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January collection to benefit social service agencies

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BRAINTREE -- A January special collection will be taken up in parishes as a response to the vision of Pope Francis of a "Church which is poor and for the poor."

The "Catholic Social Ministries Collection," will be taken Jan. 17 and Jan. 18 to support Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, St. Mary's Wvvomen and Children's Center, Inc. in Dorchester, and St. Ann's Home and School in Methuen.

In a letter to priests of the archdiocese, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia Bishop Peter J. Uglietto said the collection is to be taken at the request of Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

"Each of these established, non-profit organizations serve populations within our Archdiocese that are on the margins of society and in need of our care, outreach and concern. Cardinal Seán has asked for this special Catholic Social Ministries Collection in response to the call of Pope Francis," Bishop Uglietto said.

Father J. Bryan Hehir, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, explained the significance of each program in relation to the message of Pope Francis.

"If you look at the Holy Father's emphasis on the Church testifying to the kind of faith we have by the way we care for those in need, there are multiple ways to do this. Many individual Catholics do it in lots of different ways, but these are three agencies that represent the Church, represent Catholic faith," he said.

Having served the archdiocese for more than 100 years, Catholic Charities works in a mission of building a just and compassionate society rooted in the dignity of all people. The agency provides nearly 90 programs and services throughout Eastern Massachusetts. These services respond to the needs of the poor and working poor, provide supportive services to children and families, and assist refugees and immigrants as they become active participants in their communities. Last year, Catholic Charities served more than 200,000 people in need, regardless of faith.

"Catholic Charities, of course, is the largest social services provider in Eastern Massachusetts with well over 100 different programs bearing upon women, children, families, and immigrants," he said.

St. Mary's Center for Women and Children in Dorchester works through various programs to support women, children and families to achieve economic self-sufficiency and stability for about 95 families per year. In recent years the facility has sheltered 2,000 homeless families, cared for 300 parenting teens and their infants, comforted more than 1,000 child victims of abuse and neglect, and equipped 700 women with education and work skills.

The current facility traces its roots back to facilities run by the Daughters of Charity after an abandoned baby was discovered on the steps of a Boston church in 1870. Since taking up residence in the former St. Margaret's Hospital in 1993, the facility has not only cared for women and their children on a temporary basis, but sought to help mothers develop the means to support themselves.

"St. Mary's not only continued to care for them, but began to develop programs to help them to move into the workforce, to be able to sustain independent living, and therefore it fulfils an enormously valuable service to women and children," Father Hehir said.

St. Ann's Home and School in Methuen works in its mission to provide assessment, treatment, educational, and community-based services for children, adolescents, and young adults with a variety of mental health, emotional, and educational challenges. The home seeks to provide state-of-the-art programming and services in collaboration with clients, their families, and other community and state agencies to help children with disabilities through residential, day school, and community outreach programs.

Father Hehir said the program takes children primarily from the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts.

"These are children who have usually had significant physiological and or psychological challenges, oftentimes have come from complicated home backgrounds, oftentimes have had really severe problems," he said.

He said in addition to residential facilities St. Ann's also has contracts with surrounding school systems, so children can commute to the facility for support as students in the public school system.

He said the work of the three agencies brings the message of the Church to the wider society.

"I always talk about them as bridge agencies. They are rooted in the Church, but they reach out and through the Church provide services for civil society," Father Hehir said.

He also stressed a financial need for the designated programs, as government shortfalls impact funding for the organizations. He said the collection stands to directly benefit people in need who seek the services of the organizations.

"The point is that these people do direct service for women, children, families in need, and immigrants," he said.

"You increase the resources, you increase the possibility of them doing that work," he said.

For more information on the charitable organizations supported by the collection visit www.ccab.org, www.stmaryscenterma.org, and www.st.annshome.org.

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