As CASA Nears Goal, ‘Creativity and Innovation’ Mark Path

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With pledges and cash donations up significantly over last year’s totals, the 2021 Cardinal’s Annual Stewardship Appeal (CASA) is closing in on its goal of $21 million, which represents an increase of $1 million over the standing goal for the past decade.

    As of June 24, CASA had raised $18,202,205 in pledges and $16,390,488 in cash on 41,618 pledges, all significant increases from last year’s totals which finished at 99 percent of goal, a major achievement considering the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

    Bettina Alonso, executive director of development for the archdiocese, said reaching this year’s goal won’t be easy, but she believes it will be accomplished.

    Although the campaign’s active parish phase is nearly complete, two regional meetings of donors, as well as a day of recollection, will take place in the fall, she said.

    Those meetings offer high-giving donors an opportunity to pray with Cardinal Dolan and share a few words with him at the receptions that follow.  

    “He can articulate better than anyone the mission of the Church,” said Juliette Picciano, director of CASA.

    Ms. Alonso and Ms. Picciano spoke with CNY in a Zoom interview last week.

    Ms. Picciano said this year’s totals have benefited from gratitude the donors are expressing toward their parishes in these challenging Covid-19 times.

    “The Church has demonstrated its relevance over the past year,” she said. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

    Ms. Picciano noted CASA pledge cards sent by Catholics across the country offering thanks for Cardinal Dolan’s Masses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which are livestreamed. For many, the liturgies provided a spiritual lifeline, especially during the turbulent early months of the Covid-19 crisis.

    Ms. Alonso said the current totals were boosted by a $2 million major gift in January, which included a $1 million matching component to provide for Covid-19 needs such as cleaning, wipes and masks in parishes of the archdiocese.

    The focus of this year’s CASA campaign stems from Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”

    A breakdown of the areas of support includes assistance for financially vulnerable parishes, $10 million; charitable outreach and pastoral support, $6 million; evangelization and Catholic education, $2 million; formation of new parish priests, $1 million; care for retired parish priests, $1 million; and Covid-19 relief, $1 million.

    Ms. Alonso said the challenges of operating in a Covid-19 environment meant the CASA staff had to “increase our creativity and innovation.”

    One new element, which debuted last fall, is a virtual Rosary led by Cardinal Dolan. A small group of 40-50 donors join the prayer; they are asked to share personal intentions and a few are asked to read the mysteries. The rosaries are offered quarterly, with new people invited to join each one.

“It’s very special to pray with His Eminence,” Ms. Alonso said. “We’re praying together as a community.”

    Before the Rosary, there is a slideshow about the Appeal or Cardinal Dolan may share a story about how CASA helps the archdiocese provide its good works and service.

    On a larger scale, CASA reaches out to thousands of parishioners at a time with pithy email letters emphasizing one of the ministry areas supported by the campaign. In one timed for Mother’s Day, Ms. Picciano wrote about celebrating “the women who have given their ‘yes’ to the Lord in bringing forth new life,” and invited the recipient to join in prayer for women who may be facing  “difficult circumstances in their pregnancies.”

A short embedded video from Sister Virginia Joy, S.V., director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office, related the inspiring story of a young man who helped his own mother to choose life.

Ms. Picciano said the CASA campaign emphasizes that the archdiocese should not be seen as a distinct “they,” rather as part of the “we” formed by parishioners and parishes.

“We are the archdiocese. This is our Church,” she explained. “We can’t expect someone else to do something for our Church.”

Both Ms. Alonso and Ms. Picciano said they have detected an increased willingness on the part of pastors to have CASA campaign managers speak at parishes this year. Each feels that cooperation was sparked last year when staffers were on the scene at parishes, with some extending themselves far beyond the normal scope of their work.

When campaign managers are present, they express gratitude for the gifts parishioners are making and can show the good their support is helping to provide, Ms. Picciano said.

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