July 1, 2020

Our duty to one another: Pandemic has created a new reality beset with need


By Ginny Vicini

The pandemic has amplified fear and uncertainty. It has tested the faith and hope that are essential for the physical and emotional well-being of us all. But what has our faith, the teachings of our Church, always called us to do?

Act with compassion and assure that the basic human needs of our sisters and brothers are met. God is always calling us to be a blessing, to provide hope to those who are fearful. In this time of crisis, the mission of Catholic Charities has not changed. We exist to provide service to people in need, to advocate for social justice and to call the entire Church and all people of goodwill to do the same.

However, it is the magnitude of suffering that is challenging us today. The devastating financial impact is surreal at times. We are only in the beginning phase of recognizing the astronomical numbers of families and individuals who are on the brink of losing their homes, health care and other essentials. In this early phase, the focus has been on assuring no child or adult experiences hunger, goes without supplies to keep their environment clean and safe and has access to health care.

The Catholic Charities staff has been working collaboratively with parishes and with other community partners to share our resources. We have been supported generously by parishes, clergy, private donors and through grants. Through this initial phase, more than 500 households have received basic needs items and some financial assistance through Catholic Charities. As with the rest of the world, we are not able to encounter others in ways that we are accustomed to sharing our compassion and love. But we continue to share in creative ways our commitment to faith through action.

Now we are on the brink of responding to the next and most costly phase of the crisis. While there has been a moratorium on evictions and utility disconnections, that ban is soon to be lifted. We have been counseling those who had some income to pay what they can so as not to get too far behind. We have provided limit- ed assistance with rent and utilities, particularly for households who were without income. We are working with a consortium of community partners, including the Fair Housing Council, on negotiating with landlords to avoid mass evictions. We will be working with house- holds on budgeting and providing education on how they can advocate and negotiate in getting caught up on bills. But the reality is that many families will lose their housing.

Catholic Charities will be assisting with rent and utility payments, as will other agencies. But resources are limited. We will also work to help people find affordable housing and provide basic needs so that they can reserve the financial resources they have to secure new housing.

Catholic Charities is identifying other ways to support families. We were made aware of a group of elementary school teachers putting together “Summer Care Packages” for their third-grade classes. Teachers are witnessing the toll COVID-19 is having on children and families as a result of school closings. Particularly for families that were already struggling, teachers are seeing real trauma. These care packages not only celebrate and recognize students for their hard work, but they also provide students with educational supplies and activities to continue their learning. They also remind children and their families that their teachers value them.

The physicist Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Through our compassionate and charitable actions, we also must be mindful that fear is paralyzing. Those who have such overwhelming fear and anxiety about when they will return to work, how will they feed their families and keep a roof over their heads, are also experiencing the same fears most of us have about COVID-19 and the potential impact on their health and that of their loved ones.

Catholic Charities will continue to be a beacon of hope and comfort to all those we encounter. We will continue to serve in ways that meet the basic needs of all that turn to us. The pandemic does not deter us from our mission or our service.

Ginny Vicini is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Lexington.