Friday, June 9, 2017

The Best Birthday Present

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Thank God my birthday has finally arrived! Ever since the gala in April, which was spectacular, people have been wishing me a happy birthday. They normally say, “sorry I missed your birthday” but this year I’ve been saying “no, it actually hasn’t come yet” (it’s tomorrow June 10th). I don’t like to make a big deal about birthdays. Not because I’m at all worried about getting older or feeling sad that the years have gone by, but rather, I’m not big on the attention that comes with it and I like to spend every day as if it was my birthday, doing my best to help others.
You already do this but if you want to give me a present, keep serving our
clients, reaching out to others and saying “YES”! In fact, we kicked off our Summer of Service this week. Catholic Charities gave me the best gift - 70 volunteer service projects for my 70th birthday. I'm honored by this initiative and I love the culture we’ve created where we can take great pride in our willingness to respond positively to everyone. As the song goes “ALL ARE WELCOME”.

Speaking of songs, last Sunday night as part of my homily, I invited everyone at my 8pm mass to join in singing Kerry Mooney’s Easter version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. We added an additional verse for Pentecost and it made a big impact on lots of people. You can watch it here

Here is an email I got after the service from one of our friends:

John, I finally got to show up and witness what you have accomplished with this Mass. Arriving at the church, the parking lots was full and overflowing. The percentage of young adults, families and teenagers was impressive and speaks to the value of what you have accomplished. The music was truly a most meaningful form of prayer, the words were new to me and most meaningful, especially that which substituted for your sermon. I was in need of a spiritual lift and a sense of hope for the future of our church and its relationship with our younger members. Had lots of tears of joy Sunday evening. Thank you.

So, today – the day before my birthday – I’m thinking about those words and all of you. When I think of Catholic Charities and all of you, I think “Hallelujah”! Have a great weekend.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Kicking off a Summer of Service

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I love the summer. It’s not just the beach, the warm weather and the cookouts. It’s not only the family time and enjoying friends in a more relaxed atmosphere. It is a chance to catch our breath and enjoy the blessings of a beautiful season but over and above that, I enjoy the many young people who join our team as volunteers and interns for the summer months. They bring enthusiasm, laughter, creativity and inquisitive minds – anxious to learn all they can about the great work we do at Catholic Charities.

On June 7th, we will launch the Catholic Charities DC “Summer of Service,” an initiative developed to encourage volunteerism in the summer season.  This effort is a three-month long campaign that will invite residents of the Washington-area from all walks of life to participate in giving the gift of
Volunteers sprucing up Mulumba House shelter
community service to the community by volunteering in any of the 70 unique service projects we are offering throughout the summer. These opportunities will address a range of issues including hunger, homelessness, community restoration, and more.  They will provide necessary support to meet some of the most pressing needs in our community.  Volunteers will come from our parishes, our high schools and colleges, organizations and corporations. We will be joined by other non-profits and even those who come from out of town to experience the wonder of Washington while also helping those in need.  I dream of families who come together for a particular project, parishes that unite around one issue and companies that have created a corporate culture around giving back.

It’s exciting to set the stage for a wonderful community to give back their time, talent and treasure in support of those most in need. Poverty doesn’t take a summer vacation, but the call to service doesn’t either and we are here to help those in need. I hope you’ll join us too!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Remembering Our Fallen Service Members

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I wrote last week about Memorial Day but this week, as I did last year, I want to remember in a very special way, all those who serve and have served our country as part of our armed forces. Particularly this weekend, we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in battles throughout the world – protecting our freedoms and our national interests. I’m sure that you have had the experience of spending time with a family member or friend who has lost a loved one in combat. The sadness continues and it really never goes away.

I can remember losing a number of friends during the Vietnam war. I had a high draft number so I
was not called to serve but some of my buddies from high school and college went to Vietnam and never came back. When you know someone personally, attended classes with them, and admired their courage, it is very difficult to let them go. I try to visit the Vietnam memorial at least once a year - usually when friends are in town who have not experienced that beautiful but somber place. Each time I go, the memories of my friends Art, Jimmy and Tom come back to me. I’m still sad for them and their families 50 years later.

So, over the weekend and certainly on Monday, say a prayer for our fallen service members and their families including those who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq who still deal with the after effects of those wars. So many of our clients are veterans who have been deeply affected by the experience of war. I’ll be praying for them as well.

Enjoy your three day weekend. Summer unofficially begins tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

This Week I...

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This week I am thinking hard about the countless staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to deliver our mission at Catholic Charities. 

