The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 25, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Family helping the family

Bishop's Appeal is about brothers and sisters working together

By Bishop Robert Banks

Something beautiful is taking place in northeast Wisconsin these days.

I refer to what is happening as the Bishop's Appeal unfolds. Thousands of our people are reading a letter from their bishop, and then most of them are sending in some contribution, large or small, to support the work of the Church here and, to some extent, throughout the world.

A skeptic might wonder what is so beautiful about that. Isn't it just good, old-fashioned fund-raising that goes on all the time, whether it's the March of Dimes or the Republican Party or whatever?

Not, it isn't. I thought of that a couple of Sundays ago when, for the first time in years, I tuned in to the morning TV and happened to catch a few minutes of Dr. Robert Schuller's program. It was at the tag end where the announcement came on, inviting viewers to become Eagles by pledging $100 a month for a year to his ministry, called New Hope, if I remember correctly. I presume it is a worthy cause and does all kinds of good work, but that appeal to anyone who happened to be watching is not the same thing as the bishop of a diocese asking the members of the diocese to support the life and ministry of the diocese. Even if the bishop uses some TV ads, it is not the same.

The Diocese of Green Bay, or the Church of Green Bay, is a community gathered in Christ. Or, to use the words of St. Paul, it is a family and a family that cares for one another. Every time members of the family go to Mass here in northeast Wisconsin, they pray for "our Holy Father, Pope John Paul, and our bishop, Robert." Every time Bishop Robert celebrates Mass, he prays for his brothers and sisters who are members of the family.

When the bishop writes to the members of the family for funds, it is not for his ministry; it is for the ministry that is carried on by and for the family. We are family helping family. Since we are not a selfish family, we also help families in other parts of the world, especially by our mission in the Dominican Republic and by sending support to our Holy Father.

Our family, our Church of Green Bay, is a special family, held together by faith in Christ and by the bond of the Holy Spirit. Both the asking of support and the giving of support are acts of love for one another and for the family. By faith, we know that these acts of love, especially the gift of support, are inspired by the Holy Spirit. So for these few months of the Appeal there are extra sparks of the Spirit's light all over this area of Wisconsin.

Of course, since this is a family, there are also many different points of view about what goes on in the family. When a bishop sends out over a 100,000 letters, he can expect to receive a few letters back, in addition to the thousands of donations.

Some family members ask why I bother to send out "Thank you" acknowledgements of gifts received. Why not save the money and use it for the poor? My response that courtesy requires it and that the IRS demands proof of large donations probably doesn't satisfy those brothers and sisters, so we have a minor family disagreement there.

A few family members also let me know that they consider the TV and radio ads to be a waste of money. Another couple of our brothers and sisters wonder just how much we spend in running the Appeal. Fortunately, I can answer that the TV and radio ads last year seem to have increased the number of new donors. As for the cost of running the Appeal, it is 5% or less of the amount contributed. That is a remarkable figure, and I think it is due to the fact that this is a family collection.

Every year, I usually receive one letter that demands a dollar by dollar accounting for just how the Diocese spends the money collected before that brother or sister will contribute. That kind of information is published every year, though not in the detail demanded. Besides, we have a diocesan finance council, composed mainly of lay persons who are presidents or vice presidents of local corporations, to oversee diocesan spending. We also have another budget advisory committee with lay members that scrutinizes every dollar spent.

A very few of our family members also see the Appeal as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the way some aspect of family life is being conducted, like the non-ordination of women, by refusing to donate. Those few are far outnumbered by so many who generously contribute even as they lose a resident pastor or see their parish merged because of the shortage of priests. I am so impressed by the understanding of our people as we struggle through this terribly difficult time.

The letters that touch me the most are the scribbled notes from elderly persons who apologize for not being able to contribute more than a few dollars because of illness or the cost of medications. I think of Jesus praising the generosity of the widow who was only able to give a couple of small coins.

Something beautiful is taking place in northeast Wisconsin these days. I feel privileged to be a member of a family that cares so much for the work of the Lord and for one another.

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