By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Archbishop George Stack calls Cardiff a “Diocesan Family”. The Archdiocese recently received much-appreciated funding from the Welsh Government for its ‘Staying Together While Apart’ project.
In an interview with Vatican News, the Archbishop explains why he uses the phrase “Diocesan Family” to describe his diocese, and tells us how the Welsh and Catholic identity are together contributing to extend this family to society at large.
Archbishop Stack says he drew the image of Cardiff as a “Diocesan Family” from "the history and tradition of the Welsh nation because one of the identifying marks of Wales is the strength of local communities.”
“There's a very strong community dimension to life here,” the Archbishop continues. He says that each village and town has a “very strong identity”. In addition, he says the Welsh people are “very, very friendly and interested in each other and supportive of each other”.
Along with this strength drawn from this Welsh historic identity, the second dimension that makes the Church particularly capable of reaching out is that it is present in “the most isolated places”, says the Archbishop. Yet, parishes go above and beyond in terms of community involvement.
“So, building on the whole notion of the Church as community and communion, and the Body of Christ, this is language which is part and parcel of our identity as Catholics.” Part of the Catholic mentality is “caritas”, and the Church has an existing framework in which Catholics take care of others in their area.
When Covid-19 hit, this led the parishes to “express in public ways what is already going on in local ways in the parishes so as to reach out to the wider community and use our resources”.
The first resource the Archbishop mentions is “committed, dedicated volunteers”. They are the "face of the Church, reaching out to communities and individuals often isolated in different parts of the diocese.”
Some of these volunteers at the parish level “have been doing shopping for the elderly and the vulnerable, delivering lunches in their locality, making up parcels.” The diocese, he says, “has been distributing food vouchers to parishes which then can be given to families who can go to the supermarket and redeem them and buy whatever they want.”
Extended network, extended family
Since the Archdiocese has expanded its charitable services in the “wider community,” it has “built up an extraordinary network of relationships.” This is a concrete expression of the “communion of the Church and the family of the Diocese.”
Grant from the Welsh Government
Archbishop Stack calls the grant from the Voluntary Services Emergency Fund, administered by WCVA and funded by the Welsh Government, “extraordinarily significant”. He says it is a huge “affirmation of our work, our identity, and our commitment to the greater good, the common good.”
Once the Diocese has assessed the needs, through the parish and school networks, they will be able to direct the grant money to cover those needs. The Archbishop says that one of the strongest charitable networks in the area is that of St Vincent de Paul which plans to “open a drop-in facility, a community hub, a night shelter, to provide that kind of care for people who are vulnerable in different ways.”
Hope for the future
When asked what his hopes are for the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Archbishop Stack says he hopes there will be a “heightened awareness of bearing one another’s burdens, supporting other people, not just within the Catholic Community but within the wider community as well. An awareness that we are better together, stronger when we cooperate with each other and share resources.”
The sharing of information about all the charitable initiatives being carried out will also provide even greater incentive for the Welsh Government to continue funding the Church’s charitable efforts, he says.
Not by bread alone
Archbishop Stack also looks forward to the day when a programme that had started prior to the Covid-19 crisis can begin once again. It is called “The God who Speaks”. He describes it as a “celebration of the Word of God.” There are plans that this programme, and Scripture study groups and faith sharing groups “will be re-established and will benefit from the increased fellowship, community, the ‘family’ notion of the Diocese.”
In addition, the Archbishop said that the Archdiocese has seen “extraordinary success” with the use of technology by parish priests who began to livestream Sunday Mass and conduct devotions, during lockdown. Some of them also reached out to parishioners via telephone.
The numbers of people attending these digital prayer services “has surprised all of us”, the Archbishop says. Some parishes set up a hotline for people without access to digital devices. Thus, they too could receive “daily meditation, prayers for the sick, etc.”
In order to continue this method of reaching out to help people into the future, Archbishop Stack hopes to “upgrade the facilities in our churches and build little hub studios whereby we can be recording meditations and programmes for local distribution.”