Pastors find enthusiastic volunteer support and generous donors

Father Joel Arciga Camarillo is pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Vineland, which has already raised more than half of its goal. Below, Father Ariel Hernandez, pastor of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Parish, Vineland, is pictured with Catholic Strong volunteers Joseph Biegalski, Joseph Gentilini and Diane and George Paladino. Almost 50 percent of the gifts received so far have been for the full ask amount of the pledge.
Photos by Alan M. Dumoff

VINELAND — Phone calls and home visits. Bulletin inserts. Thank you letters.

With these topics and more discussed around Saint Padre Pio Parish’s dining room table here on a Tuesday in May, it was just another meeting for this church’s Catholic Strong Committee.

Comprising Father Robert Sinatra, pastor; Vanessa Dickerson of the Changing Our World consulting team; Barbara Bailey, parish secretary; and parishioners Paul Abrams, Patrick McGrory and Linda Tiemann, the committee meets on the same day, same 5:30 p.m. start time every week. The Vineland parish is currently part of the Diocese of Camden’s Phase 1 of the Catholic Strong Campaign, which is seeking to secure a minimum of $50 million that will be of primary benefit to its parishes.

As 70 percent of the funds raised through this diocesan-wide effort will be allocated for parish needs, as determined locally, and 30 percent will go to funding the diocese’s coordination and support of various ministries, the six individuals around the table are dedicated to spreading the word about the campaign’s importance and providing an opportunity for their faithful to help ensure the future of the Catholic Church in South Jersey.

The hard work and enthusiasm at Padre Pio is also evident at Vineland’s two other parishes, Christ the Good Shepherd and Divine Mercy. Each of those parishes is already about halfway to its goal.

After first learning about Catholic Strong, from Bishop Dennis Sullivan while in a meeting with fellow pastors last fall, Father Sinatra admits his first impressions included uncertainty for its success, “because the parishioners at Saint Padre Pio are so good, and so many demands on them (on top of the weekly collection and House of Charity campaign) might be difficult.”

However, after further reflection and a viewing of the Catholic Strong campaign video, which expressed the diocese’s goals to create “strong parishes, strong schools and strong service,” he was on board.

Since the committee began meeting in January they have held three receptions for donors and made countless phone calls and home visits.

At the head of the table, Father Sinatra pores over his parishioner list, inquiring about their whereabouts, whether or not they have been notified of the campaign and, if so, their response. As each name is read off, members respond to the pastor and agree to follow up with the individual in-person, or through a phone call.

He admits that due to such factors as illness and disability, a contribution can be difficult for his parishioners, but Father Sinatra knows they do what they can.

“We come to them, on their schedule,” he notes.

Father Sinatra asks Dickerson about the possibility of sending thank you letters to donors, and she assures him that won’t be a problem.

“They’ve been extremely charitable, and I am humbled” at their generosity to Catholic Strong, he says.

The committee members next discuss how best to allocate the funds Saint Padre Pio Parish will receive from Catholic Strong. Roof repair; a church ramp; and a youth minister for the entire city of Vineland have been discussed.

It’s this last need, a youth minister, which Father Sinatra finds particularly pressing.

“The youth are a part of the church that has been woefully underserved,” he says, adding that “to live out our call as missionary disciples, we need to reach out to the young people. They are not the future of the church, they are the church.”

He has also seen the hope his parishioners have, for the 30 percent of funds going back to the diocese.  A stated program resulting from the campaign will be an improved healing services addiction program, with an emphasis on the current opioid crisis in the state and country. With Father Sinatra’s own parishioners in Cumberland County, he has witnessed their struggles and heartbreak, being directly affected by this growing affliction.

“People are more than happy to give, when they know their parish is going to benefit,” he says.

McGrory, a committee member, private wealth advisor, and vice chair of the Diocesan Finance Council, attributes parishioners’ generosity not just to confidence in where their money is going, but confidence in their pastor, their shepherd.

“Father Sinatra has a natural ability in interacting with others” with a mix of compassion, command and authenticity, he says.

“The parish, at the center of the community, has to be lifted up” through this campaign, McGrory says, and Father Sinatra effectively conveys this to his flock, “to increase the vitality of Saint Padre Pio.”