This is a column written by retired Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America. (The annual Collection for the Church in Latin America will be taken up in most U.S. parishes the weekend of Jan. 22-23.)
In Haiti the Catholic Church has been consistently dependable in its efforts to foster peace and fellowship in local communities. To make sure that continues, gifts from Catholics in the United States to the annual Collection for the Church in Latin America have enabled more than 600 young people to receive intensive formation in the faith so that they can evangelize their peers and work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods.
Spiritual immersion, biblical training and fellowship took place during a three-week retreat covering topics ranging from biblical essentials to preventing violence to the uses and dangers of social media. Thanks to the generosity of Catholics in the United States, the church in Haiti is forming a new generation of disciples who live and share the gift of faith with their families, friends and neighbors.
The Haitian youth faith formation program is among hundreds of projects that gifts to this collection make possible. As chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ subcommittee overseeing this collection, I’ve had the opportunity to visit programs supported by the collection and have witness firsthand the great impact of your generosity through the collection to our brothers and sisters in the region. Thank you for your continued support when the collection is taken up in your parish Jan. 22-23 or at another time this year. #iGiveCatholicTogether also accepts funds in support of the Church in Latin America.
Inspired by the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic bishops of the United States started this collection in 1966 to build solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. It supports ministry in places of great poverty and suffering.
In 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Collection for the Church in Latin America distributed more than $5.6 million among 334 ministries in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Grants of $3.9 million supported evangelization, catechesis, marriage and family ministry, pro-life work, youth ministry, prison ministry and other pastoral outreach, while about $1.5 million provided formation for clergy, religious, and lay leaders. The collection also funds the creation and implementation of safe environment/child protection programs in the Latin American dioceses that are supported by the fund.
Pope Francis has called us to share the love and the joy of Jesus Christ with those who are poor, suffering or marginalized. He knows firsthand that the Collection for the Church in Latin America accomplishes this. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, contributions to this collection helped support his ministry to the people in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
As chairman of the the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America, each year I have the privilege of reviewing hundreds of grant applications and seeing what becomes of them. Like the tiny seed that yields a great harvest, even the smallest gift from a parishioner can change lives.
That’s the idea behind the Semenentes do Verbo (Seeds of the Word) in Brazil, which forms clergy and laity — including families — to live in community while evangelizing their neighbors. Members first spend nine months in a mission house where they pray, study Scripture, participate in spiritual exercises and engage in parish missions. In 2021, this collection allowed 100 people from 25 Brazilian dioceses to devote these months to formation, then go forth as missionaries.
Despite material poverty, Catholics of these nations often have dynamic spiritual lives. Many discern a call to the priesthood or consecrated life, which requires great courage in some regions plagued by violence against the church, political unrest and poverty.
In Venezuela, the high national poverty rate is one of the challenges that youth face as they consider their calling in life. The Diocese of Carúpano, with support from the Collection for the Church in Latin America, has established a center where young people can gather for activities that deepen their experience of Christ as they start to discern whether to live out their faith in marriage, the priesthood, consecrated religious life, or as a single person. A photo of young people participating in one of the center’s eucharistic processions, which is the central image of this year’s collection resources, shows in a real way how you assist them in their journey with Christ as their guide.
When that collection basket comes around, I know that it’s easy to think that a small gift won’t make a difference. But even $5 can make a multimillion-dollar impact as it combines with gifts of thousands of other Catholics. No matter how small the gift, God uses it to make a life-changing difference for those whom Jesus called “the least” of his sisters and brothers.
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Editor’s Note: For more information on how the collection for the Church in Latin America impacts the faith life of the region, visit www.usccb.org/committees/church-latin-america.