America Magazine published an article today about a charity I help found: Catholic Action Montreal. I think the author Dean Dettloff captured well the spirit behind this important work which, while small, is rooted in deep convictions. Any comments here are not criticisms, just a chance for me to be a proud papa.
Dean begins by telling the story of CCS, formerly known as Catholic Community Services, which later became Collective Community Services. It was a hard time for that organization, and I do believe there were good people there trying to do good things. Unfortunately, the group had become somewhat disconnected from the grassroots Catholic community that might have been able to step in. Sadly, I think they may have been neglected by diocesan leadership as well. Neglect is very rarely, if ever, a winning pastoral strategy. So drift occurred, leading to an eventual (and painful) break.
The bit about the major fundraising organization holding back from funding CCS if it was too "religious" created quite a kerfuffle at the time. The (then) Executive Director of CCS pointed out in a newspaper article published in the Catholic Times of Montreal that both the government and the major fundraising organization would not be receptive to the Catholic identity of the organization. So, that label needed to go, with the explanation that CCS would now be "values based" rather than "faith based". The resulting kerfuffle led to a letter from Archbishop Christian Lépine to CCS, informing them that "if CCS would cease to be an agency representing Catholic values, a new agency would have to be created within the Archdiocese for that purpose". And that is exactly what happened. Later, the Archbishop issued a decree formally recognizing Catholic Action as an association of the faithful.
The new model of organization was born somewhat out of necessity. We didn't have any money, really, and based on the CCS experience we weren't going to get any from outside funds. What we did possess was a lot of good will within the community, which wanted to see us living out our Catholic faith in practical charity for our community. So we needed to leverage those gifts and talents.
That is where the Wikipedia image came in, because that is exactly what they did: create a platform for massive engagement. In fact, it's a model first championed by the open source software movement, which has literally changed the world. Do you use Android on your phone? Do you use Google as your search engine? Both technologies were built on an operating system called Linux, which was invented by a Finnish graduate student in his spare time -- but assisted by (now) thousands of people around the world, thanks to the mechanisms of collaboration developed for open source software. (Those who know me know I've been a techno geek for a long time.)
As for the name, we originally wanted to call it "Catholics in Action", but then we realised the acronym would be "CIA", and that seemed a bit awkward...
What I like most about Dean's article is how he illustrates the theological underpinnings of Catholic Action Montreal. He mentions the relationship between the baptismal call and the role of the ordained, which I often liken to the relationship between the skeleton and the muscles in the body. Our baptismal "muscles" make the Body of Christ move, but the "ordained ministry skeleton" gives those muscles structure and the capacity for leverage, making them even more able to move the body and even lift heavy things. I'm proud to be an ordained member of the Church, and I think my vocation is important. Anticlericalism is wrong. That said, I certainly don't think it's opposite -- clericalism -- is the solution! Both sacraments structure the life of the Church in interdependent ways.
But I'm most pleased to see the article presenting the vision of salvation that is at the heart of CAM's work. When I met Pope Francis during the ad limina visit of the Quebec bishops in 2017, he mentioned that Matthew 25 was one of his favourite Bible passages. Our eternal judgment depends on our charity, he reinforced. And this was part of the original vision of CAM. Back when CCS was still deciding about its catholicity, I shared with the (then) Executive Director that I wanted to see the group get more volunteers involved, because as a bishop I had to be concerned with people's eternal salvation, and creating opportunities for charity could very well be part of that. The care of souls, helping them get to heaven, is not something apart from social and charitable action -- far from it. I remember the Executive Director being struck by that idea, but admitting that it wasn't going to be their approach: they wanted to continue the model of funding for paid positions to deliver services. Simply put, it was a model people knew.
I'll admit, it has not always been easy to explain the Catholic Action vision to others in such a way that they get excited about it. But I can tell that Dean caught the bug, and I'm grateful to him and to America Magazine. And the results speak for themselves. The more we can encourage this "community entrepreneurship" drawn from our theology and the profound spiritual gifts God has blessed us with as Catholics, the more people will be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. And that, ultimately, is what it is all about. That's my dream for this ministry: when I die, I want to meet people who got to heaven thanks to this ministry, both as givers and receivers.