The annual appeal known as the Franciscan Challenge, a major source of funding for outreach ministries, education of young friars, and for the care of elder friars is underway, and it doesn’t require plunging into frigid ocean waters, running a 5K race, or braving other athletic tasks. Giving is easy and it’s more important than ever as the Christmas season approaches, says Fr. David Convertino, OFM, executive director of the Holy Name Province Development Office.
When the world shut down during the pandemic, the Province and its friars never stopped providing food, shelter and other assistance to the poor, homeless and those living on the margins – even when the demands became greater and families facing unprecedented financial struggles turned to HNP outreach ministries for the first time.
The Franciscan Challenge 2021 has a simple and humble request, asking donors to consider meeting the challenge of offering financial support to its “Love Is Still at Work” mission of providing food, clothing, shelter, and medical and other assistance to the more than two million people who seek help annually from HNP’s outreach ministries.
“Franciscan friars are known as the ‘beggars of the Church.’ But we never beg for ourselves; rather, we beg for others – for the poor, homeless, mentally ill, and those living on the margins of society,” said Fr. David, who helped launch the annual
Franciscan Challenge fundraising campaign in 2013 as a way of supporting ministries and giving the Province the ability to reach more people.
“Without the help of our supporters, the work and service central to our Franciscan ministry would come to an end. It is through the generosity of our friends, and benefactors – whether a $20, $200 or $2,000 donation – that our love is still at work. We never turn away anyone seeking assistance – and we have continued to maintain that policy throughout the pandemic even with the challenges of more people coming to us for help,” Fr. David continued.
“We Franciscans are trying to help people desperately in need and struggling with food insecurity, homelessness, mental illness, despondence over the death of loved ones, and lacking in daily necessities during this health crisis. The number of people seeking help is growing every day,” added Fr. David.
The friars say hunger has become more prevalent, especially among children, and they are seeing more families in need and homeless living on the streets. Counseling and advocacy needs have also increased over the past year as people contend with the emotional and psychological scars of losing family and friends, their homes, employment, and any semblance of normalcy because of COVID-19.
“The thought of little kids without food and going to bed hungry breaks my heart,” said Br. Fred Dilger, OFM, who surprises children by dropping candy into the bags of groceries distributed to their families at St. Francis Inn soup kitchen in Philadelphia.
The hungry and homeless who come to the Breadline daily at 7 a.m. gave one friar a nickname – “Mother Teresa” – because he is constantly trying to provide assistance that will make their lives more bearable. “Sometimes they just want to pick up their sandwiches, coffee, cake, snacks and other food – which may be their only sustenance of the day – and be on their way, but this friar can be very persistent because he truly wants to help them,” said Fr. David.
Near the start of the pandemic, HNP established an initiative called the Franciscan Relief Fund, which in 12 months provided supermarket gift cards to more than 6,000
families, all of whom lost their jobs or had their work hours reduced, and many who are undocumented citizens who didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits and other government assistance.
Taking the Franciscan Challenge means that 100 percent of every donated dollar goes directly to ministries that provide outreach services to the poor, as well as care for elderly and infirm friars living in retirement and at skilled nursing facilities, and for the education of friars in formation.
“Our elder friars – many of whom still minister because friars never really retire – have served so many for decades and deserve to be cared for in their senior years. The education of our friars in formation is vital so that the work of the Franciscans in serving and caring for the poor and marginalized continues well into the future,” explained Fr. David, a professed Franciscan friar since 1973.
Up until the pandemic, the Franciscan Challenge was a weekend event, as Fr. David and other friars from the Development Office traveled to parishes and other ministry sites throughout the Province over a period of time in summer months, preaching at Masses, providing information about HNP and its outreach ministries, and meeting with donors in the hope that the faithful would make a pledge toward the challenge. Last year’s Franciscan Challenge was canceled when in-person worship was suspended.
Although Sunday Mass schedules are back to normal in most places, the Development Office is continuing its virtual appeals. Instead of the weekend-long appeal, the Franciscan Challenge this year is a months-long campaign, during which theProvince’s supporters, parishioners, friends and donors are being contacted electronically through email and by direct-mail with personal letters and brochures. The friars are asking them to consider a one-time donation or a pledge that could be made over the course of the year, according to Fr. David, who noted that HNP receives no funding from dioceses where Province ministries are located.
“The pandemic has changed everyday life for everyone, but your generoussupport to the Franciscan Challenge enables us to provide hope to the poor and marginalized. Your support shows them that they are not forgotten and that people care,” said Fr. David.
“Franciscans have been putting words into action for 800 years, since the Order of Friars Minor was established by our patron, St. Francis of Assisi. We believe in love at work – and we ask you to consider a generous donation to the Franciscan Challenge that will help the friars and Holy Name Province put this love into action for the more than two million people who count on us every year,”he said. “It will help brighten people’s lives during the Christmas season.”
Throughout the coming year, the friars plan to create other Challenges,tailored to seasons and events, that will enable parishioners and other friends to support their favorite causes.
Donations to the Franciscan Challenge can be made online by visiting:www.TheFranciscanChallenge.org and by mail to The Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province, Office of Development, 144 West 32nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10001, or by contacting the Development Office at 212-564-8799.