Bishop's Interview: Catholic Services Appeal: A Joy Which is Shared
Editor: The Diocese of Austin will kick off the annual Catholic Services Appeal at the beginning of November. Please tell us about the Catholic Services Appeal. How is it different from the other special collections that are taken up in parishes?
Bishop Vásquez: Catholic Services Appeal (CSA) is our diocesan-wide appeal to fund the ministries and services that we provide within the Diocese of Austin. We are blessed to have many ministries that provide for the religious needs, the spiritual needs and the human needs of people throughout our diocese. Through the CSA, we sustain religious education, Catholic schools, ministerial formation, seminarian formation and initiatives for life, peace and justice.
One example of the impact of the CSA is found in the formation of our seminarians. We currently have 47 men in formation, and every year, through generous donations of our people to the CSA, the diocese is able to completely fund the education of our future priests. The CSA also helps us take care of our retired priests, ensuring that they have a place to call home and that their medical needs are met upon retirement. Many other ministries are assisted by the CSA, such as Catholic Charities of Central Texas, which every day reaches out to people in need through the Project Gabriel Life Centers, Immigration Legal Services, and disaster relief.
Our diocese is one of the fastest growing dioceses in the country, with more than 70 people moving to the Austin area every day. In order for us to serve so many people we must ask all Catholics to contribute to this appeal. We need all of us to contribute so that we can take care of the growing needs throughout our diocese, which covers 25 counties in Central Texas from north of Waco to San Marcos and from College Station to Mason.
Editor: The theme for this year’s CSA is “A Joy Which is Shared.” What is the inspiration behind this theme?
Bishop Vásquez: The theme is based on Mark 16:15, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” As Catholics we are called to go out to the ends of the world and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. By our baptism, we are invited to share in the same mission that Jesus himself did which is to go into the world and proclaim the love of God with joy and compassion. Through the Catholic Services Appeal, we can help form children, adults, ministers, priests, deacons, etc. in sharing the Good News with others.
“A Joy Which is Shared” also springs from our Holy Father Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
“The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first … therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy,” the pope writes in “The Joy of the Gospel.”
The Holy Father has reiterated many times that as Christians we should be people filled with joy because we have encountered the living Christ. And our encounter with Christ, drives us to share his love with others. The joy that is shared comes from the very heart and essence of who we are and the mission of the church.
“Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but by attraction,” Pope Francis writes in “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Editor: How does the Catholic Services Appeal provide us with an opportunity to share the joy of the Gospel?
Bishop Vásquez: First of all, it provides all Catholics with a way to contribute financially. As Catholic Christians, we believe that everything we have, everything we are, and everything we will become is a gift from God. As stewards of those gifts, we are called to return a portion of our time, talent and treasure in gratitude for God’s great bounty. Giving to the CSA is one small way to realize how we have been blessed and thus take a portion of our blessings and share it with others.
The Catholic Services Appeal is an expression of our solidarity with others. Through our donations and prayerful support of the CSA, we are united with our brothers and sisters in a bond of service and love. The Catholic Services Appeal gives us the opportunity to look beyond the immediate needs of our home parishes, to see the needs present in the larger community.
It is also important to remember that if we are unable to donate financially right now, we can commit to praying for the needs of our church on a regular basis. As we hear in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
Editor: You have mentioned how important the Catholic Services Appeal is at the diocesan level. Can you explain how it affects the local parishes?
Bishop Vásquez: What we do here at the Diocese of Austin is seek to serve the needs of all people in the diocese. Our staff’s first priority is to serve the parishes and schools. We have on staff personnel who work with and train youth ministers, catechists, campus ministers, prison ministers, parish social ministers, worship leaders and clergy members who work in our parishes. We seek to help our parish leaders be more effective in all that they do. We work with priests, deacons and lay ministers to help them share the joy of Christ with others.
Editor: What is your prayer for the CSA?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer is that we the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Austin will experience the joy of sharing through our participation in the Catholic Services of Appeal. May we see that we are indeed building the Kingdom of God as we share our joy with others.