Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Catholic Charities staff are seen at their booth at the Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Rooster Booster on Dec. 7, 2023. RACHEL HALL | WKC 

Catholic Charities: The veil of accompaniment


In our faith tradition there is a saint, Veronica, whom we hear about when we pray the sixth Station of the Cross. As the story goes, Veronica was so overcome by the sight of Jesus carrying his cross, covered in sweat, blood, and pain on the road to be crucified, that she used her veil to wipe the blood from his face. Jesus left his holy face as a perfect image on her veil. Many people likely watched Jesus carry his cross, and were likely frozen by the trauma they were witnessing… afraid to come forward to do anything, the situation feeling too big and people were powerless. After all, the crucifixion was inevitable. But Veronica let her love and empathy overwhelm the trauma and did something no one else would. She loved Jesus in the best way she could at that moment. She had to know that even after she wiped his face, the blood and sweat would return. Her effort could be seen a fruitless, but God recognized it as incredible – deserving of a miracle.

In Catholic Charities’ disaster relief services, although the journey is long, we usually get to see success at the end of the road. Through our CAP (Counseling Assistance Program), where those suffering from mental illness and trauma receive accompaniment from a qualified therapist, we do not see the results or even know names, but we know we are often helping people through some of their most trying times. In our housing services, we also get to shelter people and return them to dignity.

But in our immigration services department, often there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We work in broken systems, in a broken society with problems we do not have the power to solve. How do we keep from falling into despair, or being frozen, or cynically working where we cannot do a lot to change the “big picture?”

The answer lies in Veronica. We wipe their faces.

At Catholic Charities, we currently have 1,300 cases open for immigration relief including 200 asylum and humanitarian cases, 230 cases for unaccompanied children, 65 cases for survivors of domestic violence and crime, and hundreds of family reunification cases. Last year, we opened cases for 565 souls – and a little over 50% of those persons were children. About 43% of those assisted last year were Hispanic, 27% were Asian, 28% were white, and 2% were African. One hundred percent represented Jesus to us and we tried to be Veronica to them.

We hope that through the good stewardship of the gifts we are given, that we can continue to serve in this way, no matter how broken our world is, to accompany those whom the world has broken – with our love, skill, and veil of accompaniment.

Susan Montalvo-Gesser is the director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Owensboro.

Originally printed in the June 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
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