After what seems to have been a very busy Spring with lots of agency activities and a number of talks and presentations by me for various groups, I’m looking forward to Summer and it’s unofficial beginning next weekend, including Memorial Day on Monday. While our offices don’t follow the school calendar, many of our activities still revolve around families whose children have the Summer off, and many who celebrate graduations during this season. It is also a time to refocus and recharge. 

I wonder how many of the team are feeling after a very busy Spring, as I try to put myself in your shoes. So many of them are a frontline presence for the people who come our way. What is it like to be a caregiver all day long to someone with developmental differences? What is it like to have session after session with those who have behavioral health issues? How do you cope with people in our shelters who are dealing with social issues beyond your competence (i.e. addictions, mental health or legal issues)? What is it like to try to help hundreds of people who are now frightened by immigration policy changes that are constantly in the news? How do you feel when trying to provide dental and medical care knowing that issues are far more serious than an individual can afford? How do you cope with someone who has lost their job or who comes here for asylum and can’t find work?

Each situation mentioned above is real. The team finds ways to help people whose struggles are seemingly beyond imagination and at times it affects their states of mind trying to give “help that empowers and hope that lasts.” We all have pressures, but I think many times, their pressures are far more difficult than mine. It is important to stay true to the common goal of helping those in need gain access to opportunity and hope. As we approach the unofficial beginning of Summer and look ahead to June, I hope everyone can find some time to recharge your batteries, take some vacation and enjoy the beautiful weather. This time to refocus is necessary if we are going to continue helping people to the best of our ability. 

Let us all—no matter whether you are an official member of the team or a supporter or someone just interested in making a difference in the lives of others-- rejoice in our common efforts to help our community. For me, it is a ministry, never a job. I take great comfort in believing the same is true for you, too.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Gift of Moms

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As we approach Mother’s Day, I’m very much aware that each of us has special memories of our moms. Some of us, like myself, have been without our moms for over 25 years. Others have lost their moms more recently. Still others are taking care of an elderly mom and possibly acting like a “parent” to them. If you are lucky, your mom is still young and vibrant and local and you can enjoy her company and wisdom on a regular basis. I do know some of our moms have had difficult lives and in some cases relationships haven’t been what we’ve wanted it to be.

Father John and his mom meeting Pope John Paul II
No matter what our situation might be, I doubt any of us are not very grateful for the gift our moms have been to us. Without their commitment, their nurturing, their sacrifices and their willingness to bring us into the world, we would not be the people we are today. So…let’s make sure to reach out to our moms (or those we call mom) personally or through prayer this weekend. Sometimes the Church is described as a mother to all of us. In that context, I hope that the people we serve everyday will have the same feelings about us. You nurture, guide, support, challenge, and share your love with all who come our way. Thus, this Mother’s Day weekend, I’m celebrating and praying for you as well.

I hope the weather cooperates.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Here’s what an immigration attorney does (as well as what we don’t do)

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With much of the nation’s attention focusing so heavily on President Trump’s new Executive Order around refugees, we figured it might be helpful to know more about how our immigration legal program operates.

Immigration attorneys are always working to keep up with the latest changes to immigration law – because new laws or special statuses are often granted based on what’s happening in the world. We do not do criminal or civil law outside of immigration status cases.

It's pretty simple what we do: we help people apply for immigration statuses they are eligible for and educate the community on the latest immigration laws. When we believe someone has a legitimate case for an immigration status, one of our staff attorneys helps them through the process.

We don’t work with refugees per se in this program, since refugees are granted a permanent legal status in the United States before they arrive. However, we can help advise those who have a temporary status such as a work visa or green card, as well as those who would like to become a US citizen. 

Immigration attorneys work with people who have a legal status as well as those who do not.
Many of our clients come to us seeking help reuniting with family. America has long been a nation who provides special protective statuses to victims of war, violence, and persecution. But rarely are those persons able to uproot and bring their entire family. Many people come to us seeking ways to reunite with their family, who may have gone into hiding in their home country.
Other clients do not have a legal status – many came here and declared asylum. In these cases, having an immigration attorney is critically important to help determine if a client has a real case for asylum. Which brings us to our next point…

Immigration attorneys help immigration judges in their work.
You might think this sounds counter-intuitive. But considering how chaotic many refugees and asylees lives are before they flee their country, it can be very challenging for them to gather all of the basic documentation that backs up an immigrants claim. And since many are very unfamiliar with the American legal system and many have only a basic grasp of English, it can be daunting for them to try and make their case alone. Immigration attorneys are critical to gathering these evidence and proof of their claims, organizing them, and presenting them to a judge so that he or she can make an informed ruling. With our immigration system is badly overwhelmed right now, this is a critical service to help judges.

