By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
“Growing up as an orphan, I’m one of the people who received support from generous people like you,” Father Fortunatus Rwehikiza tells viewers in a video on the Diocese of Davenport’s Missionary Cooperation Plan (MCP) website. In the video, the Tanzanian priest, who recently studied at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, speaks about the needs of his home diocese of Rulenge-Ngara, which include access to clean water, maternity homes and tuition for seminarians.
Under normal circumstances, Father Rwehikiza would appeal to parishes in person, as would representatives from the other 11 mission organizations, dioceses and religious congregations selected to apply for mission appeals this year in the Diocese of Davenport. To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the appeals are being made remotely this year.
The diocese receives 150-200 applications each year for 10-15 spots, said Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities. The Social Action office sifts through the applications before making recommendations to Bishop Thomas Zinkula. “We make sure groups from all around the world are represented,” Ferris said. “We balance the requests mindful of emerging regional and global needs, while also appreciating a few foreign dioceses the Diocese of Davenport has a special, closer relationship with — those in Tanzania, for example — who we try and extend an invitation to more regularly.”
The diocese assigns each mission organization to a parish or group of parishes with whom the organizations can share their needs and appeal for funds.
This year, the Social Action office debuted a website with information about each of the organizations to help them appeal to Catholics in the diocese at a time in which parish gatherings have been suspended and Mass attendance limited due to social distancing protocols. Some, like the Diocese of Rulenge-Ngara, have submitted videos. Others have submitted photographs and statistics to highlight needs. The website includes information on how to make a donation. To learn more about the 12 organizations, go to https://www.davenportdiocese.org/2020-missions-selected.
The Social Action office has asked organizations to contact their assigned parishes, as well. Together, the organizations and parishes can decide on a promotional strategy. This might include bulletin announcements, social media posts or announcements at Mass.
Traditionally, the organizations kept the funds raised by their host parishes. Last year, under the guidance of Bishop Zinkula, the diocesan MCP program began pooling all funds and distributing them equally among the mission organizations. Esmeralda Guerrero, administrative assistant in the Social Action Office, said this made the process fairer. “Because some parishes are bigger than others, some organizations were not getting as much.”
Last year, Catholics in the diocese opened their pocketbooks to the sum of $60,000, Ferris said.
Guerrero encourages Catholics who wish to make a donation to do so by Nov. 1.
New organizations will be selected early next year; the diocese has already begun to receive applications. Guerrero said about 200 organizations from six continents applied for this year’s spots. “They’re aware we have limited spots and we encourage them to apply every year,” she said. While the diocese gives preference to mission organizations that have not recently been selected, Guerrero said previously selected organizations are welcome to apply again, especially if needs in the area have changed.
In his video, Father Fortunatus said he understands the difficulties of making financial contributions during the pandemic. After living in Davenport for several years, he returned to his home diocese in March to become pastor of a parish in a rural area, which does not have access to electricity or running water. “I can assure you that your contribution will always make a big difference to these poor people who need your help.”