Catholic Social Services Stands in Solidarity with Immigrants and their Families


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Catholic Social Services joins its voice to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to raise concerns about President Donald J. Trump’s executive order to construct a wall at the U.S./Mexico border, increase immigrant detention and deportation, and halt funding to sanctuary cities.

Catholic Social Services has a long history of caring for the migrant and refugee population with compassion, and our programs continue to serve immigrants and refugees in our community today. We are a nation of immigrants – a nation of people dedicated to creating better lives for our families. “As Catholics, we are called to care for the poor and for those who are most vulnerable with the utmost compassion and respect,” said President and CEO, Rachel Lustig. “We embrace our Catholic values of accompaniment and encounter and believe all people are created in the image and likeness of God.”

Ramona Reyes, the Director of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center for Catholic Social Services said, “We even see fear from those who are United States citizens, because they worry they will be deported or that their family members will be broken up or never able to join them in the United States. We see the harm this executive order could inflict by tearing families apart or sending children home to an empty house.”

As Pope Francis stated in a congratulatory letter to President Trump, “At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding farsighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide.”

Catholic Social Services stands by our US Bishop’s and Pope Francis’s words, in solidarity with immigrants and their families, and will continue to be dedicated to providing hope and dignity for all.

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Save the Date! Breakfast with the Bishop 2017!

Friday, September 8th
7:30am – 9:00pm
Renaissance Columbus Downtown
50 N. 3rd Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215

Keynote speakers will include The Most Reverend Bishop Frederick Campbell, and Hugh Dorrian, City of Columbus Auditor.

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Lessons In Language

Why would Mary choose to appear to Juan Diego? I suppose that the same could be asked about why God would choose Mary. Both were poor, and neither was influential. From our standards, what did they have to offer the world? And, here we are, hundreds of years later celebrating their virtues. It’s a reminder that the virtues we seek to learn often come from the most unexpected places.

Today, as we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Catholic Social Services is in the process of constructing a new site for the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center. In 2006, we established a food pantry to help the fast-growing Hispanic population living in our community. We created a place of welcome through bilingual staff and by stocking Mexican food on the shelves. Over the years, we have come to know the needs of the families we serve – needs which are often exacerbated by poverty and immigration. The new site will allow us to grow our space from a food pantry into a community center that provides more holistic support.

34563587 - beautifully decorated altar with flowers, religious objects and balloons in mexican flag colors to commemorate the apparition of our lady of guadalupe

But as we grow, we believe that only half of the beneficiaries of the Guadalupe Center will be the Hispanic community who come for emergency assistance, English classes, or legal assistance. The broader community has much to learn from them.

After I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to join a volunteer corps and serve in Chile for a few years. I didn’t speak Spanish before I moved, so I had the challenge of learning a language as an adult. It is a humbling experience. Here I was, an educated adult, and kids at the orphanage where I worked would look at me like I was stupid and correct my Spanish saying, “it is called a ball.”


One day, I was helping with a fundraising race for the orphanage, and I tripped over something and fell in front of a group of people. Mortified, I covered my face and told everyone that I was so “embarazada.” People’s concern level went up irrationally, and within seconds everyone was swarming around me to make sure I was okay. I realized, after some confusion, that I’d told them I was so pregnant – not embarrassed. Learning a language doesn’t just require mental agility, it requires thick skin.

A few months ago, I was giving a tour of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center to a potential partner. On this day, the current center, which is the size of a three car garage, was particularly chaotic. People were coming for food in the back, there was an English class in the front room, and volunteers were watching the students’ children everywhere else.

In the middle of the chaos was Erica, taking the English class. Her youngest was fussy and wanted mom, so she took the baby on her lap and proceeded to engage in the class. I couldn’t believe her concentration, but I recognized her desire to crack the language code.  I understood how being a part of the conversation was more important than looking silly. And, I wanted to be a part of her success.


But my desire isn’t completely altruistic. One of the coolest things about learning another language is the insight that it gives you into another community’s values. Take for example these two Spanish words, sobremesa and mija. Sobremesa literally means above the table, and it is the time you spend after dinner in conversation. We used to spend hours in “sobremesa” listening to what was going on in each other’s lives, sharing our joys and sorrows, and reflecting on politics, religion, and current events. Sobremesa was a way of showing your guests that they belong. They never overstay their welcome; they can see you for who you are – dirty dishes and all.

Mija is short for “mi hija” or my daughter, and that is what everyone would call me, a young foreigner away from my home. When my parents came to visit, my friend’s dad learned four English words to say to my dad, “She is my daughter.” That was his way of telling my dad that he didn’t have to worry, that he would look out for me.

