due an update on the matter of the children from Honduras and Guatemala who are being sent north by their parents to escape the savagery of gang violence in their homeland. First, thank you for your amazing generosity in responding to my blog. Catholic Charities has the names of many local families willing to offer temporary residence if and when it is legal to do so. The political situation remains unchanged. On Friday last the government closed the last reception center along the border with Mexico and all children are now housed in detention centers or some have been sent to relatives living legally in the US. Most, however, are just awaiting a decision on what their status is: undocumented or refugee. The Obama Administration has not made a decision thus far. If and when these children are awarded refugee status, then our resources and ability to find them temporary housing until they can  be returned to their parents, families and homes can be utilized. Congress will also have to allow them refugee status and as I mentioned in my earlier blog, the run-up to the election in November makes their probable course of action less and less likely.

On the good side, Mexico is making it harder to use their country for transporting these children north and therefore the number coming into this country is substantially down.  We can’t begin to do what we are very good at, however, until these kids are treated as refugees and not felons. Continue to pray for enlightenment for those who exercise governance and authority over our laws and for those children who in the thousands are cooped up in a detention center awaiting either deportation or some other, more humanitarian solution.

+RNL

HURRICANE HEADING TOWARDS AFRICA

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Half the fun of writing blogs is to discover a title that arouses interest, gives little away, but inspires me to share some thoughts with you, my readers. I have mentioned to other bloggers that sometimes I begin with a title and work from there rather than write and then search for a title. That is the case now. Here in Florida during this season, nothing arouses interest more than “the National Hurricane Center in Miami is monitoring a tropical disturbance moving westward over the Atlantic for potential development.” We don’t rush out to buy plywood, but we become attuned to listening during weather reports to the “Invest Number ” and then to the Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm, Hurricane, etc., if and as it develops. The vast majority of our threats begin over the Sahara in northern Africa and then move across the increasingly warm waters of the mid-Atlantic. Occasionally, a system develops in the Caribbean and there is less time to prepare but tropical weather problems for us almost always move westward.

Unfortunately, a storm of a different kind developed in the United States recently and was headed toward Africa. It began with a group called the “Population Research Institute” which is an allegedly pro-life group and spread to a few other notoriously and consistently wrong entities who “thrive” on attacking the Church or its entities. While it was meant to inflict harm on a highly respected US Catholic charity, it took dead aim this time at Africa. From time to time, I suspect when these organizations need money, they try to stir up a hornet’s nest or storm by attacking a Catholic organization, usually falsely accusing them of being anti-life, pro-contraception, either pro or soft on abortion, etc., etc., etc. The storms start small enough and then occasionally grow in size. It’s simply a money raising scheme with little regard for the human lives which they allege they seek to protect – well maybe it is only pre-born human life in which they are interested. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has felt the buffeting torrents of accusations in the past as has Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA). This time it was Catholic Relief Services (CRS) which was to be the significant “whipping boy/girl” for these groups. For twelve years of my priestly life I have been on the Board of Catholic Relief Services and six of those I served as President and Chairman of the Board. During my engagement we were mostly spared any of these storms, but from the time Cardinal Timothy Dolan succeeded me as Chairman, these storms have developed off the East Coast of the U.S. and moved eastward toward Africa where CRS does an amazing job of supporting and sustaining human life, even with programs of pre-natal maternal/child health care,  which has helped lower the infant (in and out of the womb) death rate.

These attacks never grow beyond a tropical depression but too much time and energy is spent by CRS and CCHD and CCUSA in responding to them. The latest components of  this “Tropical Depression” were the allegation that in the nation of Madagascar CRS was actively promoting contraception, that the bishops of that country and elsewhere were displeased with CRS, and that you dear reader should not give to Catholic Relief Services because they do not adhere to Catholic teaching but send your money to them so they can develop this into a Tropical Storm and rid the Church of this organization. We’ve heard it all before, responded to it in the past, know its sources, and spend way too much energy in defense of the agency.

