Today at Mass we heard from a priest who was soliciting funds for the Propagation of the Faith. Just so you know something about them, here is a statement from their website: "Through the offering of Catholics worldwide, the Propagation of the Faith provides ongoing support for the pastoral and evangelizing programs of the Catholic Church in Africa, Asia, the islands of the Pacific and remote regions of Latin America. This includes aid for the education and support of seminarians, religious novices and lay catechists; for the work of religious communities in education, health care and social services; for communication and transportation needs and for disaster and emergency relief when necessary." As often happens to me in church, my mind wandered back to the days when we were kids, and our Catholic school sponsored a collection every Lenten season for this organization.
Catholic parishes in the United States were visited annually by missionary priests from exotic places to make an appeal for funds. Having never traveled further in the world than Long Island, I was interested in what these men of God had to say about the strange lands where they labored for the Church. They always talked about how far a dollar could be stretched in these remote and backward countries, and how even our small contributions made a difference. Our family would probably be considered poor by today's standards, but I remember feeling guilty that I would be heading home for one of Mom's fabulous Sunday Italian dinners while little Pedro in Guatemala had nothing to eat. (The church doled out guilt like a Jewish mother and easily roped us impressionable kids into the fundraising drive.)
We would be given a flat cardboard box in class that had to be folded together to form our very own collection box. It had a slot on top where our spare change (as if we had any) could be dropped in for Pedro's breakfast. My wife tells me that this was called a "Mite Box", and after looking it up, I found she was right, as usual. A "mite" is defined as a very small contribution, and was meant for children to fill with small change, thus teaching them the principle of giving to the poor. Mite Box giving promotes the spirit of contributing based on the intent to help others and not on the monetary amount. Still, when multiplied by the number of children participating, a significant amount of money was collected every year for worthy causes. Our contributions came out of our small allowances or from returning bottles for the few cents deposit. We would also hit up our parents or any unsuspecting relatives who were foolish enough to stop by during Lent.
My wife also remembers that if kids collected more than two dollars, they were entitled to a prize. I can't imagine the prizes were much considering the cost had to come out of the two bucks it took to earn one. She says she remembers receiving a tiny plaster bust of Jesus as a prize, and how much she loved it. As improbable as it might sound, raising two dollars during the 1950's was not that easy. Some kids would go from door to door in the neighborhood, but considering how many kids tried this, you can appreciate how many doorbells never got answered. I used to take loose change from my father's pockets, all the while wondering if my thefts would be forgiven considering the money was going to a good cause. Unknowingly, Tony Boots was one of the neighborhood's steadiest contributors to the Propagation of the Faith.
Pauline-Marie Jaricot founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in 1822 in Lyon, France. Born in 1799 to a wealthy family, Pauline at 18 years old was young, rich and beautiful. She was said to have a quick temper and an even quicker tongue – but a great deal of love in her heart. While growing up, Pauline was well aware of the deprivation and trouble in France and other countries around the world. She wanted to raise money for the 'missions' in far off places, so every Friday she went down to the factories to collect money from the workers and servants. From her early teenage years to her death in 1862, Pauline cared for the needs of some of the poorest people in the world. She herself died penniless, still trying to repay the huge debts she incurred while trying to help others.
The Catholic Church is not a perfect institution, but they have done much good, especially among the world's forgotten poor. It's true that there may be ulterior motives involved in their work like the spread of Catholicism and the recruiting of priests and lay catechists, but that doesn't make Pedro's breakfast taste less good. Feeling the old guilt return, I coughed up a few extra bucks for the second collection this morning.
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