The values of hospitality and family permeate the Hispanic culture, so it is not a surprise that they manifest in their language. In Chile, I would have dinner three times a night because everyone wanted me to stop by. I was given the one mug that wasn’t chipped. I had a family sleep on the floor in order to offer me the bed, and there was no convincing them to do otherwise.

Consider the English words: step, half, second, and in-law that we use to describe family relationships. The precise nature of the words downplays the spirit of belonging at the heart of family life and hospitality.


You don’t need to go to Chile to see these values; they permeate the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center too. These are values that I want to be surrounded by and better at. It can be unexpected that you would see these values of hospitality and family, coming from a place where people turn to have their basic needs met. It would seem that when you are working to have your needs met, that you may not be as generous with others, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. And, it is Our Lady of Guadalupe who reminds us that the virtues that we seek to learn often come from the most unexpected places.

Today, on this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we ask for eyes to see the virtues that we seek to learn, even in the unexpected places.

~ Rachel Lustig, President and CEO

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Compassion: A Lesson From Two Small Children

At Catholic Social Services, what we do to help poor and vulnerable seniors and families is as important to us as how we do it, and we have two foundational core values that drive our work – impact and compassion.

At CSS, we believe that impact occurs when the results of our service have a lasting influence on the future of our community. Through accountability, transparency, and self-determination, our team pursues ways in which the effects of our actions will be seen for years to come.  And we believe Compassion to mean that we are inspired by a God who came as and identifies with ‘the least of these.’  We are motivated by a desire to enter into places of poverty, pain, and controversy and respond to the suffering of others.


It is our belief that the synergy between impact and compassion will make the difference for our clients and community. Impact is dependent upon Compassion, and Compassion requires that we are moved to make a positive Impact.

A few years ago, I learned a lot about compassion in the most unexpected place from some unexpected people.  I had the opportunity to visit my friend who was working as a village doctor in El Salvador. The town was composed of people who had fled El Salvador during the Civil War and were rebuilding their lives. They shared their sacred stories with me, opened their homes to me, and cared for one another with a bond of solidarity that I’ve never seen before or since. I had the most incredible time with them.

But, after a week and a half, I was ready to go home. I wanted more to eat then rice and beans; I love long, hot, glorious showers, and the two liters a day that were allotted for my bathing were completely inadequate. But two days before heading home while dreaming of what I consider normal, I got sick.

On my way back from the outhouse, the two boys from the family that I was staying with spotted me and wanted to play. I told them that I wasn’t feeling well. So, I went into my room, shut the door, lay down, and wished my mom was there to take care of me.


The boys weren’t pleased that I wasn’t playing with them, so they picked up some rocks and started throwing them at the steel door of my room. My head was already pounding, and the rock crashing only made things worse.

While I have no children of my own, I have five younger siblings, 20 nieces and nephews, and I spent two years at an orphanage in Chile, so I can reprimand children in multiple languages. And, I got up to tell the boys that this behavior was unacceptable, when suddenly it struck me.

The day before, I had seen Christian, the three year old, at the clinic. He had the same thing that I did, but the chronic version, from a lack of clean water. And Meme, the 4 year old, was being raised by his grandma because his mom had immigrated to the United States to build a better life for Meme and his brother.

Moments before, we had been worlds apart, separated by life experiences, skin color, language, opportunities, education, and a list of things that we use to separate ourselves from others, but, there we were a woman sick and missing her mom, and two boys, sick and missing their mom. All of those differences were no longer important, because I felt compassion. I took on their suffering as my own pain and my own struggle.

And that is why I believe that it is the synergy between impact and compassion that will strengthen our community. Because until we feel each other’s suffering and commit to each other’s struggle, we may gauge the impact of our efforts by how it makes us feel, rather than by how we better the lives of those we serve.


The good news is that it works! When we bring impact and compassion together with the power of the human spirit, amazing things happen. I was just speaking with one of our Pathways to Hope clients, Louise. Pathways to Hope is an intensive case management program for survivors of domestic violence and their children. These survivors come to us from Choices shelter, and they have significant barriers to breaking the cycles of poverty and violence in their lives. Louise has been able to find stable housing, schooling for her children, and is enrolled in a workforce development program. After decades of being beaten down literally and figuratively, Louise told me that she had advanced to manager-level training.

Inspired by Louise and thousands like her, and driven by these two values – impact and compassion, we do the important work of helping people reach their God given potential.