So let me take each of the current seeds of the latest storm and tell you the truth. Does CRS staff or the agency in general promote contraceptives in Madagascar or anywhere else in Africa or the globe? The storm originators never identify their sources but just throw mud up into the air. CRS policy is consistent and supportive of the Church’s teaching and we have been excluded from many U.S. government programs over the years because we will not sign on to the U.S. program of condom distribution in other countries. The storm sources have yet, yet in all these years to produce a credible witness to the contrary.

Now, how about the hierarchy of Madagascar? Do they think CRS is acting contrary to Church teaching? Are they unhappy with the presence and work of CRS in their country? Archbishop Desire Tsarahazana, President of the bishops’ conference of Madagascar expressed “strong support” for CRS and said that the agency is “acting in accord with Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception or abortion.” So who do you wish to believe, an organization that will not identify either its sources of the allegations or name its own members of its Board of Directors or the arm of the Catholic church that saves lives daily throughout the world?

Catholic Relief Services readily admits that it is not always perfect. When one has 5000 employees worldwide, is it even remotely possible that one or two of those same employees might incorrectly represent the agency’s position? Yes, it is. If one searches far enough can one find a bishop who is unhappy with CRS in their country? Yes, one can. The primary complaint I heard throughout my dozen years from bishops where we are present and serving, was, “can’t you just send us the money and let us spend it?” or “why can’t you give us money to build a headquarters building for our episcopal conference?” Patiently I would explain how we are different from the European Catholic Aid agencies because our scope is limited to disaster relief and human development through programs of microfinance, food maintenance, pre-natal medicine and HIV/AIDS interventions, etc. They also often complained about the demands of reporting required by the government of the United States if federal program monies were involved and I would quickly respond, we don’t like it either but it is the cost of doing business. When I queried would they be better off without CRS in their diocese of country they were quick, unanimous and emphatic in saying “no, stay.”

I am convinced that many so called Pro-Life groups are not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion. We heard nothing from the heavy hitters in the prolife movement in the last week when Florida last night executed a man on death row for 34 years having been diagnosed as a severe schizophrenic. Which personality did the state execute? Many priests grow weary of continual calls to action for legislative support for abortion and contraception related issues but nothing for immigration reform, food aid, and capital punishment. And, this is a big one, priests don’t like unfair attacks on things they highly value and esteem, like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.

So this little storm which was headed in a way to harm CRS’s work in Africa has run into a ridge of dry air and will stall. But when the Population Research Institute or others need money from Catholics who want to believe the worst about their church, its leadership and their service agencies, then it will suck up the mud-filled moisture and try to stoke up another storm. I suspect that if he ever got this blog, Pope Francis would agree with its content. Keep on doing the good work of Christ and be an instrument of mercy to the world.

+RNL

SCOTUS, POTUS AND HOCUS POCUS

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Just a few thoughts about the Supreme Court ruling a week ago today, being neither a lawyer nor  court watcher, so my thoughts tend to be those of an extremely interested observer. I was happy that the court found the concept of universal coverage for health care constitutional. 55 million uninsured and many with no access to health care was a national shame. Even with the so-called “Affordable Care Act,” there would remain about 20 million uninsured with no access to health care, many of whom would be undocumented. Our diocesan Catholic Charities knows firsthand the reality of the horror many of these people face when they desperately need medical attention and assistance but are too afraid to approach the avenues which are open to most other people. Thank God for the dedicated doctors, nurses, and volunteers who help with La Clinica Guadalupana in Clearwater and the Catholic Mobile Medical van which visits the migrant camps in eastern Hillsborough County. How the Court arrived at its decision and why is interesting, always, but the reality is that the concept itself is not so weak as to be unconstitutional.

