CSS Challenged To Become The ‘Good Samaritan’
Published: October 9, 2003
ATLANTA—At the 50th anniversary luncheon of Catholic Social Services, keynote speaker Father Michael Pfleger of the Chicago Archdiocese asked Catholics to carry on the church’s pro-life mission not only by fighting abortion but also by becoming good Samaritans.
Help the forgotten and ignored, the vulnerable and the poor who are “pushed to the side of the road of life’s highway” to get back on their feet and reach their God-given potential, he urged.
Inspiring CSS staff to persevere and challenging them to do better in their mission to offer help and hope, he reminded them that they, too, were helped by someone who took the time to care and show them their worth.
“Now (Jesus) says to us, ‘Will you get up from your table and wash somebody else’s feet like I washed yours?’ We need more good Samaritans,” he said. “Jesus invited (the disciples) to the table not just to sit and eat, but said, ‘Wash feet.’”
The Gospel message of “servanthood” means helping others with no strings attached, he continued. “They might even be betrayers or deniers, not just friends.”
The pastor of Chicago’s St. Sabina Church said, “(The Good Samaritan story) speaks to why we are here today, what our real mission is as Christians and what CSS is all about. Because the truth is that countless sisters and brothers in our cities and streets and in our nation and world have been stripped and beaten … robbed of dignity and decency … have been robbed of opportunities and dreams for the future.”
A teacher, activist and self-described “errand boy of Jesus,” the priest spoke to over 500 CSS volunteers, friends and benefactors as they celebrated 50 years of service to North Georgia.
The luncheon was held Sept. 26 at the Omni Hotel Atlanta at CNN Center in the Atrium Terrace, and the emcee was Tiffany Cochran of 11 Alive News. Sponsors included the Hanna Family Foundation, Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLC and the Donald and Marilyn Keough Foundation.
Welcoming remarks were given by event chairman Gustave Thomas and honorary chairman Michael Trapp. Harpist Sandra Harris played during the luncheon.
CSS is the largest charitable agency in the archdiocese and serves 40,000 people yearly, an estimated 18,000 of whom are Hispanic.
CSS includes Immigration Services, which provide a low-cost legal clinic; Migration and Refugee Services, which offer resettlement services to new refugees; Parish and Community Social Ministry, which fosters community development and social justice projects; Community Outreach Centers, which bring CSS to locations including Athens, Gainesville and Cobb and DeKalb counties; Pregnancy, Parenting and Adoption Services, which offer support to women in crisis pregnancies and also provide adoption services to birth and adoptive parents; and Village of St. Joseph Counseling Services, which provide low-cost and bilingual professional counseling.
Reaching beyond the boundaries of his parish, Father Pfleger speaks his mind, which he acknowledges may not make him popular, and practices what he preaches.
He has adopted two children and served as a foster father to another, who was killed in gang crossfire. Since 1968 he has lived and ministered in the African-American community on the West and South sides of Chicago. He founded the Employment Resource Center, St. Sabina Social Service Center, Thea Bowman Spiritual Advance Center, Samaritan House for the homeless and the St. Sabina 80-unit Elders Village. He has been nationally recognized for his fight against alcohol and tobacco billboards, drugs and racism. He was the keynote speaker for the national Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Service this year; as a minister he has sought to break down the walls of racism and denominationalism by building unity based on Jesus’ command to love one another.
Father Pfleger criticized federal priorities, noting that the country can determine the atmosphere on Mars but can’t stop boats and planes stashed with drugs from coming into the United States, and can set aside $87 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq while failing to allot sufficient funds for the poor and vulnerable of America.
“I have a problem with a government that spends $87 billion to liberate Iraq while our city streets are filled with sisters and brothers shackled by the chains of poverty all over America. Let’s liberate the poor,” he said.
The biggest addiction this country faces, he said, is the problem of racism. Forty years after Dr. King made his “I Have a Dream” speech, “we live in a world that still suffers and is divided by classism and sexism.”
“It doesn’t make a difference if we’ve taken off the ‘colored only’ signs and the schools and the universities are no longer segregated … What difference does it make if you still can’t get a decent job to pay for a home or to get the tuition to stay in a university? What difference does it make if there is still not an equal playing field where everybody has access and opportunity to get to the top?”
He spoke of the highest unemployment rate in nine years, overly easy gun access, second-rate schools that produce students who can’t read, lack of health care for the poor and unemployed, tax cuts catering to the rich and unaffordable housing. “We live in a world where our sisters and brothers are laying along the side of life’s highway and have been left to die.”
He suggested that life is being destroyed not only in abortion clinics but also in schools, homes, workplaces and even churches, mosques and synagogues. “We must begin to broaden the definition and the sin of abortion, that it goes from the womb to the tomb . . . (whenever) something we do or something we fail to do prevents them from reaching their God-given goal or purpose in life.”
Everyone has the right to reach that place God has planned for them, he added.
“We’re here to celebrate and accept the challenge of CSS. We’re here to recommit ourselves as we go back 50 years and look to the 50 years ahead of us to choose to be God’s Good Samaritan,” he concluded. “We’re here to stir up that faith that is in every human life, that’s deep within us, that calls us to reach out and reach back, to restore lives that have been broken, to reawaken dreams that are drying up like raisins in the sun, to renew hope in people who have lost hope in a society that they don’t believe cares about them.”
Kathy Garber, chair of the CSS board of directors, presented Archbishop John F. Donoghue with a painting of the “Supper of Emmaus,” by G. E. Mullen, which reflects the archbishop’s love of the Eucharist. It was given to him in appreciation for his support of the agency.
Sandra Hollett, CSS executive director, said in an interview afterward that the agency was overwhelmed with the positive response to the event and with the large number who attended.
“It exceeded our expectations and we feel so happy and pleased,” she said. “We feel so truly blessed by God in the work we do and we feel so supported by Archbishop Donoghue and the archdiocese.”
The significance of the luncheon “was to celebrate our legacy of 50 years and to set the future vision of where the agency will be heading for the next 50 years,” she said.
Father Pfleger’s message that the right to life pertains not only to the unborn but also to those who need social support to live fully is “what CSS is all about,” Hollett said.
“We are committed to be a leader in the community and a beacon of hope and compassion.”
Board member Carlos Lopez admires the agency’s service to those in need. With a Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage, he particularly appreciates its work with the burgeoning Hispanic population across North Georgia, who now make up nearly half of its clients. He believes CSS is moving in the right direction in partnering more with other organizations.
“Working with other organizations, such as the Latin American Association, we’re able to work together and serve as many Latinos as we can in the community,” he said.
With well-publicized problems in 2000 with its refugee program, and with the economic downturn, for CSS “to be out there, still strong and growing, shows a lot,” he said.
“This shows we’re out there to stay and help as many people as we can and cross the boundaries. We really help everyone. You don’t have to go to church (to get involved).”
Sue Colussy, director of Immigration Services legal clinic, was one person who definitely got a lot out of the luncheon, winning the grand prize of two airline tickets to Europe. All smiles, she said she and her husband had been thinking about planning a trip to Slovenia and Northern Italy. “I’ve got my passport ready.”