WASHINGTON (November 4, 1997) -- The Catholic Bishops of the United States will be asked at their semi-annual meeting here to approve a three-year extension of the national collection and of the Office to Aid the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe.
"An eight year program of assistance is inadequate to overcome more than fifty years of a communist system," according to the proposal which will be made by an ad hoc committee chaired by Adam Cardinal Maida of Detroit.
The U.S. Bishops will meet at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill from November 10-13.
The ad hoc committee's proposal to extend the collection and the office is based on an evaluation of the assistance which has already been given by American Catholics and discussions with Church leaders in Central and Eastern Europe.
The rationale for the proposal included the following observations which the ad hoc committee will present to the assembled bishops:
- "It is in the nature and mission of the Church that we help 'the least' of our brothers and sisters and those in need."
- Political, economic and social conditions have improved more slowly than anticipated. In some cases, Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, and in the former Yugoslavia there has been a deterioration of conditions. "The situation for the Church is worse not better."
- "Relations with the Orthodox have also deteriorated. It had been hoped that more properties and institutions would be returned to Greek-rite Catholics. This has happened only sporadically and in many cases not at all. The Greek-rite church must serve its people and it can only do so if it receives resources from the outside."
- The Bishops of Eastern Europe need more time to move toward self-sufficiency. "There is reason for optimism. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are abundant and church attendance continues to rise."
- The collection is optional for the dioceses and has not adversely affected other collections.
- If the collection was ended and the office was closed, requests would continue to be made and there would be no central place to evaluate and coordinate the requests.
The ad hoc committee recommended a three-year extension for the collection and the office, that is, through the year 2001, and an evaluation at the end of that period.
The Bishops established the Office to Aid the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe in 1990 and appointed Msgr. R. George Sarauskas, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, as Executive Director. Its purpose is to help a Church which suffered through decades of communist oppression, during which schools, seminaries, administrative agencies and vehicles of communication had been largely decimated, get back on its feet.
Most dioceses take up the collection to aid the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe on Ash Wednesday or on the first Sunday of Lent. More than $39 million collected thus far has helped fund some 1,400 projects in such areas as communications, training of priests and religious, and getting local Caritas agencies up and running.