~ Rachel Lustig, President & CEO

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Can Doing Good Be Bad?

I’ve always prided myself on being a giving person. I love to volunteer and try to be generous to causes I believe in. So when the opportunity to deliver meals on Thanksgiving presented itself, I jumped at it! I picked up the delicious smelling meals from a local church, bought a little gift of fresh flowers for each person to put on their table, and set out excited to have this opportunity to do something good before I ate a Thanksgiving meal with my family.

I arrived at my third home feeling pretty good, but all that changed as soon as I saw the look on the gentlemen’s face when he opened the door. His shame was palpable – he couldn’t get me out of his home fast enough. It was clear that the charity I was providing was disturbing his peace of mind, even as it strengthened his body.

I was left wondering, can “doing good” be bad for someone?

This question is the impetus for this year’s Breakfast with the Bishop, featuring Robert Lupton, author of the best-selling book, Toxic Charity. He will talk about “toxic charity,” a phrase that is quite jarring.  It makes us wonder how something so fundamentally good, like “charity,” can be associated with a negative word like “toxic.”  And “toxic” isn’t just negative – toxic is harmful; toxic creates destruction; toxic means deadly.

What I like about the phrase “toxic charity” is that it invites us to question the impact of our work, and to acknowledge that there are times when it doesn’t help people. It calls us to ask if our help can make it harder for people to be successful in the long run. It calls us to think about whether the dignity of the person we serve is enhanced or torn down. We then ask ourselves: How can we keep that from happening? What can we do to ensure that the people we seek to help leave us uplifted, hopeful, and stronger?

The Catholic Social Services Leadership Team read Toxic Charity together and discussed these questions. We quickly realized how vague and often-changing the line between helping and harming can be. What is right in a crisis situation is harmful in a chronic one, but chronic solutions are impossible without some stability. And, that line between harmful and helpful is completely unique for each individual or family that comes seeking our help. Reading the book together helped create a space for us to talk about the difficult nuances for our work. It allowed us to disagree with one another and challenge one another, and ultimately helped us to strengthen our efforts to help others.

This is my hope for bringing the conversation to our Breakfast with the Bishop. Toxic Charity introduces a difficult topic in an approachable way. I believe that if we want to lift people out of poverty, we are going to have to look at what is working and what isn’t. That is hard to do, but Robert Lupton has helped us to start the conversation and provided us with encouragement and insights to examine our charitable practices to see how we can make them more uplifting and impactful.  And this, in turn, will make us, and our community, stronger.

~ Rachel Lustig, President & CEO


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A Reflection on Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Year of Mercy

Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Year of Mercy:

Lord Jesus Christ,

You have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,

and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.

Show us your face and we will be saved.

Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;

the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;

made Peter weep after his betrayal,

and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.

Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:

“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,

of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:

let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness

in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:

let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,

so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,

and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,

proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,

and restore sight to the blind. 

We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy,

You who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.


I love Pope Francis and what he has done for our Church, the faithful, and so many others.  His witness makes me want to be a better person. I am inspired by the revolution of tenderness that he is calling us to.

When reflecting on his prayer, I was first drawn to the people that Francis mentions and their sins. I resonate with all of them – they are, after all, human.  But the important thing about all of these people is that Jesus was looking at them when he forgave them.  The prayer says, “Show us your face, and we will be saved. Your loving gaze freed…”  This reminds us of how significant this look of love is.  A few years ago, I did the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and one of the experiences of prayer that I found most powerful was to reflect on how God sees me. I tried to imagine this loving gaze. With all of my joys and sorrow, my strengths and weaknesses, with all of my warts and my crazy, can God look lovingly and tenderly at me? What would that feel like?

Quick story, I grew up about a mile away from my grandma’s house, and was very close to her. She would get us a kite and host an egg hunt every Easter, we would spend hours playing dress-up and trying on her jewelry.  Once, we even orchestrated an entire circus at her house (I was the elephant with my trunk made of a paper towel roll). She and my grandpa would come to daily Mass at our Catholic elementary school, so we would see her every day, and I’d always be so proud because everyone thought that she was the nicest lady they had ever met. Rather than saying “Goodbye” to us, she would say, “I’ll be loving you.”

For the later years of her life, we didn’t have the luxury of living close to one another. She moved in with my aunt in Denver, and I moved away from my hometown. When I went home to see my parents, I no longer was able to stop by Granny’s and have a “warm hug” (what she called a cup of coffee) or sneak in the pew with her at Church (because I never been on time to Mass, or anything in the morning, in my life).