The Administration still has not played its hand yet in how it will respond to the deep problems which all Catholics should have in the HHS regulations implementing the Affordable Care act. It is my understanding that there will be some “fix” and that it will be satisfactory. Time will tell and the sand in the hour glass is rapidly emptying. One would think that if there was the genuine good will toward “conscience protection” of which President Obama spoke two years ago at Notre Dame, it would not be taking this long, but, alas, this is an election year and one can only suppose that someone is delegated with the challenging task in the re-election committee of counting votes gained and lost depending on what they do. Sounds cynical I am sure, but I would bet it is not far from the truth if not the truth. Some said that it would need to await the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case before it, but that argument is now hocus pocus.

Finally, yesterday concluded the “Fortnight for Freedom” observance in many of the parishes and institutions of the diocese and throughout the Church in this country. I have heard of many of our parishes doing clever and appropriate things throughout the fortnight. Interestingly, St. John Vianney parish in St. Pete Beach has a bell tower but no bells so the parishioners there were encouraged to come to Church yesterday at noon with their own bells which they rang at the suggested tolling moment. There were many holy hours and prayerful observances throughout the diocese. I would go to the bank that not every parish did as much as they might and that not every pastor was himself convinced enough that this was a matter of pastoral importance. Sometimes, I am asked if that bothers me, and my answer is “yes” and “no.” “Yes” in that I have asked for very little in things like this during my time as bishop and when I do it means that I believe deeply in it. “No” in that I know that this matter like some others cuts close to the political around which there can be a divergence of opinion. All my priests know that we preach and talk ideas and issues and do not instruct how to cast votes come election day. That I would not like. Sometimes I get letters complaining about individual pastors who seem not to be cooperating. You can blame me if you wish (it happens in a lot of other things and is part of the job description of being a bishop) because my men know at the end of the day, they too were given a brain and have a pastoral sense so they are quite capable of deciding that which is appropriate or will work. I know that if this was a matter in which I would gladly die in the ditch for, they would be there for me and for the Church. My sense is that in the case of the fortnight for freedom, they used their best judgment and most did beautifully.

Finally, I shall long remember the full St. Paul (Tampa) church for our diocesan Mass of commemoration on the Solemnity of the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul. It was simple but the Church at its best at prayer. Thanks to the over 1100 who came and listened and prayed.

+RNL

 

WHEREIN DO WE CAPTURE THE CONSCIENCE OF THE KING?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I know, I know, we have no such thing as a “king” in these United States but then Shakespeare had no such thing as a “president” when he was writing plays and sonnets either. So I have inverted titles to make this point: in his famous commencement speech given at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, President Obama said this: “So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

We shall soon learn how committed the President is to drafting “a sensible conscience clause” as his administration ponders whether or not, I as an employer, must provide contraceptive opportunities as a part of the health care program which I (the diocese) provide to all our employees. That’s the present assertion of the draft language in a portion of the health care bill which deals with services which must be provided to all employees. The President of Notre Dame University, the same man that President Obama praised for his wisdom and leadership in the same speech quoted above, joined by twenty-eight other college and university presidents has said that to do so would violate his (their) individual as well as institutional consciences. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. bravely went on to say that unless a conscience clause exempting religious institutions from providing such services was included, then he would cease to provide Notre Dame employees health care coverage and would be forced to remunerate them so that they would have to purchase a health plan individually and on their own, resulting in a loss of services and coverage and an escalation of health care costs. I would do the same here in the diocese. What a sad day that would be.

In the closing days of September, I asked all of y0u to write to Secretary Sibelius and ask her for conscience protection for those of us who hold religious beliefs that may be at variance by the letter or intent of the health care legislation. Although I am sometimes at a loss to completely understand everything about Christian Scientists, they are a Christian Church and they deserve protection for their religious beliefs and I would fight for them as I hope they would fight for us in this regard. Final wording has not yet been forthcoming from the US Department of Health and Human Services but it can not be far away. Then and only then will we be able to capture the conscience of the President and his administration in providing for an religious conscience exemption from requirements that violate people’s moral code and system of beliefs.

