Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and to care for the "least of these." This message has taken root in the Catholic Church and is expressed in many ministries in our neighborhoods, parishes, nursing homes, health clinics, schools, and through Catholic Charities and other national Catholic programs.
In addition to the wide array of human services Catholic Charities offers to the poor and vulnerable, the agency is a catalyst for social change through its convening, advocacy and empowering ministries.
Advocacy, life issues
Advocates speak on behalf of those whose needs or rights have been violated. The Catholic community advocates for the rights and dignity of all victims of violence, injustice and marginalization. The 1993 Synod of the Rochester Diocese linked all of these life issues under the banner of the consistent life ethic. Jann Armantrout, the life-issues coordinator, focuses on abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and euthanasia. Her colleagues in the regional Catholic Charities offices assist her in this ministry in addition to addressing such issues as economic injustice, war and peace, and environmental concerns.
Public Policy Committee
The Second Vatican Council held up the image of the church as the people of God working together to bring Good News to the poor. The 1971 Synod of Bishops stated that "action on behalf of social justice is a constitutive dimension of preaching the Gospel." Propelled by these insights, Bishop Matthew H. Clark and Jack Balinsky, diocesan director of Catholic Charities, established the Diocesan Public Policy Committee to assist the bishop in bringing Gospel values to the debate around life issues and social policy. Bishop Clark and members of the DPPC meet with legislators in Albany during Public Policy Day every March and in their home offices at least once a year or as needed to discuss the implications of Catholic social teaching in the legislative arena. Each year three issues are selected for specific educational efforts in the parishes. One of these issues is designated as the advocacy issue, which means that during Public Policy Weekend in February, parishioners are asked to sign petitions or postcards asking state legislators to take action on the advocacy issue.
In keeping with the vision of Vatican II, Catholic Charities convenes ecumenical, interfaith, community-based partners to address social issues.
Deepening our understanding of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching is a challenge that is addressed through workshops, panel discussions, presentations and breaking open the Word at Sunday liturgies. In the last seven years Catholic Charities has promoted a faith-formation experience called JustFaith, which focuses on poverty, racism and environmental issues. The core program is a 30-week format that establishes a small Christian community (eight to 14 people) focusing on prayer, readings, videos and "border crossings." To date, 300 people in the diocese have completed this demanding and rewarding program.
Border crossings also are at the heart of Project Unity, which links urban, suburban and rural parishes. Both JustFaith and Project Unity enable parishioners to cross the borders of race, class and geography to meet migrant workers, ex-offenders and the poor. These experiences break down the barriers in our communities and lead to a sense of solidarity and more effective collaborations.
CCHD and CRS
Since 1970 the Catholic Church has supported community organizing and empowerment of the poor through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Funds are collected and disbursed to organizations through which the poor speak for themselves in addressing issues of economic and social justice.
As the word "catholic" implies, the Catholic Church looks beyond national borders to respond to the needs of the poor and the victims of natural disasters around the world. Catholic Relief Services and other diocesan initiatives offer help to the needy in Haiti, Africa and many other places. Operation Rice Bowl is a popular Catholic Relief Services Lenten program that promotes fasting, prayer and almsgiving, and educates parish/school communities about life in developing countries. These are some of the ways that our Catholic community, through the leadership of Catholic Charities, responds to "the least of these" in our neighborhoods and beyond our borders. In these efforts we attempt to live out Jesus’ two great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.