By Larry Livingston, senior writer/editor
Last week a group of Catholic priests who travel around the country to preach on behalf of Unbound were at our headquarters in Kansas City for their annual conference. Every summer they join together as a community for a few days of learning and fellowship, and to share stories of their adventures traveling to parishes throughout the U.S.
For those of us who work in Kansas City, this is one of our favorite times of the year. It’s our opportunity to thank them for all the times they drove seven hours to get to that small town in the middle of nowhere in time for Saturday confessions, or spent the night at Gate 23 at DFW because their originating flight was canceled in Philadelphia.
But mostly, these few days when the priests are with us are our chance to let them know how deeply we appreciate all they do to invite new sponsors to join the Unbound community. Every year, because of the efforts of our preachers, thousands of the Catholic faithful put their faith into action by sponsoring a child, youth or elder living in poverty.
Most of our preachers are retired. Many were pastors. Some were missionaries, some chaplains and some teachers. At different times in their lives, they’ve been engaged in other ministries as well. They are a diverse group with varied interests, but they have two important things in common.
The first, obviously, is priesthood. The second is a deep desire to serve as a voice for the voiceless. At a time in their lives when nobody would blame them for taking it easy, our preachers have chosen instead to exercise their priestly ministry to serve the poor and marginalized.
They’ve each made this choice because they believe, as all of us at Unbound do, in the transformative power of the relationship between a caring sponsor and a child, youth or elder in need. They believe, as Pope Francis so often reminds us, that Christ is present — in an especially profound way — among and within the poor and the powerless.
They didn’t just come by this belief in retirement. It has long been a part of their understanding of the Gospel and what it means to be a priest. That thought came home to me this week when I shared a reflection with the preachers during the opening prayer for the conference.
They’ve each made this choice because they believe in the transformative power of the relationship between a caring sponsor and a child, youth or elder in need.
I’d been invited to reflect on the life of Father Dick Mauthe, one of our priests who passed away earlier this year. I recently learned that Father Mauthe had founded an ecumenical center for peace and justice when he was involved in campus ministry in the 1960s, and I was struck by the realization that many of the priests gathered in that room had similar accomplishments.
Father Rich Tillman spent much of his career as a pastor in inner-city St. Louis, where he worked with the urban poor. Father Marty Holler travels to Kenya for months at a time to provide pastoral support for a missionary school. Father Joe Gosselin is involved in a personal outreach in Haiti, where he spends part of every year. And Father Jerry Brown served as a nurse with the medical missions in Central America.
These are just a few of the many experiences of the priests who preach for Unbound. Each of them has chosen to join our community because they see us as kindred spirits who offer them a way to continue to exercise their vocations in the service of God and their fellow human beings.
We closed the preachers conference, as we customarily do, by celebrating Mass together. This year we were honored to have as our presider Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, an Unbound sponsor. At the end of the Mass, as at the end of every celebration of the Eucharist, all those present were sent forth with renewed marching orders to go out into the world to share with others the Christ with whom they’d been nourished.
Our priests will do that by continuing their mission of inviting people of goodwill, in parishes across the U.S., to make the connection between the Christ they recognize in the breaking of the bread and the Christ who lives within each of the children, youth and elders we serve.