Granny and me

So, we hadn’t seen each other in a while before my brother’s wedding. She arrived to the rehearsal dinner, and by the grace of God, someone got a picture of us greeting one another. I still look regularly at this picture. I just love the look of pure joy she has on her face when she sees me. There is so much love, pride, and tenderness on her face.  And as one of 9 kids and 22 grandkids, this look is all for me.

I think this is just one more of the gifts my Granny gave to me – she gave me an insight, a glimpse, into how Gods sees me.  God looks at us with a thousand times this love. He is constantly giving us reminders: the sun on our face, the flowers in our garden, a great song that speaks to our heart, and the loving look of a Granny.  God never tires of telling us of his great love – individual, intimate, unique – that he has for each one of us.

But in Pope Francis’s prayer, the loving gaze also brings us to the challenge:

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness

in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:

let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

I think the last part of this phrase should be the mission statement of Catholic Social Services, “let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.”  But, I am challenged by the first part. Having worked for Catholic Social Services for nearly two decades, there is one thing that I see a lot of our clients have in common – shame. They are ashamed of what they have done, of who they are, and of having to ask for help.

They are ashamed of the abuse.  Ashamed for staying. Ashamed to still be in love.

Ashamed of the accent. Ashamed that their child has to translate for them.

Ashamed of what they look like. Ashamed of where they are from. Ashamed of their family.

Ashamed that they can’t feed their kids. Ashamed that they don’t have the right house or clothes.

Ashamed that they can’t control their mental health. Ashamed that they don’t feel love for their baby. Ashamed of their disability.

Shame is a toxic emotion, and it is prevalent. Too many people do not know the loving gaze of our creator – the gaze that loves you when you are at your lowest, and will love you even when you do not feel His presence. We all need reminded that we are sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

And finally, the prayer moves into a discussion of renewed enthusiasm. When I was in college, I was a retreat junkie, and I had to learn the hard way that you come down off of those highs. We aren’t looking to hang out on the mountain tops. Our humanity brings us down. Down, when we need to be reminded of who we are. To receive again that loving gaze.

Sometimes, it is easy to dismiss the pain in the world as far away, but this last month has been a terrible reminder of how many people need to know that they are sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.  I caught the police shooting of the black man in Minnesota, and I watched the video of the woman who was with her boyfriend with their child in the back, and I saw how calm she was when she thought that he was shot in the arm.  And then, when she realized that he was more injured than she originally thought and began to wail, it was her four year old who could be heard saying, “I’m right here momma” to console her mother.

It made me angry. And there are a lot of ways people have responded.  But one inspired me.  It was a woman, peacefully protesting in Baton Rouge.  A mom, a nurse, standing up to say that this is not right and offering the world a loving gaze.

Now, that is inspiring! So, let us go forth, to remind this world that it is sought after, loved, and forgiven by God, and let us do so with renewed enthusiasm that will give us the courage to stand peacefully in the midst of a storm.  I promise you, God is there.

~ Rachel Lustig, President and CEO of Catholic Social Services

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Friendship, Family, and Fun

This month, Catholic Social Services hosted our second meet and greet for the Friendly Visiting program!  The Friendly Visiting program matches volunteer visitors from the community with a senior friend.  Friendly Visiting pairs meet each week to get together for lunch, go out for coffee, take walks, or do other fun activities. The meet and greets are a new way for Friendly Visiting pairs to spend time with one another, and these events also provide Friendly Visitors with the opportunity to talk with other pairs.  The May meet and greet was held in the community room at the Panera on Lane Avenue, right across from The Ohio State University.  It was the perfect location for our Friendly Visitors – plenty of space, food, friends, and parking!

When I arrived at the meet and greet, there were about ten people in the room, clustered in small groups around tables.  An electric keyboard had been set up in one corner, and a gentleman was playing music for the group.  The center table was piled high with bagels and cookies. I noticed a family sitting at a table off to one side.  There were two women, who could have been grandmother and granddaughter, and three blonde children – two boys who looked to be about six-years-old and four-years-old, and one baby girl with a pink flowered bow in her hair.

Juliane and Doris 3 - Friendly Visiting

I approached the family and asked if they would be willing to talk to me about themselves and their experiences in the program, and they agreed.  I placed my note pad on the table, and the baby crawled over to me.  “Can I hold her?” I asked.  Her mother, Jillian, gave me permission and told me that the baby’s name was Maria, and she was ten months old.  I knelt down, picked up Maria, and waited for her reaction. She flashed me a delighted, mostly toothless grin and then took a determined chomp of her bagel.

