Many of us are familiar with arranging for the care of an aging parent. As sons and daughters, it's the right thing to do. We should consider it a similar responsibility to provide health care for our aging diocesan priests.
Every weekend we come to church expecting them to be there and be on their game to give us the inspiration we need to get us through the next week. We expect them to say just the right words to touch what we're feeling in our hearts. That's a huge expectation to place on one man who tries to craft a message for everyone in the pews.
For years, they have been a spiritual constant for us. While some of us may have never sought their one-on-one guidance, we knew that they were there if we needed it. In our more rebellious years, they may have been the subject of our jokes or scorn but, just like our parents, they always welcomed us back with open arms. We've become comfortable calling them "Father" all these years, and now it's time to help care for them the way their sons and daughters would.
"It's not just charity, it's a question of justice," said Msgr. Francis Weldgen, who is the chair of the committee organizing the first Retired Diocesan Priests Medical Benefits Fund, with a second collection on the weekend of Aug. 6 and 7. "We live longer, and the cost of health care has gone up dramatically. You're also helping your parish, because right now each parish is assessed a portion of their annual income for this cause."
This will be different from the annual Retirement Fund for Religious, which supports the priests and sisters who belong to religious orders, according to Msgr. Weldgen. "For the first time, the people will know that they're giving money to the retired priests of the diocese."
"It's going to help with strictly health care costs. Isn't it wonderful that, for the first time, you can show your appreciation and gratitude for all they've done for you in serving you, and continuing to serve you in their retired years."
There are currently 128 retired diocesan priests. About 40 of them live in diocesan retirement homes. Many retired priests, including Msgr. Weldgen, who is 81 years old, still go out to say Mass and hear confessions at the parishes.
"They're not retired from active ministry," Msgr. Weldgen said. "For the most part, those who are healthy enough still go out and serve our parishes."
Actuaries for the Priest Retirement Board have determined that a fund of $27 million would be needed for the care of diocesan priests into the future. The current Upon This Rock campaign has designated $7 million toward this cause.
On Aug. 6 and 7, there will be a second collection for the Retired Diocesan Priests Medical Benefits Fund. Contributions can also be mailed at any time to the Diocese of Buffalo, Lockbox Dept. 294, P.O. Box 8000, Buffalo, NY 14240.
"We owe them our love, and what we owe them can't really be figured in dollars," said Msgr. Weldgen. "They've given the sacraments, they've been present whenever called upon. They've given their lives, 40, 50, 60 years of service. You can't put a price on that."
To make a contribution to help retired priests, consider donating to the diocesan retirement fund during the second collection held in diocesan parishes on Aug. 6 and 7. Contributions may also be mailed to Diocese of Buffalo, Lockbox Dept. 294, P.O. Box 8000, Buffalo, NY 14240.