“Witness to Mercy” was a living testament to solidarity in giving to others.
The Diocese of Orange’s event, which took place on Saturday, Nov. 16, showed about 800 local participants the seemingly limitless ways they can help less-fortunate individuals and families. The event was a logical extension of the dedication of Christ Cathedral in July, organizers say, because it showed powerfully how the Catholic Church is dedicated to service and justice.
“All the agencies involved are working with the poor and vulnerable in some way,” notes Greg Walgenbach, director of the diocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace. “Together we celebrate service and justice and thanking God, rejoicing for the great work of service and justice by these agencies in our neighborhoods.”
Ministries and groups focusing on the issues of hunger, homelessness, women with unexpected pregnancies, human trafficking, immigration, foster care, mental health and more were represented by organizations such as the County of Orange’s Social Service Agency, Catholic Relief Services, the Diocese of Orange’s Detention Ministry, Human Options, Mercy House, St. Vincent de Paul, CalOptima, the Salvation Army, La Habra Life Center, NAMI, St. Joseph Health and others.
Every one of us finds ourselves on the spectrum of some type of disability, Walgenbach adds, so giving to the so-called ‘poor’ is our opportunity to stem the crises of need we see in ourselves and our communities.
“While the dedication in July marked the formal recognition of Christ Cathedral, this event shows that we are a place of outreach to the poor and marginalized,” notes Sister Katherine ‘Kit’ Gray, who serves as the cathedral’s director of Mission Integration and Ongoing Formation.
“This event answers the question of how we as a community live out our mission to be witnesses to mercy as we meet the needs of humanity through our spirituality and service.”
In his welcoming remarks, Bishop Kevin Vann urged event participants to “go forth and proclaim the Gospel, the heart of our faith, and give hope to the poor, which is especially important in times like these.
“I hope that this day inspires us so that no one needs to walk alone” in their time of need, he adds.
Keynote speaker Kimberly Mazyck, senior manager of Engagement and Educational Outreach at Catholic Charities USA, challenges guests to spread peace and justice to society’s poor and most vulnerable people.
As she shared lunch afterward with parish volunteers, Mazyck – a self-professed ‘foodie’ – notes that enjoying a meal together “offers us the opportunity to share ourselves, to put down artifices and have conversations that invite us to do this work well.”
She adds that Christ Cathedral’s vast campus provided a perfect location for “Witness to Mercy,” which began with a prayer service and Mazyck’s keynote address, followed by the lunch served under a series of tents and concluding with the opening of organizations’ booths featuring ministries and groups committed to social justice, change, and service.
“Having this spot is a good way to build community,” Mazyck says. “Most churches aren’t blessed with this kind of spacious campus. We are making the most of it today.”
“Witness to Mercy” is significant, says Father Christopher Smith, parochial vicar and rector of Christ Cathedral, because Catholics must have the mindset to always provide support, nourishment and hope to the needy. “We must be that beacon of light that drives us to give and serve our communities.”
Representing Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, Esmeralda Figueroa says the event underscored the importance of raising awareness of social issues such as homelessness and poverty.
“Low-income, hard-working families in Orange County are working to build homes for themselves and others through Habitat’s programs,” Figueroa explains. “Each family pays 30 percent of their income for a home, and then can save for other expenses, such as money for their children to attend college.”
Brigid Noonan, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Council of Orange County and a member of Holy Family Cathedral parish, says the “Witness to Mercy” event allows her organization to educate attendees on the many aspects of the society that most people don’t know about.
“We foster the growth of our spirituality through members’ service to others,” notes Luke Thelen, a member of St. Joachim Church and a Society officer. “Service is only one of the elements of our society, and we’re happy to have this opportunity to educate and enlighten people who may want to become involved.”
Says Katie Dawson, director of the diocesan Office of Parish Evangelization and Faith Formation, “Witness to Mercy” underscored Christ Cathedral’s place as a sign of Christian growth and unity in Christ.
“Christ Cathedral is the place where we can live our mission as Christians,” she says. “This event itself is a sign of the fruitfulness we are looking for in our lives and a practical opportunity to put forth into action our commitment to serving others.”