Catholic Home Missions Appeal: an opportunity for parishes to ‘minister to their neighbors’ 

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The U.S. Catholic bishops announced on Wednesday that April 27-28 will be this year’s annual Catholic Home Missions Appeal, which supports vital ministries for more than 75 U.S. dioceses in need and is “essential in keeping the lights and heat on in rural parishes.”

Every year, Catholic parishes throughout the U.S. take up this appeal to help support remote, impoverished, or small parishes. (Some dioceses can opt to have the collection during a different weekend.) 

Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions, shared his appreciation for the support of the faithful who “help the Church maintain its presence” in these dioceses. 

“There are places where ministry is marked by the deep commitment of parishioners and the clergy who serve them, who often travel many miles through mountains, deserts, or arctic terrain to attend Mass and serve each other and their communities,” McKnight said in an April 3 statement

Many Catholics in the U.S. live in urban centers where the local parish is only a few blocks away and the congregation numbers in the hundreds.

But in states such as Mississippi, Alaska, and Montana, Catholic churches can be harder to access. Living in a rural area can mean that receiving the sacraments may involve more planning and a long drive. A rural parish or diocese may also have fewer resources and less financial support from its smaller pool of parishioners.

The Catholic Home Missions Appeal helps these dioceses and eparchies (the Eastern Catholic equivalent of dioceses) with operational costs, pastoral projects, and parish life support as well as vocations work, the USCCB noted. 

Kevin Day, the director of Catholic Home Missions and associate director for national collections for the USCCB, told CNA that without help from other parishes, many of these dioceses “may have to close.” 

“Most Catholic Home Missions dioceses have large geographical areas to minister to with small Catholic populations scattered across it,” he explained. “In the business world, we would say that they lack the ‘critical mass’ necessary to support the basic pastoral needs of the faithful and operational infrastructure of the diocese or eparchy.”

These rural or financially disadvantaged dioceses that receive aid are known as “Mission Territory” and include areas in the Deep South, such as Mississippi; western regions in Texas; some parts of northern Wisconsin and Michigan; and much of the rural areas in the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2023 map by Catholic Home Missions.

Some Western and Midwestern states including New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri also have regions supported by the Missions Appeal as does all of Utah.

“Outside assistance is essential in keeping the lights and heat on in rural parishes, funding ministries and the formation of clergy and laity,” Day said of these parishes.

“By collaborating in the appeal the faithful contribute to the pastoral and sacramental health of mission parishes and dioceses across the U.S. and its territories,” he continued. “These parishes give witness to the living presence of the Church and Christ.”  

In 2023, the Catholic Home Missions Appeal raised more than $9.8 million toward grants for dioceses with limited resources.

“The faithful who live in the mission dioceses give sacrificially to support their parishes and essential ministries, despite their own limited means,” McKnight continued in the statement.

“I am grateful to them for their prayerful sacrifices, and I am also deeply appreciative to the faithful in other dioceses across the country who give to the Catholic Home Missions Appeal to help the Church maintain its presence and minister to their neighbors,” he noted.

Grants support everything from youth ministry to subsidizing vocations work for parishes with limited staffing. Seminary education, faith formation, evangelization, young adult ministry, and pro-life ministries are all encouraged by the program.  

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For instance, a 2023 grant helped the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana to bring more people to Mass through a mentorship-based faith formation program. 

After two years without ordinations, the Wisconsin Diocese of Superior had its largest ordination class in decades following a priestly vocations outreach program. 

The program also helped the Diocese of Stockton, California, to be able to organize an annual evangelization congress of Hispanic and Latino young adults who are “leading their peers to Christ,” the release noted. 

“Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who transforms hearts, leads people to Christ, and inspires them to greater virtue,” McKnight said. “Yet the Spirit uses your financial gifts to the Catholic Home Missions Appeal to help bring this about.” 

“When you give, no matter how large or small the amount, you are an instrument in the hands of God, bringing faith, hope, and love to your neighbors,” he added.

This story was updated on April 5, 2024, at 4:52 p.m. ET to include comments from Catholic Home Missions Director Kevin Day.

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