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‘Not truly Christmas without the poor’: 5 places to direct your holiday charity

A file photo shows a volunteer handing bread to a person in need during a free Christmas dinner at an open air soup kitchen in Athens, Greece. (OSV News photo/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)

(OSV News) — In a secular society that commences celebration preparations in October and attempts to sever Jesus from a certain Dec. 25 holiday, keeping Christ in Christmas each year requires an intentional approach for Catholics.

But for anyone who feels discouraged, Pope Francis has an idea: “Let us remember that it is not truly Christmas without the poor,” the pontiff said during Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in 2022. “Without the poor, we can celebrate Christmas,” he explained, “but not the birth of Jesus.”

The heart of Christmas is Christ, and Christ was poor. “Jesus was born poor, lived poor and died poor,” Pope Francis said.

With that in mind, capturing the authentic spirit of Christmas becomes a bit easier: Give to the poor.

Most Catholic parishes have a Christmas ministry for the less fortunate, whether it’s a giving tree, food donations or special collection. But if you’re also thinking outside your parish boundaries, then who? And how, and where?

OSV News has a few suggestions of ways you can give help, a gift or a tasty Christmas dinner.

— Catholic Charities USA

Founded over a century ago — “by men and women who believed that the collective efforts of the church to faithfully serve people in need could change the course of poverty in our nation,” as its mission statement says — Catholic Charities USA ministers to the poor 365 days a year, serving 15 million people in 2022.

But as president and CEO Kerry Alys Robinson emphasized, “For Americans living in poverty and suffering in other ways, the holidays represent a particularly challenging time. … By making a gift to Catholic Charities, you can provide hope and relief to the most vulnerable members of your community, from parents struggling to afford gifts for their children to families in desperate need of a warm place to sleep. Your generosity will bring tangible joy to your neighbors who need it most this Christmas season.”

— Catholic Extension

For almost 120 years, Catholic Extension has empowered Catholic faith communities in America’s poorest regions, providing resources to leaders, ministries and facilities. Making a choice from their annual Christmas Wish List allows donors to “lift up the poorest of the poor, and the faith communities that serve them,” said Joseph Boland, Catholic Extension’s chief mission officer.

“Even the smallest amount of giving can make an enormous difference for the ministers that are serving these communities — like the priest who literally called upon Catholic Extension to help him put gasoline in his car tank,” Boland said. “Or, some years we’ve had an opportunity as a Christmas wish item to put gas in the tank of a priest in Alaska who’s flying into communities where there are no roads, and where it actually requires an airplane.”

This year’s Christmas Wish List includes opportunities to repair the cracking walls of a church, help a Catholic sister continue her outreach ministry, assist refugee families and more.

— Cross Catholic Outreach

Working in more than 30 countries around the world, Cross Catholic Outreach partners with bishops, priests, sisters, religious and lay workers to provide food, water, housing, education, support for orphans, health care and disaster relief to impoverished communities.

The organization’s Christmas Catalog “features a wide range of gifts that both meet immediate needs and support long-term empowerment — a powerful combination that transforms lives,” Michele Sagarino, Cross Catholic Outreach president. “Everyone gets commercial gift catalogs during the holiday season. We figured, why not offer a Christmas catalog option that sponsors practical, urgently needed blessings for the poor?”

“No matter what a donor chooses to give,” Sagarino said, “all this aid is delivered through our Catholic ministry partners, equipping their missions to share Christ’s light and mercy with those who need hope the most.”

— The Franciscan Kitchen

Witnessing poor people rummaging in the garbage for food during his World War II service on the Japanese island of Okinawa affected Conventual Franciscan Friar Jim Fields for the rest of his life. In 1980, he founded the Franciscan Kitchen, which often serves as many as 600 meals daily, six days a week, from its location in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

“On Christmas Day, we actually break from our routine of serving a hot, freshly-prepared meal to anyone who comes to our door,” shared Advancement Coordinator Tony Perito, “and instead, distribute basic clothing, personal hygiene items and children’s gifts, along with a bag lunch — ham or turkey sandwiches — to people in need.”

Perito says the focus in winter is “on items that our guests indicate are most needed — winter gloves, socks, gently used winter coats, backpacks, throws or small blankets, and underwear.”

— The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

For the 48th year, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington — the largest Roman Catholic church in North America — will hold its annual Christmas Dinner for those who are alone or in need.

“Each year, over 1,200 dinners are delivered to the homebound by volunteers, and nearly another 800 are provided to those who come to the Shrine on Christmas Day,” said Msgr. Walter Rossi, the shrine’s rector.

The hospitality experienced by guests at the shrine and those who are homebound enables both volunteers and donors to share the joy of the birth of Jesus with people who are often painfully isolated.

“While many churches and charitable organizations provide meals for those in need on Thanksgiving Day, the Shrine began the tradition of Christmas Day dinner,” Msgr. Rossi said, “because many agencies are closed on Christmas Day and as a result, many people were going without dinner at Christmas.”

Kimberley Heatherington writes for OSV News from Virginia.

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