Fifth-annual Caritas Day gains new meaning during ‘Year of Mercy’
February 7, 2016
HOUSTON — Give “A Million Thanks” and create special cards of gratitude to those serving in the U.S. military, or assemble “Jars of Joy,” activity jars for homeless, immigrant and refugee children — these are just a couple of the activities volunteers will be doing on Saturday, Feb. 27, when they participate in the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart’s fifth-annual day of service known as Caritas Day.
The day begins at 8 a.m. with a special trilingual Caritas Mass. After which more 500 volunteers will disperse to either the Cathedral Centre, 1701 San Jacinto, in downtown Houston, or to nearby service agencies to work one of more than 30 projects, many of which are family friendly.
Other projects include “Hope Totes” in which volunteers will decorate and fill hygiene handbags for women rescued from human-trafficking, “Build-a-Ramp” in which volunteers build wooden ramps at a home for a person, ‘Socked by Love’ in which volunteers assemble survival snacks inside a pair of new socks for day laborers, and ‘Tailgate’ in which volunteers distribute food to families in need.
“Caritas Day is extra special this year as it falls within the Year of Mercy,” said Wendy Garaghty, the Co-Cathedral’s Outreach Coordinator.
“When we hear Pope Francis talking about this special year, he reminds us of our responsibility to participate in the Works of Mercy and asks us to reflect more deeply this year on the role mercy can and should play in our lives. How can we, through our words and actions, live mercy more intentionally?” Garaghty added.
“All are invited… it is open to everyone,” she added. “You do not have to be Catholic to participate — many participants register their friends and each year we have people from many different faith communities join us. All cultures are represented and many languages spoken (English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, French and German). That is the uniqueness of Caritas Day — the unity created when sharing God’s love with others.”
Approximately 100 Caritas Day volunteers will pack more than 10,000 meals in a project called “Kidz Meals” serving Stop Hunger Now. “The meals, which are sent to children in Africa, provide the nutrition and protein that is crucial for healthy, physical development,” said Mike Bell, project manager for the agency. “They provide a life-line for the communities we serve. For example, they may be sent to a school feeding program in which each meal will equate to a day of schooling... that’s over 10,000 days of school.”
Other Caritas Day volunteers will help weed and plant a community garden, feed goats and build a new picnic table for members of Dona Maria Clubhouse, one of two psycho-social rehabilitation day-centers owned and run by Magnificat Houses. “The volunteers will make a noticeable impact on our members,” said Kevin Campbell, Director of Dona Maria Clubhouse. “Many of our members enjoy meeting new people and interacting with them. Others are shyer but you can tell both in the energy level in the clubhouse in anticipation of guests and afterwards the volunteers are something to look forward to.
“Our members find a sense of peace and calm when they enter into the garden where the volunteers will be working,” Campbell added. “And the volunteers benefit too. First and foremost, they gain a better understanding of mental illness. They are reminded that men and women living with mental illness have been created by God with dignity and worth, and we are called to care for the mentally ill by creating community, by walking beside them when they are alone, afraid or confused, and by providing healthy and dignified living and working conditions.”
Caritas Day initially began as a way for parishioners at the Co-Cathedral to reach out to others in service during Lent and to introduce them to local agencies who continually need volunteers. The hope was that Caritas Day volunteers would continue volunteering on a regular basis.
This will be the third time that J.D. and Maria King, parishioners at St. Cyril of Alexandra Catholic Church, volunteer. J.D. King said “Maria and I participate because of what Jesus did on the cross and because of His words and encounters of which we read in the gospels. I recall His words in the Gospel according to Matthew ‘...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ The corporal works of mercy that we are doing are for Jesus Christ.”
This year, the Kings will take part in the Pet Chow Project for AniMeals. “We chose this project because we have experienced the unconditional love dogs give. I pray that we may be so unconditional in showing love for others,” he added. “It is truly rewarding to know what we are doing makes a difference in the lives of others and to Jesus.”
Lan Tsang and her husband Danny have participated in Caritas Day since becoming parishioners at the C-Cathedral three years ago. “Over the last few years, my husband and I feel that there are more projects to choose from since we first volunteered which makes it challenging to choose just one project,” she said. “We love knowing that we are giving back to the community. It’s only one Saturday morning and we find it very fulfilling.”
Tsang adds “For us, the most rewarding part of the day is seeing all of the participants at the opening Mass. It is such a joy to see hundreds of people coming together to complete so many projects in one day.”
Marissa Perez, who will volunteer for the fourth time, said she participates in Caritas Day because she enjoys being a part of a team with more than 500 people who are all dedicated to spending a Saturday morning giving back to the community. “It is amazing to see San Jacinto Street flush with people wearing red shirts as we make our way to the Co-Cathedral Centre to begin our projects. But the most rewarding part of Caritas Day is seeing all the finished products. I like knowing that the people who will receive them will appreciate them and hopefully be touched by them.”
After the Caritas Day projects conclude, the volunteer will gather at the Cathedral Centre for lunch and are invited to stay for the annual Knights of Columbus Chili Cook-off.
“Caritas Day 2016 is a beautiful opportunity to enliven our community with the strength of this message of love and mercy. We are called to be carriers of a powerful message which can have a positive influence on our community and those we serve,” Garaghty said.
In conclusion she added, “God has blessed us with awareness that our time, talent and treasures are to be shared with our brothers and sisters in need and we invite all to join us in our mission to serve them this Lent through our Caritas Day of Outreach. We pray that our words bring comfort, our hearts bring healing and our actions speak volumes of the love and compassion of our God.”
To volunteer or find out more about Caritas Day, visit www.sacredhearthouston.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“As Pope Francis calls us to acts of mercy, let us all do one or more of the corporal acts of mercy by participating in our Caritas Day of service.” - Father Lawrence Jozwiak, pastor of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
Saturday, March 28
8 a.m. - Caritas Day Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, 1111 St. Joseph Pkwy., Houston
9 a.m. to Noon - Volunteer projects at Cathedral Centre, 1701 San Jacinto, Houston or at nearby agencies
Noon - Caritas Day Lunch at Cathedral Centre, 1701 San Jacinto, Houston, followed by Knights of Columbus Annual Chili Cook-Off