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In their own words

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As we bask in the after-effect of Thanksgiving, I thought it would be nice to focus this month’s column on what we are thankful for at Catholic Charities.

It has been a tough season for Catholic Charities and other organizations that serve the poor and marginalized. The 9-C cuts cut deep for all of us. Fundraising requires even more hard work than usual, and the holiday season is our busiest time. By the time you read this, for example, we will have provided Thanksgiving meals to 4,000 families.

To turn our attention where it should be this week, therefore, I wrote to the staff at Catholic Charities and asked them to email me about the things for which they are most thankful. Nearly 20 of my colleagues wrote back. It was beautiful to read their notes.

Much of what they said would not surprise you. They gave thanks for their families, their happiness and the security of a job, a home and food on the table.

To a one, however, each of them gave thanks for things that are particular to our work at Catholic Charities. They celebrated their ability to serve, and to give some measure of hope and respite to at least some people in need this season. My original intent was to summarize what they’d written. As I reread their messages tonight, though, I knew that their own words were far more powerful, and far more prayerful.

“I am thankful for the amazing staff we have here at Nazareth who come to work every day and make life better ftor the children and families in our program. But most of all I am thankful for a job that starts and ends each day with hugs. You cannot have a better job than one that is full of unconditional love!”

“I am most thankful this year for hope. ...lately I am finding more peace in reminding myself of the promise that our world will not always be fraught with injustice. I am thankful that we are a people of real, physical hope. It is that hope that gives me purpose and fortitude. That is something to be deeply thankful for.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity to see the strength and resilience of people whose lives are indeed burdened and complex, but treasures nonetheless.”

“I’m reading this email thinking -- wow life sounds wonderful, but this year has really been a blessing to us, although I have to say -- it’s hard coming in the office and looking at the clients that have less. It reminds me of how far we’ve come, but I feel guilty that they were not as fortunate.”

“When I leave the shelter each evening I am thankful that I am going home to my own house, my own bed, knowing we have food in the refrigerator, warm clothes to wear and a full tank of oil for the furnace.”

“I am grateful for the dedicated staff ...in our Young Parent and Healthy Families programs. These hard working women ... are uniquely connected in their ability to form warm, compassionate relationships with needy young mothers and fathers. They are able to teach them how to be good parents and contributing members of society. They may not get a thank you, or see evidence that they are making a difference in their day to day relationships with these young families, but they are.”

“...as I receive phone call after phone call at the front desk I remember the well worn phrase ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ I say to myself after each call, ‘Thank God I have food, thank God I have a home, thank God for my family, and my support systems.’”

“...we are faced every day with so many people -- an increasing number of people -- who do not have ‘rest and shelter,’ ‘health and food,’ ‘love and friends.’ My gratitude for all that I have is laced with sadness for the many, in this ‘land of plenty,’ who do not.”

I’d like to add just one thing. I am grateful for the chance to be part of this wonderful work, and to do it with these wonderful people.

Tiziana Dearing is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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