Should we be worried? I believe so. I feel the same attack on religious liberty and its exercise in this nation that drove the founders to flee their native lands and establish this government, for the people, by the people and Under God, is suddenly front and center here in my country. Migration and Refugee Services, a division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been denied a grant from the government because we do not provide contraceptive assistance to the newly arrived whom we have helped resettle with great distinction over decades, especially the Vietnamese following the war. Catholic Relief Services has been told “shape up or ship out” because we do not distribute or advocate condom use in the countries where we serve the poor. Now I must confess that during the administration of President George W. Bush, USAID which is a program of the State Department was at one time going to deny CRS any PEPFAR funds because we did not advocate and teach the use of condoms. Someone woke up and smelled the coffee of the potential risk of failure of the new anti-AIDS retroviral program and made CRS a lead agent in initially nine countries so the pressure is not just a reflection of one party. Catholic Charities in Illinois has been stricken from receiving any state funds for any program because of their conscience belief on gay and lesbian adoptions. What a shame! Today the question is whether those  in office now will also “smell the coffee” and allow us the conscience protection so strongly embraced by our nation’s founders. We will see, will we not and only then will be capture the conscience of the king!

+RNL

NEW HOPE FOR PINELLAS HOPE

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Today Catholic Charities, the cities of St. Petersburg, Largo, and Pinellas County dedicated Phase II of Pinellas Hope, our amazing outreach to the homeless of our cities and county. Mayor Bill Foster of St. Petersburg joined Karen Seel, chairwoman of the Pinellas County Commission and numerous other city officials from Largo, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Pinellas County in launching the second and incredibly exciting phase of Pinellas Hope, now in its third year of providing safe haven to the homeless and opportunities for ending their plight and resuming a normal life. There are two wonderful parts of Pinellas Hope II, a brand new community center with permanent showers and toilets, a warming kitchen for catering the meals to the residents, offices for the support staff and a large covered gathering space to be used for eating meals, watching television in the evening and community meetings. The community center will allow Catholic Charities to finally get rid of the three year-old modular bathrooms and showers which are literally crumbling at their base (remember, Pinellas Hope opened for what was originally thought to be six winter months only. Another modular structure has served as the warming kitchen and chow-line since opening and it also was never intended to last three years.

The second exciting part of Pinellas Hope II are 80 individual apartments which will serve as transitional housing for those who qualify and who are about to move out to permanent housing. These one room apartments, air-conditioned with refrigerators, stove, etc. will be rented to those who qualify while they achieve the economic base to move out of the complex and into independent living. To rent an apartment or house almost anywhere requires a first and last month’s rent deposit. A good number of the residents currently at Pinellas Hope have jobs and are earning some income.  If they choose to save it against that day within six months when they will be able to live independently, they will qualify for the apartments. It is a transition living situation. All of this was made possible by grants from the county low-income trust fund and a large multi-million dollar grant from the State of Florida. It is precisely this synergy which has made Pinellas Hope a successful experiment in housing for the homeless.

Everyone present for today’s dedication formalities paid special tribute to Catholic Charity’s Sheila Lopez and her boss and my colleague Frank Murphy for making Pinellas Hope I and II the successful venture they have proven to be. Both have devoted endless hours of their work day and their leisure time to establishing, building and operating this unique facility. Great praise and tribute was also heaped on the faith-based communities which day after day bring hot meals for the evening and other food for breakfast and dinner. Because of these invaluable contributed services, Pinellas Hope costs about $10.00 per day for resident. There are also units for those homeless people who are discharged from area hospitals and need care for their complete rehabilitation. Nursing care services are provided by BayCare, largely through the presence of St. Anthony Hospital.

