73rd annual Catholic Charities Appeal off to a promising start

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By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Now that the 73rd annual Catholic Charities Appeal is in full swing, Development director James A. Campbell is hopeful that the example of Pope Francis will trickle down into the parishes and homes of the Fall River Diocese during this latest campaign.

“Pope Francis talked about how we need to get out of our princely palaces and be with the poor,” Campbell recently told The Anchor. “So I asked Bishop (George W.) Coleman if he would be amenable to going and meeting some people in the various ministries where we serve this year.”

In fact, the theme for this year’s charitable appeal — “Find the Face of Christ in Your Neighbor” — was inspired directly from the words of the Holy Father.

“That’s got to be the theological basis for why we help our neighbor,” Campbell said. “You know, ‘Whatever you do for the least of My brothers, you do for Me.’”

To that end, the short video used to introduce the Catholic Charities Appeal in each parish this year, which is produced in English, Spanish and Portuguese language versions, opens with a shot of Pope Francis washing the feet of people on Holy Thursday, then it zooms out through the magic of “special effects” to what Campbell called “a sort of Google maps-like transition” to pan across the ocean to various locations within the Fall River Diocese.

“Visually I thought it helped to make the connection between what the Holy Father is doing and the local work that we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to win an Emmy or an Oscar, but I still think it’s very good.”

Instead of using a static shot of Bishop Coleman speaking directly to the camera against the backdrop of a stained-glass window, Campbell thought it would be more powerful to show the bishop interacting with some of the people who benefit directly from the Appeal. 

As such, the video produced for each deanery this year included Bishop Coleman’s visits to three key ministries — the Donovan House, a homeless shelter for women and children in New Bedford; the Samaritan House, a transitional home for men and women in Taunton; and also St. Clare’s House, a transitional home for women coming out of prison in Hyannis.

“The only thing that kept us from complete success this year was the weather,” Campbell said. “We also wanted him to go to Martha’s Vineyard in March to visit an English as a second language class, but unfortunately we couldn’t attend because of the weather.”

But Campbell was pleased with the footage they did manage to get of Bishop Coleman and his secretary, Father Karl Bissinger, visiting with, praying with, and interacting with the residents of three diocesan apostolates.

“In all three he was really, really engaged,” he said. “He listened to people and the one on Cape Cod was the most dramatic because when he got up to speak at the (recent) kickoff dinner, the women from St. Clare’s were there and he got a little choked up. You could have heard a pin drop in this room filled with 250 people. The bishop was clearly moved. He spoke from the heart and it was really beautiful.”

“We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback this year on the way the message has been transmitted,” he added. “The Catholic Charities Appeal video was very well-received at all three of our kickoff meetings.”

Working again with Dave and Anne Fortin of the Fairhaven-based Media Image Productions this year, Campbell said he was “very indebted” to the couple for once again helping to shoot, edit and produce the various Appeal videos. 

“They get it and they’re really smart and they work hard for us,” he said.

The approximately 15-minute videos are available on the Catholic Charities Appeal website and were provided to the parishes on DVDs and, as an added bonus this year, on digital thumb drives.

“It was a pilot program this year to see whether it was popular or not,” he said. “So I’ve given each pastor two copies for him to do what he wishes. I’m hoping they use it in small discussion groups or play it at the back of the church, just have it on a loop playing — whatever they want to do.”

Campbell agreed that Pope Francis’ high profile in the secular media over the past year and his obvious emphasis on helping the poor and less fortunate have been a great boon to this year’s Catholic Charities Appeal effort.

“His message is about service and being with and valuing the poor and those who need him, and that’s really where the Church needs to be and I think that message resonates with a lot of people,” Campbell said. “The idea of the Church as a servant as opposed to a kind of medieval, princely Church is very compelling and very attractive to people.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Campbell latched onto the idea of making Pope Francis the literal “poster child” for the 73rd annual Catholic Charities Appeal. In addition to his inspirational words, the Holy Father’s infectious smile also adorns the campaign’s literature, advertisements, and even — for the first time this year — large highway billboards.

“We’ve got three on Route 195: one in Fall River, one in Westport by White’s (on the Watuppa), and one down in New Bedford,” Campbell said.

Another bit of inspiration Campbell credited to Pope Francis was the use of three younger people to speak at each of the diocesan kickoff dinners for this year’s Appeal.

“It occurred to me that Pope Francis has done so much to re-engage and energize the youth — especially right after his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day — so I thought why don’t we ask young people to react to this theme?” he said.

He solicited suggestions from people involved with diocesan schools, ministries and apostolates for possible candidates and noted that “all three were spectacular.”

“The first one was Victoria Johnson, from Apponequet High School, and she spoke at the Cape Cod kickoff,” Campbell said. “She’s very involved in the Christian Leadership Institute and Yes! Retreat programs. The second was Kate Franklin from Bishop Feehan High School, who spoke in Attleboro; and the third was Owen Leary, from My Brother’s Keeper, who spoke in Fall River.

“They all spoke about how they find the Face of Christ. The talked about what they do, the service they provide, the reasons they got involved, but they also all spoke from a personal sense of loss. Even in their young lives, they’ve lost either a friend to disease, or they’ve had disease themselves or, in one case, a girl’s father had passed away prematurely. They took that loss and that setback and turned it into something positive. I was inspired by their stories and I thought it was really tremendous.”

Now at the helm of his second Catholic Charities Appeal, having taken over from longtime development director Mike Donly who retired last year, Campbell is ramping up to better last year’s record-setting collection.

“Last year we set an all-time record for the Catholic Charities Appeal by a little bit more than $100,000 [over the previous record],” he said. “This year, I’m a little nervous to be projecting because my experience is all of one year, but my sense is — given the kind of promotion that we’ve done — I’m hoping we can set another record.”

Even more important than outdoing last year’s $4.3 million final total, though, is Campbell’s aspiration to increase the number of donors who contribute to this year’s Appeal. While he would be thrilled to inch closer to the $5 million mark, he’d be even happier to go from 31,000 to 35,000 donors this year.

“I really want the parish priests and pastors to push that,” he said. “If you can give $5,000, that’s great. But if you can give just $15 or even $5, that’s great, too. We need everybody to understand the connection between their faith and the work that they do to help the less fortunate. We want every single donor to feel as if they are a partner with us in this activity.”

Campbell said the essence of the Catholic Charities Appeal is rooted in the seven spiritual and seven corporal works of mercy, which are, admittedly, sort of archaic terms that people don’t reference much anymore.

“I want to bring that back because this is what we do,” he said. “We have a little catchphrase on the billboards that says: ‘Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Comfort the sorrowful. It’s what we do.’ Just to give people a sense of that mission. The pope may be the one who has been getting people to re-engage with this, but this is what we’ve always stood for.”

The 2014 Catholic Charities Appeal for the Fall River Diocese will continue until June 24. For more information, including this year’s Appeal video, visit www.frdioc-catholiccharities.org.

Contributions to the appeal can be sent to the Catholic Charities Appeal office, P.O. Box 1470, Fall River, Mass. 02722; dropped off at any parish in the diocese; or made on the appeal website at www.frdioc-catholiccharities.org. For more information visit the website or call 508-675-1311.

To view the latest Appeal report, click HERE.

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