Column | Catholic Charities: Showing the Face of God

Bishop Bonnar


Bishop of Youngstown

When I was a kid, I vividly remember our family attending Sunday Mass together, followed by having a big breakfast at home. It was not uncommon to hear my mom spontaneously sing some of the songs we sang at Mass that day as she was preparing breakfast. While she did not have a great voice, she certainly exuded to us children great faith.

One of the songs I remember Mom singing was the old hymn, “Where Charity and Love Prevail.” The gist of the song is that wherever there is charity and love, God is present. God is charity and love. When I was a little boy sitting in the first pew at Holy Mass, I would often ask my mom, “Where is God?” Inevitably, mom would point to the sanctuary. But in singing that particular song, Mom demonstrated to me that God is where there is charity and love.

When was the last time you saw God with your eyes? Just a few weeks ago I traveled with the diocesan director of Catholic Charities, Rachel Hrbolich, to Warren to visit the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store. It was heartwarming to see the employees and volunteers working together for the good of others. On that same day, Rachel and I visited the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall. We met with all the volunteers who cook and prepare lunch for those in need. Would you believe that they serve 7,000 meals a month? Executive Director Darlene Jones, along with her staff, board, and volunteers, do a phenomenal job each day of presenting the face of God to the people they serve.

Catholic Charities is another way that God’s charity and love prevail. Recently I attended each of the three Catholic Charities Agency boards of directors meetings. In our diocese, Catholic Charities has an agency in Ashtabula County, directed by Jill Valentic; an agency serving Portage and Stark counties, directed by Rick Squier; and a regional agency, serving Mahoning, Columbiana, and Trumbull counties, directed by Nancy Voitus.

When I first was named bishop of Youngstown and began moving my stuff into the building weeks before my ordination, one of the first people I met was Jill Valentic of Catholic Charities of Ashtabula County. I was overwhelmed by Jill’s passion and zeal. Jill exudes great energy. I was heartened to know that she was running one of our agencies.

During the summer of my first year, it was my privilege to interview and hire Rick Squier as the new executive director for Catholic Charities serving Portage and Stark Counties. Rick has a background in working for the Church and demonstrates a true love for the poor and marginalized. What a gift he is to those whom he leads and serves in Portage and Stark counties.

I met Nancy Voitus of Catholic Charities Regional Agency, at the blessing of the Voice of Hope Shelter for women and children on Glenwood Avenue in Youngstown. In 2021, 93 women and children benefited from this shelter. A similar shelter called Christina House is operated by Catholic Charities in Columbiana County. In 2021, 67 women and children received care from this facility. Nancy has a passion for the poor that is overwhelmingly contagious. I am amazed by how she channels this zeal throughout the three counties in which she directs the efforts of Catholic Charities.

Thanks to Catholic Charities and their mission-driven and faith-based leadership, those in need have someone to turn to. Beyond the multi-faceted programs, such as food vouchers and emergency food assistance, assistance to pregnant women, senior support services, housing counseling, utility assistance, and prison re-entry services, Catholic Charities has a network of people who care. They exude charity and love. As a result, God is made present again and again throughout the six counties of our diocese.

As you know, we find ourselves in the middle of the Annual Diocesan Appeal: One in Hope, One in Mission. Sixty percent of the funds raised from the Appeal go directly to Catholic Charities for all their efforts. Catholic Charities counts on our generosity so that they can, with their charity and love, make God present in our diocese. More importantly, the people whom they serve are depending on us. Your donation to the Annual Appeal helps Catholic Charities to make a difference. Your charity and love enable the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the vulnerable to see God.

In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis quotes the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops who said: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.” (#10)

In the same document, the Holy Father writes: “Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” We also can bring this love by contributing to the Annual Appeal. We can show the presence of God to those in need.

There was another song I heard my mom sing on those Sunday mornings. This song had the words, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Our love not only shows the presence of God but also reveals that we are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. Together let us raise our voices and lift our hearts as we sing these old songs and let the poor see the face of God.

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