By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff – July 20, 2017
Compassion is the word that embodies the Vatican-appointed Missionary of Mercy, Franciscan Father Anthony Aarons. Although the Year of Mercy has come to a close, all Missionaries of Mercy are asked to continue their service indefinitely. As a natural extension of this position, Father Aarons was recently named chaplain for Catholic Charities of Central Florida.
When Gary Tester, Catholic Charities executive director, came to the diocese two years ago, employees were participating in Mass on site with a visiting priest once per quarter. Carol Brinati, Chancelor, recommended that Catholic Charities have a chaplain. Seeking to enhance the ministry aspect of their services, Tester agreed and, with the support of Brinati and Bishop Noonan, were blessed to have Fr. Tom Walden, then parochial administrator at St. Maximilian Kolbe, agree to the role. Through his ministry staff at the headquarters office began celebrating Mass together weekly. This July, with Fr. Walden appointed as pastor at St. John Vianney and no longer able to continue the growing chaplaincy ministry, , Bishop Noonan asked Father Aarons to take on the role in early July and Tester is excited to work with him as he builds on what Father Walden started.
“It’s a beautiful relay,” said Tester. “We respond to a Gospel call to minister to those in need. Having a chaplain on board helps to cement the Catholic identity that drives what we do at Catholic Charities.”
“The role of a chaplain is a vibrant role,” he added. “The roles we fulfill are very difficult roles. You’re dealing with people in poverty, every day; with people who don’t understand the U.S., every day. You are dealing with people who are on the verge of homelessness, every day. That taxes the soul. It’s very hard work. Celebrating the Eucharist every Friday together reminds us of the value of what we do. We are strengthened spiritually, mentally and emotionally through the Eucharist. Our chaplain can do that for us.”
Father Aarons plans to spend each Friday at Catholic Charities. He said, “The highpoint of the day will be having a Mass at noon. We will have the Sacrament of Reconciliation each Friday at 11 am. The first Friday of the month we will Mass at 9 am, then have Eucharistic Adoration until 3 pm. At the end of Adoration, we will recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.”
“There are two things that mark out what Catholic Charities is about,” he noted. “One is Catholic social teaching and I believe that is where a priest helps focus on what the Church teaches. Also, the dignity of the human person, I believe the priest, as a chaplain will help keep people faithful to that.”
“There are also the works of mercy, whether they are the spiritual or corporal works of mercy,” he noted. “Catholic Charities is here to provide that for all those who come in through her doors, whether they be clients or staff members because one cannot show mercy if one has not received mercy.” He adds, “Selfishly, because I am still serving as a Missionary of Mercy, I am so glad to provide that for Catholic Charities.”
Father Aarons said his role is “…being a presence for the staff as well as those who are being served by the staff.” He will also be a part of their in-service days, days of reflection and board meetings. Additionally, he will endeavor to provide ministry to guests of Catholic Charities through pastoral care when he is on site as well as performing important ministries such as blessing the homes of newly housed individuals.