Pinellas Hope has proven not the proper cup of tea for every homeless person in the area. Requiring a criminal background check prior to admission and a firm pledge to refrain from all use of drugs and alcohol on the premises and off the premises for the former, there are strict hours when the gate is open and a level of accountability that some find so burdensome that they would never think of coming there. Yet for those who accept the ground rules there is a safe environment and counselors and associates ready to help anyone get back on their feet. THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES ran a lengthy article on Sunday recently about what they found when studying Pinellas Hope I. Are its results 100% certain? No. Are all who are discharged to independent living situations successful and off the streets? No. Is there a way to track the seemingly successful months and years after they depart? No. But still, about 40% leave to take up independent living after a few months at Pinellas Hope and there is indeed hope for those who enter the gates.

Now, we are able to provide essential services in a more human, sanitary, and comfortable environment and help our client residents in their transition from the streets to shelters to independent living. Hope continues to spring eternal. It is impossible for me to convey to the thousands of people, of my faith and many faiths, who have provided the essential services at no or very low cost to the most vulnerable. Pinellas Hope is the Church’s pro-life commitment enfleshed in tents, casitas, apartments and essential services. I hope you join me in being very proud of what has been wrought on the special, holy ground.

+RNL

Update: Here’s a video of my tour of the office spaces in the new community center, with more videos to come.

THIS DIOCESE AND HAITI

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

One month after the devastating earth quake in neighboring Haiti, the people of this diocese have beautifully responded to my urgent plea for donations and help for this tragic nation. As of this morning, we have collected and forwarded more than $1,356,700 to CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES for their use in alleviating the suffering of the Haitian people with water, food and clothing. Additionally, and I am here guessing, many of our parishes “twin” with parishes in Haiti and have sent what they collected right to those same parishes so my guess is that at least another “$250,000” has been collected and forwarded to parishes. Such generosity in a time of need must be pleasing to God. I know that I am proud of your generosity.

Also, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg has been asked by the U.S. government to handle all of the sick and wounded from that country who have been airlifted to Florida. The government chooses the hospitals for the care of the sick, but each patient is allowed to bring two people with them and it is now our duty to find them places to stay and to support them while their loved ones are in the hospitals of the area.

It is beginning to seem like my dream of being the first responder to urgent needs in our area and world is coming true thanks to the vision of Catholic Charities Director Frank Murphy and his colleagues. Another reason to be proud of your Church as we begin this Lenten season of prayer and sacrifice.

+RNL

COMMENTS

Friday, January 29th, 2010

There have been several comments raised to recent blog entries, two of which merit, I think, mention here. First, I was asked if the diocese and Catholic Charities would be of assistance to families seeking to adopt orphans from Haiti. The answer is affirmative when the Haitian and U.S. government come to some agreement on how to handle these requests. It is hard at the moment to discern the mind of the governments involved but assisting in placing orphans and adoptive children has long been Catholic Charities stock in trade. Stay tuned here for more information if a “breakthrough” materializes.

Someone has asked why I have not signed on to the  MANHATTAN DECLARATION. Philosophically and ecclesiologically I am deeply devoted to the structure, purpose and  collegial nature of our episcopal conference, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They speak for me when they pass something as a body or delegate our President to speak on our behalves. Prior to 1984 no bishop would have thought of signing onto documents originating elsewhere. While I accept the purpose and principles of the  MANHATTAN DECLARATION, I  personally prefer to allow the Conference to speak for me on matters of public policy. It is in my DNA so be you will need to be patient with me once again. I have no case against those bishops who do not feel similarly constrained and publicly acknowledge that it is a “thing with me.”

Hope these two responses are illuminative and helpful.

+RNL

SIGNS OF HOPE AND CARE

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

You have no idea how hard it is to be confined at home unable to be present at things which are near and dear to my heart. This week was full  of those frustrations. Saturday last the Diocesan Pastoral Council met, without me. Monday the Priests Council met, without me. On Thursday, the second phase of our amazing homeless project had a ground breaking without me. I have always known that I am replaceable but think I secretly hoped that retirement or death would make disengagement more palatable.

