For the first time in four years, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg welcomed donors and benefactors back for its largest and most critical fundraising event.
Rebranded as the “Hands of Christ Creating Hope” benefit dinner, the event – formerly the “Come and See” dinner – attracted more than 160 attendees to the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg on Tuesday May 9, for an evening dedicated to shining a light on the work of Catholic Charities in helping people in need in our own communities.
“We are God’s hands doing good work here in the world. Every day, we carry out the work of God through the critical and impactful programs here in our Diocese,” Kelly Gollick, Executive Director, told attendees of the work of Catholic Charities, which includes counseling services for families and individuals, youth services and foster care, in addition to programs to help new mothers, immigrants, homeless families and women battling addiction.
The keynote speaker for the evening was world-renowned artist Timothy Schmalz, best known for his “Homeless Jesus” sculptures that have drawn attention to the plight of the homeless with their placement around the world.
With intricately-detailed and intimate designs, Schmalz’s work has been received at the Vatican, in the Holy Land and in parks and cities. During his presentation at the dinner, he showed slides of several of his most beloved pieces from the past 25 years, while speaking to their message.
Schmalz said he considers his artwork as a form of evangelization.
“My mission is to create some of the most beautiful sculptures I can to celebrate our faith in a way that people can become embraced by it. My mission is to make our faith beautiful, so when people see it, they have something to appreciate and value,” he said.
The inspiration for the Homeless Jesus sculptures came as Schmalz was in downtown Toronto on a busy street, and saw the figure of a person silently shrouded beneath a blanket. “That moment absolutely struck me,” he recalled. “I don’t know if it was a man or a woman under the blanket, but it spoke to me as I considered the Scripture of Matthew 25.”
His Homeless Jesus sculptures appear around the world – some as a person sleeping on a park bench, others with outstretched hands begging for food. Only the wounds in the exposed feet jutting out from beneath the blanket reveal the figure as Jesus.
“It conforms precisely with Matthew 25,” Schmalz said. “If you recall that Scripture, there is ambiguity at the beginning as the disciples ask, ‘When did we feed you, when did we visit you?’ Then, the big revelation comes, when Jesus says, ‘Whenever you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters.’ With the Homeless Jesus sculpture, you approach the figure and then there’s the big revelation that the homeless person is Jesus.”
“A sculpture can only be as good as what it’s representing,” Schmalz remarked. “When people look at the Homeless Jesus, they don’t see the style of the artwork or technique I used. They see the message, and that makes it a success.”
“Oftentimes, I think the Catholic Church doesn’t use the power of art enough,” he said. “Our faith and Christianity can be minimal in representing who we are in art. It’s often about the beauty and the comfort, but not enough about the challenge or the shock. Yes, our faith is comforting, but it also challenges us and pushes us, and that’s what I hope to do with my artwork.”
Shining light on the countless ways Catholic Charities serves as the hands of Christ every day, the dinner also welcomed Juliann Kapschull, who spoke of her life-changing experience at Evergreen House, a residential program for women in recovery from substance abuse.
Kapschull entered Evergreen after a period in rehab from her addiction, which, she said “almost cost me everything.”
“I lost my mom to my addiction, I lost my children, I lost my house, I lost my car,” she said. “When I heard the Evergreen House director on the phone say they had a place for me, I knew that I had to go.”
Evergreen House helps women achieve long-term recovery, find stable housing and learn job skills through treatment, group therapy, family therapy and education. Women typically spend 90 days in its program.
“I was so scared when I got there, but I was welcomed with open arms,” Kapschull said. “I couldn’t believe what I walked into. The place was beautiful and clean. I couldn’t believe how nice it was.”
“The structure there is amazing. The rules in that house – I will say this until the day I die – saved my life. It was like a light switch went off in me, and I knew I had to get better, and I did,” she said. “I live now in Enola, I talk to my children, I talk to my mother, I have a nine-month-old grandson that I get to see now. It’s all because of the structure, the women of that house, the resident advisors and the work I was able to put into it.”
Catholic Charities offers help, hope and support to thousands of individuals and families throughout the Diocese’s 15 counties. Services are provided to people of all faiths at minimal or no cost to the client, thanks to the generosity of donors and benefactors.
“There are countless ways each day when staff, with outstretched arms, share the love of Christ when the vulnerable among us are in need,” Gollick told the benefactors at the dinner. “The work we do is a calling from our Lord to live a life of charity and compassion. Your presence here tonight loudly demonstrates your desire to partner with Catholic Charities as we get our hands dirty and dive into the complex challenges faced by our community.”
For more information about Catholic Charities, its programs, how you can help or participate in its upcoming events, visit www.cchbg.org or contact Christopher Meehan, Development Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-657-4804.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness