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Bishop Burbidge prays with Sterling Catholics on World Day of the Poor

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Boxes of macaroni, cans of tuna fish and bottles of sauce flew off the shelves of the basement turned food pantry at Christ the Redeemer Church in Sterling Nov. 16. Food was distributed to some 600 families during the Thanksgiving distribution that day put on by LINK, an all-volunteer, ecumenical emergency food organization serving Sterling, Herndon and Ashburn. 

The next day — World Day of the Poor — the parish was at it again, collecting food and clothing for next month’s Christmas distribution. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge came to the parish to see their good work and to pray for the poor alongside them Nov. 17. After celebrating Mass, Bishop Burbidge led a holy hour for the poor in the afternoon.

 “World Day of the Poor is meant to raise our consciousness, to open our eyes, to move our hearts, to understand that a response in the midst of poverty and suffering is needed on our part,” Bishop Burbidge said in his homily. “That includes actually encountering, accompanying, talking, walking with the poor and certainly the sharing of our resources with them. For whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for Christ himself.”

Pope Francis established World Day of the Poor in 2016 and frequently speaks about the necessity of caring for the needy. The pope warns that if people are not vigilant, they will gradually be able to accept the unacceptable poverty in our midst, said Bishop Burbidge. “The readings today remind us that at a day and hour we do not know, we will die and we will be mercifully judged by Our Lord, not according to what we have accumulated in this life, but rather by what we have given away in service of our brothers and sisters who need us the most,” he said. 

For years, the churches in the area have taken that Gospel imperative to heart by feeding the hungry together through LINK. Three Catholic churches — Christ the Redeemer, St. Veronica Church in Chantilly and St. Joseph Church in Herndon — work with Protestant churches to deliver food to families every week. 

“So many of the people in this area are working but their income is such that they have to balance and try to pay this bill and that bill, so we actually deliver to their homes because it’s very hard for people who are working to come to a food pantry,” said Bob Ashdown, a parishioner and LINK volunteer. On a monthly basis, the organization has a distribution in the Christ the Redeemer parking lot, what they call a mobile food pantry. The Capital Area Food Bank donates the food, usually fresh produce that many people wait hours in line to receive. 

All throughout the year, LINK volunteers collect and sort the donated food. Oftentimes, churchgoers will drop-off donations in the narthex. But LINK also rescues food from school cafeterias and stores such as Wawa, Trader Joe’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. While the Christ the Redeemer basement can hold a good amount of nonperishable food, LINK’s perishable items are stored in the refrigerators and freezers at Herndon United Methodist Church. 

On the Thanksgiving distribution day, half of the 600 families picked up food at Christ the Redeemer, while the other half went to Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon. Parishioner and longtime LINK volunteer Monica Sasscer loves watching the volunteers guide the clients through the maze of boxes and cans. “The volunteers pair up with a person and walk them through and by the time they finish walking, they’re good friends,” she said. “They walk out the door and they hug and they say, ‘Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.’ ”

Two girls talk after Mass on World Day of the Poor at Christ the Redeemer Church in Sterling Nov. 17. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

lr wdotpAshdown appreciates that World Day of the Poor highlights the importance of caring for those in need. “I think top down leadership is good. That the pope and the bishop and the priests are talking about it and praying about it and inviting people to think more about it, that helps,” he said.

 The Thanksgiving distribution day is always a little stressful, but during the monthly mobile pantry, Ashdown is able to spend time with the volunteers and clients. He’s encouraged by what he sees. “Seeing how many families try to raise their kids to have good Gospel values (by volunteering) and then on the other side, to see how many people smile as they stand in line for three hours, just being grateful,” he said.

 Find out more

 Diocesan Catholic Charities works year-round to serve the poor and vulnerable of the diocese. Catholic Charities feeds the hungry through the St. Lucy Food Project, which supplies 1.2 million pounds of food to more than 50 locations annually. Migration and Refugee Services has resettled thousands of refugees escaping persecution and Immigrant Services provides legal support and helps immigrants acquire meaningful, sustaining work skills. The organization shelters the homeless at Christ House Men’s Transitional Housing in Alexandria and St. Margaret of Cortona Transitional Residence in Woodbridge.

 To learn more, go to ccda.net


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019