Fr. Cattany blesses an attendee of the annual Father Woody Christmas cash giveaway, Dec. 14, 2017.
Denver’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral just welcomed any homeless person for its annual cash giveaway.
Pastor Fr. Ron Cattany calls it “the greatest day of the year” for the parish.
During the annual event started by Fr. Woody in 1991, the cathedral hosts a prayer service and gives $20 – two $10 bills – to all of the poor and the homeless who attend.
The two bills gives the recipients the choice of giving one of them away.
“I got kind of a crabby e-mail about this event, saying ‘Why are you giving the homeless money, they’re just going to spend it on alcohol or drugs,’” said Fr. Ron, told CNA.
“And I responded back with a line from Father Woody: ‘Everybody needs a little cash in their pocket at Christmas,’” he said.
It gives them a sense of dignity, and a way for them to share in the generosity, he added.
“What’s beautiful is that sometimes what you’ll see here…is one of the guys will come up and say, ‘Today’s my birthday, will you give me a bunch of (McDonald’s) cards so I can take my buddies out to lunch on my birthday?’ And of course you do that because even from where they are, they’re giving and sharing with other people,” Cattany said.
Fr. Woody Started the Cash Give Away
The event all started 28 years ago, when an endowment fund was set up in honor and in the spirit of Monsignor Charles B. Woodrich – better known as Fr. Woody – a Denver priest renowned for his generous spirit and can-do attitude.
Fr. Woody established school lunch programs for poor children, opened his parish to the homeless during cold winter nights, and would routinely give his friends on the street the coats off his back and the cash in his pockets. Today, the name Father Woody is synonymous with charity in the Denver community.
Last week, the poor and homeless were lined up hours before the event. They filled the pews to standing room only for the prayer service. Afterwards, dozens of volunteers distributed the cash along with hugs and Merry Christmas greetings before receiving their cash, along with hugs and greetings of ‘Merry Christmas.’ They also receive McDonald’s gift cards, new socks and handmade hats.“It’s so cool to be here with so many people who experience homelessness, and so many of them we can call our friends, and to know that God loves them the same and that they are so welcome here,” Emma Rashilla, a missionary with Christ in the City, told CNA.
The Real Meaning of Christmas
“These are the people who are usually on the outside looking in, and now they’re on the inside, and it doesn’t matter if they’re Catholic or Christian,” or have no faith, all are welcome, Fr. Cattany added.
“It shows the real meaning of giving, of sharing gifts and showing your emotional and spiritual awareness of the real reason for Christmas which is that Christ is born that day,” Kevin, one of the attendees, told CNA.
“When you don’t have much to give, you don’t feel so jolly, but when someone gives you something, it makes you feel more generous,” he added.
“It’s people getting together and seeing old friends, (I feel) highly favored and blessed,” said Wilma, another attendee.
Odalis Hernandez, a senior at Regis University who was handing out knit hats from the students in the university’s Father Woody program, said she was inspired to start helping people after seeing a movie about Fr. Woody.
“It’s something that I wouldn’t have done without the inspiration of someone like that,” she said.
It’s All About Service
Lovey Shipp worked as Father Woody’s secretary for several years before he passed away in 1991, and still cherishes many “Father Woody-isms.” She’s participated in every cash giveaway since it began 28 years ago.
“Father Woody used to say, ‘service is the rent you pay for the space you take up,’” she told CNA.
“He taught people with money how to give. It’s not yours, it’s by God’s grace that you have it, you could be one of the homeless if he saw fit to do so,” she said.
She encouraged anyone who desires to help the homeless this season to “keep an open mind and have your heart match. That’s what Father Woody did.”
“Just give,” she added. “Give from the heart. And smile!”
photo: Catholic News Agency