By Mary Stadnyk |Associate Editor

We are called to give witness to our Catholic faith.

This simple, yet profound, truth is at the heart of the 2014 Annual Catholic Appeal set to kick-off in all parishes the weekend of Feb. 15-16. With an appeal goal of $8 million, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., encourages the faithful from throughout the four-county Diocese to prayerfully reflect on how they might respond to their God-given gift of faith and their baptismal call of service by finding tangible ways of putting their faith into action.

To better emphasize the significance of the appeal, this year a new and very important element was introduced to the campaign approach – changing the name from the Bishop’s Annual Appeal to the Annual Catholic Appeal. It’s a change that Bishop O’Connell said he hopes will “present a clearer picture of what the appeal is about and what it is meant to accomplish.”

“…It is really the appeal of the Catholic community across the Diocese to advance our mission as an act of faith to spread the Gospel and bring Christ’s love to others,” the Bishop stated.

Unified Focus

Bishop O’Connell is emphasizing that the appeal is something that “we are all in together,” according to Stephen Nicholl, director of the Diocesan Department of Development. “The Bishop was frank when he said that ‘it is not my appeal; it’s all of our appeal as the Church of Trenton,’” he pointed out.  

The theme for this year’s appeal is “Act of Faith, Works of Love,” and was inspired by Bishop O’Connell’s Pastoral Letter, “One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church: I Believe, We Believe,” which the Bishop had penned in anticipation of the Diocese’s observance of the Year of Faith. The Year of Faith, declared by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, opened Oct. 11, 2012, and concluded Nov. 24, 2013. (To read the pastoral letter in its entirety, visit: www.dioceseoftrenton.org/pastoral-letter )

In the pastoral letter, Bishop O’Connell wrote about the “act of faith” and how it “identifies what we believe as true, real and compelling,” making “a claim on human lives, guiding and directing them toward life’s purpose and fulfillment.”

Bishop O’Connell also wrote that a response to faith is a response to “God’s initiative and grace,” neither of which can be seen, but both of which are apparent through works of love in the world.

Learn about the ACA

Parishioners will learn more about the Annual Catholic Appeal through a video that will be shown at all Masses and presentations given by the priests and parish leaders. Parishioners will be invited to make their in-pew contribution on Appeal Sunday by using the pledge cards that have been provided to all parishes. However, those parishioners who wish to take  more time to discern their contribution may do so by reviewing other promotional resources that have also been made available including the brochure and letter from Bishop O’Connell that were mailed to all Catholic households or by viewing the website: http://www.dioceseoftrenton.org/catholicappeal. Information that can be found on the website includes various planned giving or memorial donation options; a percentage breakdown of the ministries that will receive support from the appeal and ways in which the faithful can make their donation through the mail – (Diocese of Trenton Chancery at 701 Lawrenceville Rd., Lawrenceville, N.J. 08648); online (http://www.dioceseoftrenton.org/catholicappeal) or by phone (609-403-7197).

In the ACA video that will be shown on Appeal Weekend, parishioners will hear an introduction from Bishop O’Connell as well as see faithful of all ages from around the Diocese putting their “faith in action,” and demonstrating how their works are for the benefit of the wider community. Such examples include Catholic school students participating in service projects at local outreach sites; engaged couples attending a Pre-Cana session in preparation for their marriage in the Catholic Church, as well as Diocesan sponsored pastoral ministry efforts including ministry to maturing adults and persons with disabilities.

The broad scope of pastoral ministry programs is designed to support people of all ages and stages in their lives, including marriage preparation, marriage enrichment, bereavement, separated and divorced and ministry to maturing adults.

“I think the programs and services that are supported in pastoral ministry touch almost every parish,” said Nicholl. “Everybody has somebody in that category that needs some help in some way, shape and form,” he said.

A portion of the ACA will help to benefit those men who have responded to their baptismal call by serving as priests. Funds will be provided for those priests who are approaching retirement age, as well as the 60 priests who are currently retired. Funds will also help with seminary formation, Nicholl said, noting that the Diocese currently has more than 30 seminarians who are preparing for lives of service as future priests.

“That’s huge for us. That’s huge for the future of our Church,” he said.

Nicholl spoke on how the Diocese’s various forms of communication serve as pertinent evangelization tools in reaching people, especially through The Monitor, the Diocesan newspaper, and its companion website (www.trentonmonitor.com), social media (Facebook and Twitter), radio and television and digital media.

“If we are going to engage the youth and young adults of our Diocese, we have to find new and creative ways to communicate with those audiences. I think the combination of social media, Realfaith TV and making updates to our Diocesan website (www.dioceseoftrenton.org) and The Monitor website (www.trentonmonitor.com) help to engage them better in their parishes.”

Bolstering ACA Support

Reflecting on the 2013 appeal which reached only $7.35 million of its $8 million goal, Nicholl said that the Development Department is exploring ways to help parishes increase the number of donors and hopes that one way to achieve that is by having pastors consistently reiterate the importance of the ACA and how it is a Diocesan-wide effort that involves participation of all the faithful.

 “I’m hoping that people will make the connection with their faith by helping to raise funds to support the needs of the Catholic community,” Nicholl said, noting that each parish has been asked to raise its number of donors by 10 percent this year.

Nicholl added that one way that parishioners can come to appreciate not only the need for the ACA, but their participation in it is by witnessing the pastor’s full support and enthusiasm for the appeal.

As for how parishes can benefit from the appeal, Nicholl said that for those that reach their goal, they will receive a 15 percent reimbursement. For those parishes that are able to increase donor participation by 10 percent, he shared, will be given an extra five percent or a total of a 20 percent reimbursement.

For parishes that exceed their goal, they will receive half of the amount over goal.

 “My dear friends, it is important to remember that moving forward in faith is not something that we do once in our lives and expect it to carry us through,” Bishop O’Connell said at the close of his video message as he urged the faithful of the Diocese to consider their participation in the Annual Catholic Appeal.

“Our act of faith needs to be made each day and given life through the works of love to which we commit ourselves. … I invite you to pray with me that together we can make a real and lasting difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters throughout Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties,” emphasized Bishop O’Connell.