“Each year the wish list gets longer and longer..its’ really a wonderful opportunity for the Pope and he responds throughout the world! He doesn’t restrict it” says Bishop Michael Bransfield of Charleston-Wheeling, West Virginia, President of the US charitable organisation the Papal Foundation.
They are the lay Catholic men and women from across the US who each year gift the Holy Father a ‘wish list’, in short the funds to carry out or sponsor charitable works that are particularly dear to him. On Saturday the Foundation members – who are known as Stewards of St. Peter – will meet with the Holy Father and present him a donation of over 8 million dollars to fund projects throughout the world.
Bishop Bransfield who is accompanying the Stewards on their annual pilgrimage to the See of St. Peter, says they “see this as a vocation, they see this as their ability to help the Holy Father to do things that otherwise he simply wouldn’t be able to do”.
The pilgrimage began Wednesday with Mass at the ancient minor basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, which houses St. Peter’s chains, celebrated by the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington D.C. Donald Wuerl. During his homily, the Cardinal spoke to the foundation members, who are known as Stewards of St. Peter. He said in materially helping the Pope, the Successor of St. Peter, they are not helping “a building or an institution”, but “the rock on which our faith is built”. Today, he continued, “Peter has a different name, he is called Benedict, but his task remains the same to confirm all of us and our brothers and sisters in the faith, and your generosity helps him do this”.
Emer McCarthy asked Bishop Bransfield about how the foundation works, what makes a steward and what is on Pope Benedict XVI’s wish list as he enters the 8th year of his Pontificate. “His theological background helps him in addressing the 21st century. I think that the the Holy Father has been here at a very pivitol time in world history . He has given a great attention to the secularisation of Europe. He has been very clear on what he expects of believing people. He has been able to speak to a very sophisticated part of our society and tell them what a faith dimensioned life is like and the difference it makes ”.
Q: Quite a big difference in the case of the Papal Foundation, how did it all begin?
A: “Early in the 1980’s JPII had a lot of charities that he was not able to fund and a lot of concerns in Easter Europe and throughout the world. So Cardinals and Archbishops who were his friends…Cardinal Krol and Cardinal McCarrick got together and set up a foundation, it started in Philadelphia but immediately spread throughout our country because the Archbishops and Cardinals backed them up and brought in members”.
Q So how does it work?
A: “They put together this organisation and asked these people, who really are from all over the States, to give a million dollars each that would stay in the United States and the money that came from that, the income and different grants would come to the Holy Father for the poor of the world and for his charities or works that he wanted done. [The Pope] sends a list over and in November we meet in Washington and its reviewed by the grants committee and then again by the board and they approve what they can fund and what they can do for the Holy Father because the wish list gets longer and longer”.
Q: What was on the Pope’s wish list this year?
A: “Well we have been doing a lot of work in Haiti, a great deal went there when that [earthquake] happened. Right now a lot will go to Africa, to Mother Teresa’s sisters. We try to help the projects that they are involved in, because they don’t take the money directly but there are ways we can help. Then there are the Seamen’s scholars, these are students from poor countries who are given scholarships to come over to Rome to study and then they go back to their country. Then there are clinics all over, a lot going on in Eastern Europe, hospitals, schools…it’s really a wonderful opportunity for the Holy Father. But he responds throughout the world he doesn’t restrict it”.