“Isn’t she sweet?” Denise, the older woman, asked.  I agreed.  She was definitely one of the happiest babies I had ever met.  Denise leaned closer.

“Do you know, I’m 101-years-old?”  I thought I had heard her wrong – there were a lot of people at the event, and it was a bit hard to hear Denises’s soft voice.

“I’m sorry; did you say you’re 101?” Denise nodded solemnly, but her eyes twinkled because she could tell she had surprised me.

“I’m 101. And I grew up in Pittsburgh.” I told her my grandparents used to live in North Hills, and I asked her what it was like growing up in Pittsburgh. “I had wonderful parents.  My father was in the jewelry business.”  Denise tapped my hand.  “There was nothing too good for us – nothing.”  I could tell by the way Denise spoke that her father was a very special person and had loved his children more than anything.

I asked how Denise ended up in Columbus, and she told me that she moved to live with her son. “Is that how you got involved with the Friendly Visiting program?” I asked.  “When you moved to Columbus?”

Denise gestured to the baby in my arms. “Her mother came to my door and asked if I wanted to be friends with her.  They are wonderful people…and I’ve been friends with her ever since!” In movies, when the main characters meet, it’s called a “meet cute.”  I can’t think of anything cuter than the start of this real-life friendship.

Juliane and Doris 2 - Friendly Visiting

While Denise and I talked, Jillian was across the room, helping her two little boys get cookies and play with some of the other Friendly Visitors.  Once they were settled, she sat down with us at the table.  “You don’t have to hold her,” she said, pointing to Maria.  Truthfully, I didn’t want to put the baby down, but she started to squirm, so I let her go to explore. She made a bee-line for the patio door, and Denise leaned forward with an alarmed, “Oh!”

“It’s okay, Denise,” Jillian said.  “The door is closed.  She’s not going anywhere.”  Maria, who had just reached the door, seemed to realize this as well, but she wasn’t perturbed.  She sat down, her expression still joyful despite her foiled escape plan.

Jillian, who spoke with a slight accent, told me she was from Germany and got involved in the Friendly Visiting program when she and her husband moved to Columbus because “I wanted to do something good.”  Soon after meeting Denise, she told Denise that she was pregnant.  Jillian smiled, her eyes sliding to Denise’s as she joked, “And she said, ‘Perfect!  You can stay!’”

I asked Jillian what she likes to do in her free time.  “I have three kids,” she said, laughing. “But I do have a greenhouse, and I’ve been growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries.  I also love flowers, and I’ve been teaching my kids about seeds and how everything grows from them.  But now I can’t throw out any seeds or I hear, ‘Mom!  We have to save it to grow!’”

I glanced over at the boys, and I could tell they were starting to get tired.  Nap-time was fast-approaching.  I asked Jillian if I could take a few pictures before they left.  The boys declined the photo op, preferring to play, but everyone else politely posed for me.  After the picture was taken, Maria reached out a chubby hand and gently patted Denise’s curls.  She grinned when Denise leaned back and then forward again so Maria could touch her hair.  I watched the two of them giggle and snapped a few more pictures.  “Maria thinks Denise is her grandmother,” Jillian said, as she gathered her family together to leave. “She’s known Denise her entire life.”

Juliane and Doris 1 - Friendly Visiting

I waved goodbye to them as they left, and I hope that they return for another meet and greet in the future.  Friendship, for these Friendly Visitors, has truly blurred into family.  And that might be the best thing about the Friendly Visiting program.

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Save the Date! 2017 Spirit of Hope Gala

Saturday, March 11th
6:30 pm – 10:30 pm
Hilton Columbus Downtown
401 N. High Street

Registration and Sponsorship Information Coming Soon!

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Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 221-5891


Our Lady of Guadalupe Center
441 Industry Drive
Columbus, OH 43204
(614) 340-7061


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Newark, OH 43055
(740) 345-2565


St. Francis Catholic Outreach Center
2311 Stockham Lane
Portsmouth, OH 45662
(740) 353-3185


422 Main Street, Ste 400
P.O. Box 3446
Zanesville, OH 43702-3446
(740) 452-5057

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  • Catholic Social Services Stands in Solidarity with Immigrants and their Families

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE COLUMBUS, Ohio – Catholic Social Services joins its voice to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to raise concerns about President Donald J. Trump’s executive order to construct a wall at the U.S./Mexico border, increase immigrant detention and deportation, and halt funding to sanctuary cities. Catholic Social Services has a long […]

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