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Faith & Values

Pope Francis has challenged Christians to be more actively engaged with the needs of the poor — to be joyful bearers of the good news that Jesus Christ is born. We don’t need a church of “sourpusses,” he says.

At the Christmas Midnight Mass, the angels announce to the shepherds: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy.” The pope challenges us to live that joy, to proclaim the good news of God dwelling among us, and to give ourselves over generously to helping those most in need.

The pope puts it bluntly: “I prefer a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

A great example of exactly what the new pope is talking about can be found in the incredible work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In order to gain a better grasp of their efforts, I spent some time last week with Ned Delmore, the energetic director of the regional St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Ned explains how a mother of two may have a rent of $800 but can only come up with $650: “We cover the other $150 so that they won’t be evicted.”

Or a young mother, Melissa, is pregnant. She and her 2-year-old faced power being shut off. She owed $209 past due and needed $100 to prevent disconnection. She recently started working part time at a fast-food restaurant. New costs for day care left her unprepared to pay other bills. Donors pledged the $100 a month necessary to see her through.

“Our volunteers make 12,000 person-to-person visits annually,” Ned says, “helping people facing eviction for overdue rent or for utility payments, easing hunger and linking people to longer term case-management services.” The society has a substantial endowment to cover all infrastructure costs, so that 90 cents of every dollar donated goes to help the poor and people struggling on the margins.

What makes these efforts so effective is that every one of the 54 Catholic parishes in the region has a local St. Vincent de Paul Society. So when a call comes in on the helpline, a referral is made to local volunteers who make a home visit.

“Our motto,” Ned explains, “is stay until you leave.” In a word, be present, listen, bring comfort, understand the whole situation, and then tap into the resources that are available.

In the past, St. Vincent de Paul was most readily associated with local thrift stores. These still exist — five altogether. They provide income for the outreach of the society, but now these stores are being transformed into more dynamic partners for the urgent needs of the poor.

“The Kent store,” Ned says, “now sponsors English as a second language (ESL) and literacy programs for the Hispanic population at its Centro Rendu.” And the Aurora store is providing a health clinic.

Almost as if he were channeling Pope Francis, Ned says, “We go to the people — where the people are hurting. Of course, we can’t address the vast need by ourselves. We partner with many others, such as Food Lifeline, Catholic Community Services, Chief Seattle Club, Sound Mental Health — for food assistance, mental-health referrals and a host of other urgent needs. We are the No. 1 source for King County Crisis 211 Line referrals.”

Another image from Pope Francis — one of my favorites — provides a fitting conclusion. The pope said, “Christ is knocking on the door of the church, but he’s knocking from the inside trying to get out.”

This Christmas season is time to get out where the people are bruised and hurting, and need the comfort of helping hands.

To donate to Saint Vincent de Paul efforts, visit or call 206-767-3835 to schedule a pick up of still-usable goods.

The Rev. Patrick J. Howell, S.J., pastoral theologian at Seattle University, is on sabbatical at America magazine, a national Jesuit publication headquartered in New York City, as an interim associate editor. Readers may send feedback to