We only take cases where a client has a chance at success.
Due to the overwhelming need of people seeking an immigration status, we hold weekly in-take consultations where anyone can meet with an attorney and see if they or their family are eligible to apply.

Still, we only take on cases where the person has a reasonable path to a legal status. Much of our job is about helping someone tell their story with proof. So many people come to our community having faced incredible heartbreak, pain, and loss.

I want to get more involved in helping. What can I do?
We always need donations to help maintain our program. You can make a donation directly to the immigration legal services program here. We do ask many of our clients to pay a one-time fee of $80 at consultation (this fee is waived for a number of clients thanks to grant funding), but so much more of our work is funded by donations -- nearly 2/3 annually!

If you are an attorney who is interested in volunteering, we can use your help! Contact Jim Feroli at (202) 772-4356 or 

If you aren’t an attorney and you want to do more, help spread the word about our services. Many of the people who need our services are highly exposed to being victims of fraud. Make sure they see an immigration attorney – they can reach us at 202-772-4352 or by visiting

If you want to volunteer and you aren't an attorney, check for opportunities on our main volunteer page.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Remembering the Holy Innocents of Today

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This column originally ran in the Catholic Standard on Thursday, January 26, 2017.  

By: Msgr. John Enzler, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington

Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the birth of a baby in Bethlehem who came into our world to bring all of us the gift of salvation. Three days later, we heard of other babies in the Scriptures on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. King Herod, who was worried about someone taking his power, ordered all baby boys in Bethlehem killed when he heard from the Magi about a newborn king. This feast can be overlooked amid the joy of Christmas, but it remains heartbreaking to think that a jealous and vengeful person would choose to ruin the lives of so many families by ordering the littlest and most vulnerable be put to a violent death.

I think about the Holy Innocents again here at the end of January as tens of thousands of people gather in our city to March for Life. The fact that we need to march for life reminds us that violence against babies continues more than 2,000 years later. The children killed in the womb – some 60 million since abortion was made legal 44 years ago – are our Holy Innocents. How sad that the most innocent and vulnerable are still so easily discarded.

Father John with our Sanctuaries for Life team before the
March for Life on Friday, January 27, 2017.
Several years ago at this same time of the year, I wrestled with whether to talk about abortion in a Sunday homily. I had fellow priests advising me to avoid the issue, that it was just too difficult and divisive. I saw their point, but after prayer and consideration, I felt it was something I needed to do.
I felt it was important to stress two points: First, let’s just acknowledge up front that it is wrong to take the life of another human being, perhaps especially a child in the womb who cannot speak for himself or herself. At the same time, let us also remember that many people have had abortions, oftentimes amid extremely difficult circumstances that may be beyond our understanding. They need to know that they are loved, that God’s forgiveness awaits them, and that they are still a part of God’s family. 

Respecting life is certainly about the child in the womb, but it’s also about treating with dignity and respect those who come to us for help – even and especially those who disagree with us.
We need to stay strong in our defense of life, and it is incumbent upon us to provide help and viable options to those considering abortion. They need someplace where they will be loved, respected and assisted. 

That’s one reason I am so proud of our Sanctuaries for Life program at Catholic Charities. A few years back, Cardinal Wuerl and the archdiocese made a commitment to provide care and help to women who make a life affirming decision to bring a baby into the world after facing an unintended pregnancy and who are lacking the financial resources or insurance to bring their baby into the world. We will find a way to make it happen. Thankfully, most people do have insurance, but many do not, and our Sanctuaries for Life program is what its name says – a sanctuary to help these moms, oftentimes single moms, choose life.

I am also proud of the long history of adoption services provided by Catholic Charities and St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families. I receive probably at least one letter a month from someone adopted through one of those programs. They tell me with gratitude about how Catholic Charities or St. Ann’s brought them into the world and found them a good home. Now as adults, many are trying to find ways to give back to those in need.

I’ve heard it said that every new baby is a sign that God’s love for the world continues, that God still believes in us even with all of the troubles in the world. Let us use this time around the March for Life and the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to open our hearts to mothers and fathers who struggle with past abortions. Let us also pray for, remember and help the Holy Innocents in today’s world – children deprived of a voice, deprived of the protection of the law, and deprived of life itself. May we follow Mary’s example and ponder in our hearts how we can protect God’s gift of life. 

Feeling inspired? Donate today to our Sanctuaries for Life program. Help us help the next mother who comes to us for support.