CSA extends ‘Hands of Mercy’ throughout diocese

By Peggy Moraczewski 
Correspondent

In the next few weeks, Bishop Joe Vásquez will lay out his 2015-2016 Catholic Services Appeal (CSA), “Hands of Mercy,” a theme in harmony with Pope Francis’ announcement of a Year of Mercy that begins in December. 
The CSA offers every parishioner the opportunity to become a part of something greater than can be attained individually, said Scott Whitaker, Secretariat Director for Stewardship, Development and Communications for the Austin Diocese.
Imagine the diocese as a huge resource center that feeds 127 parishes with priests and deacons, as well as trained and certified directors of religious education (DREs), competent youth ministers and Catholic school principals. The CSA allows these and many other vital programs across the diocese to flourish.
Programs within each parish are often strengthened by diocesan programs that train the trainers. For example, the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis trains parish DREs and catechists year-round, in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Similarly, Catholic school principals are provided professional development by the Catholic Schools Office and youth ministers have access to resources to help organize their programs. 
“We are available to work one-on-one with new parish youth ministers,” said Alison Tate, diocesan director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
Registration for the 57th Diocesan Catholic Youth Conference (DCYC) begins soon. Last year, nearly 2,500 students participated and a number of teens received scholarships from CSA funds. 
“I have a dream to have an endowment someday that’s going to endow the DCYC, so that every child can go for free,” Whitaker said. While the CSA is not an endowment fund, it allows for the funding of major programs affecting the entire diocese on an ongoing basis.
“CSA supports our ability to provide effective ministry to those facing unplanned or difficult pregnancies, and our ministry to those who are incarcerated/imprisoned,” said DeKarlos Blackmon, diocesan director of Life, Charity and Justice.  
More than 50 percent of the CSA funds go toward clergy formation, including deacons, seminarians and priests currently serving our parishes and retired priests. 
“The Catholic Services Appeal helps retired priests maintain their dignity ... It’s going to make sure they have insurance in their sunset years,” Whitaker said. 
Healthcare costs more than $15,000 annually per retired priest; educational costs for an individual seminarian run $40,000 a year. It would not be feasible for parishes to carry these financial burdens, but when shared, the burden is lightened and amazing things happen, he said. 
Chris Yeager is a seminarian at St. Mary’s Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He is a 2012 St. Edward’s University graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in history. He began praying about his vocation toward the end of his junior year at St. Ed’s. 
“I began with the simple question, what does God want me to do with my life? And after more prayer the answer ... became clear,” Yeager said. For him, the CSA is about gratitude and trust.
“The CSA always calls me to gratitude. It gives me hope that the people of God believe in the importance of the work of the church (and) that they are willing to support it. Furthermore, their support shows their hope in me as a future priest. It enables me to freely concentrate on my formation as a future priest. Also, their support is a sign of trust. Trust that I will spend this time in diligently preparing for the priesthood and service to advancing the mission of Christ,” he said.
The entire diocese benefits when seminarians are ordained priests, when college students are engaged in their Catholic faith, and when the incarcerated are ministered to by our deacons and volunteers. We benefit through God’s grace and mercy when more than 5,000 people are confirmed in the faith, and when traumatized families find refuge and comfort. Last year, the CSA provided Catholic Charities of Central Texas, the social services arm of the diocese, with $250,000, to assist with funding programs such as the disaster relief offered to victims of the Memorial Day floods.
At the end of this month, a letter from Bishop Vásquez will arrive in the mailbox of every registered Catholic household, thanking each for their past support and inviting them to participate in the 2015-2016 CSA commitment weekend in early November. Additional information will follow through each parish. 
Mercy is “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever,” Pope Francis writes in Misericordiae Vultus. May we all extend Hands of Mercy in the year to come.
For more information or to donate, visit www.austindiocese.org/csa.