By S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - The annual Bishop’s Charity and Stewardship Appeal (CSA) produced a record-setting $3,035,931 during the spring of 2014, per calculations completed at the end of July. These funds will be used throughout the Diocese of Lincoln in numerous ways.
“This annual appeal is a primary source of funding for Diocesan operations, parishes, and schools,” explained Father Michael Zimmer, CSA director. “All of these areas directly impact the diocese by strengthening the faithful.”
It has taken a little while to summarize this year’s CSA results, because the diocese has purchased new electronic programs that will, in the long run, improve the process of processing all the data.
“We are excited to move forward with new electronic programs in the chancery which are going to expedite further appeals and help us to be even better stewards with the gifts that God has given us,” Father Zimmer said. “We are slowly learning these new programs.”
Based on the success of this year’s appeal, he continued, “It is clear that here in southern Nebraska, our people recognize the importance of faith and that it is a responsibility of all of us to do what it takes to continue the spreading of the faith.”
CSA funds are distributed to 18 different apostolates and ministries within the Diocese of Lincoln, including Catholic Social Services, Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat Center in Waverly, St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, the Newman Center, pro-life ministries and more.
“When people give to the CSA, they are directly affecting evangelical work in the Diocese of Lincoln,” Father Zimmer said. “Without it, our ability to help those in need would be severely hindered.”
Additionally, when any parish meets its goal, a portion of their contributions is returned to be used for parish projects, whether that’s supporting a school, building improvements or other expenditures. This year, nearly $450,000 will be returned to parishes.
Although a number of parishes had 100% participation among their registered households, St. Wenceslaus Parish in Bee is the only one that has achieved that every year since the appeal was started by Bishop Glennon P. Flavin in 1971 as the Diocesan Development Program (DDP).
Father Brendan Kelly, pastor of St. Wenceslaus for the last three years, admitted that he has very little to do with the parish’s 100% participation.
“There is a system they have in place since before I got here,” he said.
For years, parishioner Milo Navratil has led several men of the parish in manning a table at the church for three consecutive Sundays. This has made it easy for parishioners to fill out their pledge cards. Then, the men visit any household left remaining, stressing the importance of supporting the diocese via the CSA.
This year, Father Kelly had to ask another man to fill in for an ailing Mr. Navratil, but again, all 61 households made CSA pledges.
“People give what they are able to give,” Father Kelly said. “The people of the parish recognize that this is an important thing that we do to support the diocese.”
St. Michael Parish in Lincoln was the parish that achieved the highest percentage of pledges over their goal, an impressive 553%. St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln raised the largest total contribution, collecting $382,390 in pledges.
In light of a 2013 study by Christian researchers Empty Tomb, which found that rate of overall giving to churches has been dropped to Depression-era lows, Father Zimmer expressed his gratitude that the people of the Diocese of Lincoln are still responding to the CSA with generous hearts.
“We are very blessed to have an average participation rate of 67% of the faithful making contributions,” he said. The rate is “significantly higher than most any other appeals across the country.”
Still, he has identified an unsettling trend: while the total amount donated to the CSA increases each year, the number of donors is slowly decreasing.
“We must challenge our brothers and sisters to be a part of this important appeal in the future in order to avoid the struggles that are seen on the national scale,” Father Zimmer said. “How many more people could we be helping if more people participated in the CSA?”
He acknowledged that when budgets are tight, it’s tempting for heads of households to think that they can’t afford to participate in the CSA.
“God asks us to contribute with the means we have,” he assured. “A small monthly donation goes a long way in expressing our trust in the Lord to continue to provide for us…Who might be affected by that small donation who otherwise might not receive the help they need?”
Father Zimmer stressed the importance of all pledges to be fulfilled and all members of the diocese to respond with even more generosity during the 2015 CSA.
“We now must look to the future and recognize the need to continue to be generous,” he said. “Our society is in more need than ever for the true message of Jesus Christ. And God can never be outdone in generosity!”