Foundations in Faith Swiftly Responds to Crises and Bishop’s Call to Action Against Racism
In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the COVID-19 crisis, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has made a call to action to address head on the ramifications of systemic racism, bigotry, and discrimination plaguing the country, a mission Foundations In Faith is poised to support with numerous endeavors now in the works.
“The time has come for real action, real repentance, real conversion, real commitment to effect justice, equality, charity, understanding, dialogue, respect and peace-making in every corner of our society, regardless of race, creed or color,” said Bishop Caggiano in his June 7 Homily, one that has sent reverberations throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport and beyond. He said that people of conscience should work tirelessly for justice and seek true change.
In an effort to support the Bishop’s call to action, the Board of Trustees of Foundations in Faith agreed at its June 16th Board of Trustee meeting to earmark money to potentially go to fund anti-racism training at all levels of formation in the Diocese.
The plan is for Bishop Caggiano and the Leadership Institute to come up with a proposal on how specifically they plan to implement that training before Foundations in Faith moves forward with the allocating of funds for it.
The impetus for the anti-racism training was also in part inspired by a 2018 pastoral letter, entitled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). In the letter, the USCCB states: “There shall be anti-racism training at all levels of formation in the Church, from religious education programs to priestly formation.”
Kelly Weldon, Director of Foundations in Faith, said there is a direct connection between the earmarked dollars and anti-racism training being an essential part of faith formation. “I’m passionate and committed to anything we can do to confront racism,” she said. “COVID slowed us all down and made us watch that horrible video and listen to the stories that came out in response to George Floyd’s death. We couldn’t use day to day life to distract us from the harsh reality that racism is real and it is killing people of color. We all must accept a level of responsibility. People are listening and hearing the stories from the protesters. Their anger represents years of discrimination, inequity and sorrow.”
The two tragedies have brought to the forefront dialogue about generations of oppression black people have suffered, and the wide economic divide and income, health, and educational disparities that exist. Moreover, Bishop Caggiano has established the Diocesan Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism charged with developing strategic goals and practical steps for the Diocese of Bridgeport to combat racism. Weldon has been asked by the Bishop to be a member of the committee.
There is an opportunity here as a number of St. John Paul II grant requests were withdrawn due to the pandemic since they called for large gatherings, retreats or summer bible camps. The board of Foundations in Faith realized it was going to distribute just 60 percent of what it usually distributes. The board recognized the opportunity to pivot and earmark the unspent funds to address the crisis of racism by funding anti-racism training in all levels of Faith Formation. St. John Paul II fund established to support religious education, youth ministry and faith formation.
In regard to helping parishes deeply impacted by COVID-19, the board of Foundations in Faith acted swiftly by allocating $200,000 in funds approved at an emergency meeting held on March 31. (Known as the COVID-19 Emergency Fund within the St. Francis Xavier Mission Church Fund, the monies are a result of the We Stand With Christ campaign.) Because masses couldn’t be held in person and were online, some parishes had gone without significant donations usually gathered from collection baskets. The emergency funds have been vital to them.
Andy Aoyama, the new chairman of the Board of Trustees for Foundations In Faith, said it was necessary the board be proactive and offer financial support in the first weeks of the pandemic crisis. “We all miss going to mass and I’m sure the offertory suffered greatly,” he said. “It would have been a mistake to wait.”
Weldon agreed. “I’m very proud of Foundations in Faith and how the Board responded to the crisis. We’ve now distributed $210,000 to parishes that have been unable to collect monies the way they have for years and years. The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted some of our Parish communities much more than others. We are here for them at a time when this pandemic had the potential to threatened their sustainability.”
More recently, 17 parishes received St. John Paul II grants approved by the board in the amount of $66,800 for religious education programs, youth ministry and other formation efforts.
In addition, three grants totaling $18,000 were awarded to the Leadership Institute, which offers creative opportunities for ministry personnel to learn the Catholic faith and discover new ways to shape the next generation of disciples in Fairfield County.
All of the funded projects can be implemented online and are in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They will fund parishioners’ access to Catholic Brain.com, a digital faith formation platform allowing families to access engaging resources via videos, handouts, and worksheets; bulk Zoom subscriptions to help alleviate costs of the video conferencing tool to parishes, which have been encouraged to continue to connect virtually with young people and families; and the funding of book purchases for faith formation leaders in the Diocese, complete with group online conversations with the authors.
Dr. Patrick Donovan, Director of the Leadership Institute, said “This grant allows us to get creative in the ways we are going to engage this hardworking community of directors and coordinators of religious education.”
In the upcoming months Foundations in Faith will focus on assisting Parishes impacted by COVID-19, funding anti-racism trainings and enhanced faith formation initiatives as well as some new new objectives.
Aoyama has asked board members to each be the advocate for one of the nine pastoral ministries the Bishop originally asked Foundations in Faith to support. His hope is that the board members serve as the point people for the respective ministries and help shepherd them through the grant process, among other goals.
“This is an important part of my mission as chair,” Aoyama said. “It is exciting to be a part of Foundations in Faith, because I think we can make some real change at a critical moment in time where change is essential. I find the Bishop leadership so inspiring, especially the recent Call to Action and I’m so impressed with the staff of the Diocese and the efforts they put into everything.”