Catholic Charities of the Albany Diocese and several parishes are beginning a three-year collaboration to boost social justice efforts all over the Diocese.

The Capacity Strengthening Initiative (CSI) is supported by a small grant from Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' relief and development organization. CRS primarily works overseas, but has funded similar CSI efforts in dioceses throughout the United States.

In the Albany Diocese, the stated goal of the CSI is to "esta­blish a seamless interaction between diocesan offices and parishes around issues of justice and global solidarity." The initiative will train parish leaders who will partner with parishioners, local organizations and grassroots advocates to address social justice concerns, locally and globally.

Three organizers have taken the lead on getting the CSI underway: Mary Olsen, diocesan director of disaster response, Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; Sister Betsy Van Deusen, CSJ, who heads volunteer services and jail ministry for the Diocese; and Angela Warner, who runs the food pantry and the peace and justice ministry at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Albany.

The trio pointed out that the CSI is starting just in time for Nov. 19, the first World Day of the Poor. The World Day of the Poor was established by Pope Francis after the Church's 2015-16 Year of Mercy. Catholic News Service recently reported that the pope's goal for the day is to encourage new initiatives that aid the poor, "fostering encounter, friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance."

Mrs. Warner has the title of "capacity-strengthening specialist" for the CSI. She will work with parishes that want to learn more about the initiative. So far, about 10 parishes are talking with the organizers about what they've been doing in terms of social justice and how they can network.

Three parishes in the Diocese that already have strong social justice ministries -- St. Vincent's, St. Michael the Archangel in Troy and St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Schenectady -- will serve as mentors to the parishes that are now developing or strengthening their social justice work.

For example, St. Vincent's sponsors a campaign every fall called "St. Vincent's on a Mission" that invites parishioners to participate in an entire slate of advocacy efforts. St. Kateri and St. Vincent's are involved in the Family Promise program, which temporarily houses homeless families. St. Michael's was recently profiled in The Evangelist for its Project Dawn ministry, providing a bimonthly meal and collecting clothing for homeless people in downtown Troy (read the story at www.evangelist.org).

Mrs. Olsen told The Evangelist that the CSI will help parishes with "direct service and advocacy" to people in need. The initiative will also help parish leaders not just develop their skills, but become a resource to one another and better organize their outreach to the poor.

"Charity is a temporary fix to a systemic problem," Mrs. Warner added. "As the director of a food pantry, I want to work myself out of a job."

In addition to parishes, the CSI will reach out to Catholic schools, lay and diaconate ministry formation, Catholic Charities' Commission on Peace and Justice, pastoral care and campus ministry and more.

Mrs. Olsen said the initiative "communicates the message of CRS" -- which, its website states, is to "[work] in the spirit of Catholic social teaching to promote the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person."

(To learn more, call Mrs. Olsen at 518-6650 or email Mrs. Warner at angela.warner@ccrcda.org.)