In 'Indian' Collection, Where Does Money Go?

WASHINGTON — Feb. 29 marks the 120th anniversary of the national collection for black and Indian missions, an annual fund drive that raises more than $8 million a year to support schools, assistance programs and evangelization efforts in some of the poorest and most-remote communities in the United States.

Established by the Third Plenary Council in 1884, it is the oldest Catholic parishioner fund drive in the nation. The fund's success has led to a dozen more parish second collections supporting a variety of special missions for the Catholic Church in America and around the world.

Administered by the Black and Indian Mission Office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the annual drive raised $8.5 million and distributed $8.4 million in grants during 2003. Approximately $5.2 million of the grants went to support diocesan schools and out-reach programs in disadvantaged and predominantly black communities as well as Xavier University in New Orleans, the only Catholic, historically black college in the nation, and the National Black Catholic Congress.

The balance, approximately $3.2 million, was distributed to several diocese and religious orders serving about 4.1 million Native Americans, including 500,000 Native American Catholics.

While the budget remains large, the director of the Black and Indian Mission Office, Msgr. Paul Lenz, warns it is insufficient to meet the needs of the black, Indian, Eskimo and Aleut communities who depend on it.

“Each year, [dioceses] appeal to [us] for help in the tasks of parish support and evangelization, and each year we endeavor to provide this support, but the needs continue to exceed available funds,” Msgr. Lenz said.

“The result has been the forced closing of Catholic schools that served the impoverished rural and reservation communities, the curtailment of programs that sought to reach out to those who would seek to know the love of Christ and diminished support even for those most basic, compelling efforts to feed and clothe the children of poverty,” he added.

One of the largest recipients was the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama, which was awarded $120,000 in 2003 to support parish programs designed to assist disadvantaged African American families. The value of the contribution is more than just financial, Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb said. “Our families see it as an indication that the wider Church in America is interested in what happens to them. That inspires them, and it inspires our parishioners to match that commitment through their own parish collections.”

For the Native American communities, the issue is more than monetary. There is also an ongoing effort to adapt the Church's mission to meet the needs of a population in transition. The March 2003 report, “Native American Catholics at the Millennium”, written by the Ad Hoc Committee on Native American Catholics, highlighted the change and the challenge it presents.

“Fewer than one-fifth of Native Americans live on federal reservations or trust lands, with an additional 16.5% living on state or tribally designated lands,” the report said. “The single-largest proportion of American Indians, 42.4%, live in smaller towns and rural areas.”

As a result, the vast majority of dioceses in the United States have a significant number of Native Americans, while only about half have programs specifically designed to serve and evangelize them.

“Very few have a pastoral plan addressing Native American concerns,” the report said, “either as a separate document or as part of a diocese-wide plan.”

‘Essential to Us’

Since ministry to Native Americans has historically involved the construction and operation of churches, schools, orphanages and hospitals, the challenge is now one of moving beyond the institutions to address the needs of communities, both in and outside the reservations, the report said.

“No single model will fit all dioceses, but identification of options, with their advantages and drawbacks highlighted, could assist bishops in their responsibilities to the [Native American] community.”

As chairman of the ad hoc committee, Bishop Donald Pelotte's Diocese of Gallup, N.M., is at the forefront of finding those options. The rural diocese, straddling the northern Arizona-New Mexico border, incorporates the Navajo and Zuni nations as well as the Acoma and Laguna pueblos.

The Diocese of Gallup also serves the largest concentration of Native American Catholics in the United States. Because of that, it is both a leading advocate for native ministry and a major beneficiary of the annual collection for black and Indian missions, spokesman Timoteo Lujan said.

“The collection is essential to us,” Lujan said. “Without it, we wouldn't be able to do what we do, and that's maintaining a presence in the Native American communities through the sacraments, catechesis and the corporal works of mercy.”

The diocese has been promoting the Builders of a New Earth lay formation program for Native Americans as well as recruiting and training lay ministers and seeking vocations to the priesthood, religious life and diaconate.

“The effort has been well received,” Lujan said.

Agreeing with Msgr. Lenz, Lujan said funding limitations mean unmet needs.

“We'd really like to increase our outreach, especially those providing food and clothing, as well as enlarge our alcoholism and domestic-abuse programs.”

“Our bishop's efforts are very welcome and the work of individual priests and deacons is welcomed by the [Native American] communities, but we're limited,” Lujan said. “This is a very rural location without population centers or much technology to help us [overcome the distances]. Those are the things we really struggle with.”

Despite being closer to urban centers and technology, the Diocese of Tucson struggles with many of the same issues, said Chancellor June Kellen. The diocese, which includes the sprawling Tohono O'Odham Nation, as well as the Pascua Yaqui, San Carlos Apache and Cocopah-Yuma reservations, received $90,000 from the Black and Indian Mission Collection in 2003.

The funding went to support the San Solano Mission near San Xavier del Bac, as well as missions to Yuma and Apache. It also funded the diocese's vicar for Native American affairs and urban out-reach programs for Indians living in metropolitan Tucson. While a wealthier area than Gallup, Kellen said the support from the collection is crucial “to keeping these missions afloat.”

“Unless you go and actually see how the people are struggling, you don't really understand the value of these missions,” she said. “These are important to their communities in so many ways, but there's so much more that needs doing. We're just glad that the collection continues to get the support it does, because it continues to make an enormous difference in the lives of so many.”

Philip S. Moore writes from Vail, Arizona.