Parish Sharing Means More Than a Second Collection

By Purcell, Bill Appleby | U.S. Catholic, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Parish Sharing Means More Than a Second Collection


Purcell, Bill Appleby, U.S. Catholic


While it's nice that wealthier parishes reach out to poorer ones with monetary resources, the mere one-way sharing of gifts impoverishes both the giver and receiver. An important Christian obligation--and opportunity--is being missed.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT WE ARE CATHOLIC?" asks my 5-year-old in the car while we are driving to Sunday Mass. Even though I regularly encounter hundreds of committed Catholics each week in my work for the Archdiocese of Chicago, I often find it is my oldest son who helps me to keep my spiritual life in line.

And usually the best answers to my child's provocative questions emerge from our family's experiences in the local parish. For me, to be Catholic means carrying our beliefs in Jesus with us as we leave the church building. As Catholics, I believe, we are called to be charitable with our resources, not only by giving from our surplus, but also by building relationships with others through sharing our time and talents.

That's what my parents taught me when they taught me to form a relationship with God by forming relationships with people in our neighborhoods. It's also what our bishops teach. In Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, the U.S. bishops urge all Catholics to use their talents and resources to build institutions that protect human dignity and promote justice.

That's why I'm a big believer in parish sharing programs, which typically partner one congregation (often poorer) with another (often wealthier). It's also why I'm disappointed whenever parish sharing programs get reduced to special collections and clothing drives--what's essentially a mere funneling of material wealth from richer parish to poorer parish. Even if well-intentioned, this is a one-way relationship that does little more than perpetuate itself.

Pope John Paul II has continually called Catholics to build solidarity by building a community of relationships. In community we realize the fulfillment of our human dignity and rights in relationship with others. We experience the human person as both sacred and social. Hence I think we need to make our parishes into places that empower people to reach their full God-given potential. But if our parish sharing programs are limited to throwing money into the collection basket, we allow our own stereotypes and ignorance to go unchallenged. We fall short of our own human dignity and potential, even as our charity is meant to help our more impoverished brothers and sisters to build theirs.

If we rub shoulders with folks, on the other hand--contribute to relationships with impoverished communities as well as to collections on their behalf--we foster a more informed understanding and awareness. By sharing in the life of other parishes, we are better equipped to build the Body of Christ and work for justice.

PARISH SHARING PROGRAMS ARE FIRST AND FOREMOST A Pragmatic way of building community. Officially, for over 25 years, the Parish Sharing Program in the Archdiocese of Chicago has built bridges between parish communities that would otherwise be separated by racism, classism, culture, and economic disparity. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin stated it clearly in a 1996 pastoral statement: "Parish Sharing ... creates opportunities to nurture solidarity among people in the archdiocese. The bond of a common faith provides an essential foundation upon which strong relationships can be built. The unity we find through Jesus Christ brings us together despite the diversity of race, ethnicity, culture, and economic disparity."

Parish sharing in Chicago began in 1969 when the West Side parish of Presentation B.V.M., where Msgr. Jack Egan was pastor, connected with St. Joseph's in suburban Libertyville through Egan's friend, Msgr. Harry Koenig. These two friends were creatively trying to overcome the larger backdrop of racial violence and misunderstanding at the time.

"It was all about getting people in a black, poor community to know people from a white, suburban community, and to exchange everything we could possibly exchange," recalls Egan. …

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