WASHINGTON (April 14, 2004) -- The Catholic Home Missions Appeal, which helps the most financially strapped dioceses in the United States carry out their work of preaching the Gospel, will award $11.9 million in grants this year, the highest total in its seven-year history.
That's the good news. The not so good news is that the annual collection, while successful, is not keeping pace with the needs of the poorest dioceses, according to Bishop J. Peter Sartain of Little Rock, Chairman of the Committee on the Home Missions.
Bishop Sartain said that the Home Missions Appeal has continued to be successful because of the faithfulness and sustained generosity of the Catholic people. "At the same time, the national economic slowdown and troubles in the Church have eroded the financial position of mission dioceses, which had scant reserves to begin with," he said.
The Executive Director of the Committee on the Home Missions, Dr. David M. Byers, emphasized that grants are made through a carefully-monitored process that ensures efficiency, transparency and accountability. Administrative costs are low; nearly 93 cents of every dollar contributed goes to the missions.
"Strengthening the Church at Home" is the theme for the appeal, which will be taken up in Catholic parishes around the country on the weekend of April 24-25.
Many Catholics may not know what a "home mission" is, or that 90 U.S. dioceses in rural America, from Appalachia to the Mountain West, rely on the Appeal for parish support, religious education, youth ministry, and work with growing populations of Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Asians and Native Americans.
"Even though I have spent my whole priesthood in Tennessee and Arkansas, I did not fully realize how much outside help means to struggling dioceses in the United States and its dependencies," Bishop Sartain said. The Bishop noted that the Committee's grant is sometimes five percent or more of a diocese's total budget.
About 40% of the funds collected by the Home Missions Appeal go to the support of Hispanic ministries. A substantial amount is also given to support the apostolate of the Eastern Catholic Churches. In fact, the Committee on the Home Missions is the only Latin Rite entity that consistently supports the Eastern Catholic eparchies.
It also supports Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps chaplains through the Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A.
The grants for 2004-2005 were finalized at a recent meeting of the Committee for the Home Missions in Little Rock. They will be disbursed beginning July 1, 2004.
The Committee for the Home Missions awarded grants totaling $4.5 million in 1998-1999, $6 million in 1999-2000, $7.7 million in 2000-2001, $9 million in 2001-2002, $10.5 million in 2002-2003, and $11.1 million in 2003-2004. The new grants of $11,851,934 will go to 90 dioceses and 21 organizations and religious orders. This year's total includes $1,441,934 in one-time supplemental grants for ministry training in mission dioceses.
Home Mission dioceses are often characterized by low assets that limit pastoral programs and the support a diocese can give to its parishes; few Catholics, typically less than ten percent of the total population; great distances separating isolated parishes, difficult terrain, and extreme weather; few or no Catholic institutions, such as schools, colleges, hospitals, retreat centers; a severe shortage of priests, deacons and skilled pastoral workers; and, sometimes, hostility in the local culture towards Catholicism or religion in general.
A sampling of dioceses and organizations which have recently received grants gives some indication of the scope and diversity of the ministries that are aided by the Catholic Home Missions Appeal:
--$175,000 to the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, where 59% of parishes are without a resident priest.
--$175,000 to the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, where the number of Catholics per active priest is over 8,000.
--$175,000 to the Diocese of Baker, Oregon, where the bishop travels 35,000 miles by car each year to visit 36 parishes.
--$50,000 to the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, which saw a 665% increase in the number of Hispanics from 1990 to 2000.
--$175,000 to the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee, where the percentage of Catholics in the population is only two percent.
About 14% of the grants from the Committee on the Home Missions go to Eastern Catholic eparchies; 6% are awarded to programs of ministry to African-American Catholics; 4% to Asian; 4% to Native American ministries; and 3% to Pacific Islanders.
Organizations receiving grants included Mexican American Cultural Center, $50,000, Catholic Network of Volunteer Service, $25,000, Southeast Hispanic Pastoral Center, $85,000, and National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, $10,000.
The Committee on the Home Missions is the successor to the American Board of Catholic Missions begun in 1924. Until 1999, the CHM received a percentage of the Mission Sunday collection taken up in most dioceses in October; now all money from that source goes to the missions overseas. The Catholic Home Missions Appeal was established by the Bishops in 1997 to guarantee continued funding of the home missions.