Service is the oxygen of faith. Belief in the risen Christ will save us, but service to that faith validates and proves what we believe.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians 2:16, he tells us that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. But later in Romans 2:6-7, St. Paul says God will repay everyone according to his works.
Rather than argue over faith or works, the Catholic Church says it is both. Going to Sunday Mass doesn’t automatically check off the “faith” box any more than donating to a worthy cause checks off the “works” box. For salvation, God asks that we focus both our faith and our works into dynamic affirmation of our commitment to Him.
Every parish in the Diocese of Orange has its own ministries and outreach programs that give members a chance to put their faith into action. Most of these projects are highly localized and driven by the interest of the parishioners. This is a great thing.
However, there are a lot of projects that are county-wide in scope or too large for one parish to take on. Under the leadership of Director Greg Walgenbach, the Diocese of Orange Office of Life, Justice and Peace is the command center for Diocesan outreach in the county.
“Service is the mission of the Diocese of Orange as we are the local Church which is made up of all the parishes,” says Walgenbach. His office facilitates parish involvement in the work of a number of Catholic charitable organizations that together have a significant impact on Catholic outreach to people in need.
For example, several years ago food distribution centers in North Orange County were noticing that more and more people were coming for help to make ends meet and put food on the table. According to Walgenbach, “Our office supported clergy and parish leaders from three churches in Fullerton – St. Philip Benizi, St. Juliana Falconieri and St. Mary’s – to effectively engage with the community to find answers. The Diocese role was to help the parishes connect to organizations such as the Illumination Foundation, which provides shelter and support services for homeless families, and individuals in Orange County and St. Vincent de Paul.
The parishes began monthly meetings with Fullerton City staff and councilmembers to address community service gaps that were not being met and to advocate for solutions. As the discussions progressed the Fullerton City Council started to make policy decisions that moved the discussion from charity to change.
While most local nonprofits focus on a single mission, the Diocese is involved in many important initiatives.
The Life, Justice and Peace Office distributes grants from 25% of the funds raised locally by the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a national Catholic anti-poverty effort. Some of the organizations that have received funding include Obria, a crisis pregnancy clinic; Justice and Education; Higher Ground Youth and Family Services; Thomas House Family Shelter; Creer Comunidad Familia, and American Family Housing.
There is always a need for people to become involved.
More than 600 people work in jails with the Restorative Justice Ministry to the incarcerated. The Lights On program, which is part of St. Vincent DePaul, stations people outside jails to help prisoners who are released in the middle of the night with no one to meet them.
Food pantries such as the Doris Cantlay by Catholic Charities and St. Vincent De Paul are connected with a network of food pantries throughout the county.
Unfortunately, a plurality of children in foster care come from families that identify as Catholic. The office provides resources for parishes to recruit foster parents through the county and Olive Crest.
Another increasing problem in Orange County is human trafficking and labor trafficking, otherwise known as slavery. The office helps parishes build awareness by distributing materials and information prepared by the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force.
The Pro-Life movement supports one of the most foundational principals of our faith – the respect for all human life from conception through natural death. Precious life shelter, Casa Theresa, Mary’s path, Horizon Pregnancy Center, the Viet Respect Hotline and three Obria locations are all supported by the Diocese to embrace women during and after their pregnancies.
On the other end of the life spectrum, the End of life ministry embraces a whole person care initiative offering clarity and support in conformance with Catholic teaching so that people can say yes to life in all its forms.
For Catholics, we are called to respond when we see suffering. “Faith and service is what God created us for – to care for creation and the common good,” said Walgenbach. “I can’t imagine worshiping God without serving others as well.”
Anyone who wants to learn more about the Diocese Office of Life, Justice and Peace can subscribe to the newsletter at rcbo.org/resource/about-life-justice-and-peace.