The president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) on Tuesday hand-delivered checks worth more than $2 million to assist the organization’s Texas chapters in immediate and long-term disaster response efforts to Hurricane Harvey.

Sister Donna Markham presented the funds, raised by donors across the country, to officials at San Antonio Catholic Charities’ offices just north of downtown. A new Mobile Response Center vehicle, provided by CCUSA and filled with emergency supplies, also was on site during Tuesday’s presentation.

The vehicle was delivered to CCUSA’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, less than three weeks ago. Markham said her staff immediately loaded it up with $25,000 worth of supplies and drove it to San Antonio for further deployment to impacted areas in Texas. This marks the first time the vehicle is being used, and it will remain in Texas as long as it’s needed.

CCUSA immediately recognized that Harvey’s impact would create a dire need for supplies, Markham said.

“So we created the donate button [on the CCUSA website] and in five days, much to my astonishment, we raised $2 million,” she said. “That is due to the generosity of the American people, people from all over the country that wanted to help.”

The donations will be used exclusively for local Catholic Charities organizations’ short- and long-term recovery efforts, she added, not for CCUSA’s administrative use or other purposes.

Markham was joined by leaders from Catholic Charities in San Antonio, Galveston-HoustonBeaumont/Southeast Texas, and Corpus Christi; bishops and archbishops from San Antonio, Victoria, and San Angelo; and the general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Monsignor J. Brian Bransfield.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller reminded those gathered of compassionate words in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, as well Pope Francis’ teachings on the necessity to act in caring for one another. Markham also cited Pope Francis’ assertion that the Catholic Church should act as a “field hospital” for all of God’s people.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller (left) speaks with Monsignor Brian Bransfield, secretary general of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Credit: Edward Speed / San Antonio Report

“We have created our own field hospital here in Texas and Louisiana,” Markham said. “Part of it is these vehicles and money, and the other part is the human heart, the goodness, the kindness, the compassion of so very many people who have reached out to help.

“This what we are called upon to do as a Church. It is certainly what we are called upon as followers of Jesus.”

The genesis of the charitable gifts being presented Tuesday did not happen with the founding of Catholic Charities in 1910, Bransfield said. It started more than 2,000 years ago on a dusty road between Jerusalem and Jericho, with Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the story, a traveler comes across a wounded man on the side of the road, pours wine and oil into his wounds, and carries him to an inn to be cared for.

“Today we see that those two silver coins that the Samaritan gave to the innkeeper are still giving,” Bransfield said. “They were entrusted to the faithful, to the Church, to people of many faiths, to all people of good will.”

While a financial response is never the Church’s first order in a time of need, Bransfield said, reaching out to people who are homeless, suffering, wounded, hungry, or migrant is the essence of Catholic charity.

“The Church’s first response is always unity because she is born from Trinitarian love” Bransfield said. “She [the Church] … gathers the poor, the oppressed, the hurt, the marginalized, the immigrant into that unity.”

That loving response of unity is ongoing because the Church does nothing without first gathering its people, he added.

”From that unity comes charitable giving and all of the works of mercy – the corporal works of mercy, the spiritual works of mercy.”

Brendan Cahill, bishop of the Diocese of Victoria, an area that was hit particularly hard by Harvey, said his first order was to get priests safely back into the community to be with the people and to serve them.

“The number one priority was to get praying,” he said. “I can’t be everywhere, but I can pray everywhere. The role of the bishop must be to be with and be close to his people, but it is also to organize, help, and assist in the material needs of the area.”

García-Siller spoke of his role as the local Catholic community’s leader during times of crisis and of the continued need to support those rendered vulnerable by the hurricane.

“A good shepherd, according to the mind of Christ, is to be close to the people who are disadvantaged, who are impoverished, who are more vulnerable,” he said. “What about those who will not qualify for help, who do not have a voice, who are undocumented? They lost everything.”

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Edward Speed

Edward Speed holds a Master of Arts in Systematic Theology from St. Mary's University. He reports on religion and spirituality for the Rivard Report.