Things are beginning to look very favorable for our homeless initiative in Hillsborough county, “Hillsborough Cares.” Strong editorial support from the TAMPA TRIBUNE and ST. PETERSBURG TIMES helped make the case and courage on the part of the majority of the county commissioners seem to make the possibility of our “care” for a small portion of the county’s homeless within reach. Once approved, finding the necessary private and public financial backing and seeing what level of support the various political units can provide will be necessary.

On the other side of the Bay, Pinellas Hope is ready to start construction of apartments to be used as transitional housing for those moving toward independent living. Made possible because of government grant money, we will also be able to upgrade the sanitary and common areas of Pinellas Hope I. But there are some dark clouds on the horizon occasioned by budget cuts in the county and community budgets. Don’t hold me for the precise numbers but the Diocese in addition to providing the land gives about $350,000 a year additional through Catholic Charities. Pinellas County provided $750,000 last year and the City of St. Petersburg $250,000. Mayor Baker has pledged the same amount for the coming year but he will soon be leaving office and Candidate Kathleen Ford has been quoted as saying that while she likes Pinellas Hope as an idea, she also thinks that more of the city’s donation should be spent within the city. Candidate Bill Foster in the past has voiced his support for Pinellas Hope but no present firm commitment. The Pinellas County Commissioners have allocated a paltry one million dollars in the budget for all social service programs. What happens if the present commitment of Catholic Charities and the major political units makes it no longer sustainable – it will have to close unfortunately – just when we are beginning to show significant success in helping close to fifty percent of our overnight, tent city people to independent living and self-sustaining life. Finally, each year over 1.2 million is given by countless Church groups who prepare and serve the evening meals and provide much of the food cost. That is real charity.

So some care for the homeless is manifesting itself in Hillsborough and hope which is at an all time high in Pinellas is severely threatened. If you don’t wish to see this manifestation of what Jesus would do, make your feelings and thoughts known to the Pinellas County Commisson and to both candidates for Mayor of St, Petersburg.

That’s the most I can do in my present condition.

+RNL

EMMA LAZARUS LIVES IN TAMPA

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

This morning’s 5-2 decision by the Hillsborough County Commission to allow Catholic Charities to open a second site for the homeless in the bay area (Pinellas Hope has been function for almost two years now) is something just short of miraculous. Until this morning there had been scant indications that the Commissioners would support a new temporary housing for the homeless on the only site in Hillsborough County which the diocese might be able to use for this purpose. The news media had reported correctly on the opposition of the residents to the plan, the negative decisions of two regulatory bodies or persons who make recommendations to the Commission about such things, and the seemingly endless uphill challenge of gaining support for the project. Yet hope springs eternal in the minds and hearts of our Catholic Charities Leadership and they never gave up.

The Hillsborough Commission today voted to instruct the staff to change the language which would allow our Pinellas Hope approach of temporary housing (tents to be specific) to be copied on the Hillsborough site. We screen every applicant, police the place literally with off-duty police, assist the homeless in securing the benefits to which they are entitled (Pinellas Hope has been an education to me in how often our Veterans do not know what is available to them in assistance), help them find jobs and most especially provide a safe and secure place for them to live temporarily. Meals have been supplied by countless Church and other groups (the Allegany Franciscan Sisters, for one example, have cooked and served several times in Pinellas Hope) and access to medical attention is also provided as needed. The powerful fusion of public and private support has given lift and life to our presence among the homeless. It is precisely where I think our Church needs to position itself to the care for the “homeless masses yearning to breathe free.”

This is just the beginning step but very significant. I wish to pay special tribute and appreciation to the editorial boards of THE TAMPA TRIBUNE and THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES for their well researched, well-reasoned, and well-spoken advocacy for Hillsborough Cares. In my judgment, they made a huge difference in the outcome of today’s discussion. It is my prayer and my hope that Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg will soon be able to join Metropolitan Ministries and the Salvation Army and the other organizations who work for and with the homeless. Earlier I mentioned that today’s vote was near miraculous. Well if Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta is in need of one more miracle for sanctity, I would be happy to offer today’s happenings.

+RNL