We can all be proud of how the Catholic Church is meeting needs in Baltimore
By Tony Staley
Last month at the national Catholic Press Association convention
in Baltimore I wanted to see what the church is doing for the
urban poor. So, I went shopping.
That's not quite as outlandish as it may sound. I had signed up,
along with a dozen other journalists, for a day-long field trip
around Baltimore to see how the church is meeting a variety of
needs in the city. Imagine our surprise when we pulled into
Cherry Hill Town Center - a strip mall in a largely black suburb.
Catholic Charities redeveloped the mall - which had deteriorated
and faced closure - using its own, private and government funds.
The center includes a grocery and sporting goods stores, barber
and beauty shops, fast food restaurants and a library.
Our day-long tour of Baltimore started with a visit to one of the
city's predominantly black parishes where we met with Auxiliary
Bp. Gordon Bennett, SJ, and learned something about the long and
proud history of the black Catholic Church in Baltimore.
Next, we were off to Christopher Place Employment Academy, a
12-month employment academy and residential program for homeless
men recovering from addictions to alcohol and other drugs. The
men go through various classes to learn how to give up their
addictions so they can become productive members of society. They
receive help in finding jobs, in staying clean - there is a zero
tolerance policy for users - and in managing their money.
Since Christopher Place started in 1996, 106 of 182 men have
completed the three-phase program. That is, they have gone
through the training, followed all the rules, held down jobs,
stayed off drugs and found places to live. It costs $10,000 for
the initial six-month training program - compared to $37,000 a
year to incarcerate someone in the state prison across the street
from Christopher Place.
During the remainder of the day, we visited My Sister's Place,
which serves homeless woman and children; Basilica Place
Apartments, one of several HUD-subsidized apartment buildings
owned and operated by Catholic Charities; and St. Jerome's Head
We also went to Our Daily Bread, the city's busiest soup kitchen,
which feeds more than 600 people lunch each day, relying a great
deal on volunteers from various church and civic groups to make
the more than 100 casseroles served each day by 30 volunteers.
Throughout the day, I was impressed by the services the church
provides to people who are most in need. It was reason alone to
feel proud about being Catholic. Rather than mire ourselves in
infernal, eternal, internal bickering over who is on Jesus' side,
we need to concentrate on being at Jesus' side serving the least