There are few things in this world more joyful than a child on Christmas morning and knowing that a donation to a charity will help change someone’s life for the better.
Sister Joan Pytlik, DC, diocesan minister for religious, said, “It’s nice to receive a gift, but I don’t believe Christmas is about giving expensive gifts,” she said. “After all, it is Jesus’ birthday, and we can give gifts to him present in those who are poor.”
In part two of the Arkansas Catholic gift-giving guide, Diocese of Little Rock leaders share their top gifts for children and teenagers, as well as favorite charities to donate to this season.
Books, music and movies are available from major bookstores and amazon.com unless otherwise noted.
• “Youcat,” which is the Catechism of the Catholic Church written for youth to understand, and “Docat,” which explains the social justice teachings of the Church and was released during World Youth Day 2016 in Kraków, Poland, in July.
• Music by Matt Maher, a Catholic singer-songwriter who has had four singles on the Top 25 Christian Songs Billboard chart.
He is “very current” for young people, said Liz Tingquist, diocesan director of youth and campus ministry. His eighth studio album, “Saints and Sinners,” was released March 2015.
• Patron saint medal
Seminarian Alex Smith said he wears a St. Jude medal every day to remind him that those in his home parish, St. Jude in Jacksonville, are praying for him.
“If they’re confirmed, give them a saint medal and say ‘This person’s with you at all the time,’” he said, adding if they like to read, “give them a book of a saint.”
Items like a Benedictine cross or religious medals can help inspire young people to live out their faith, Smith said.
• Clothing from Christianstrong.com
Family Life Office director Elizabeth Reha said she has bought shirts with religious sayings on them for her godchildren. The site has shirts with sayings such as “Walk the Road to Heaven” and “Jesus Strong.”
“I always appreciate the saying ‘expressing who you are and whose you are.’ Wearing something that reflects that … is a way to say to the children what’s important but also they become a force in the world about what’s important,” she said.
• Anything published by St. Mary’s Press
Little Rock Scripture Study Director Cackie Upchurch said St. Mary’s Press is the leader in writing and publishing young adult, teenager and children’s religious books, Bibles and other resources.
“I think what they’ve produced is just hard to beat; it’s very user friendly,” she said. | smp.org
• Catholic Words Memory Match
The classic memory card game includes pictures of religious items to match, including monstrances, altars and purificators. Father Erik Pohlmeier, director of faith formation and permanent diaconate formation, said his nieces and nephews have enjoyed the game.
“It teaches kids to recognize the objects” at church, he said. “I hear them at Mass pointing out those things. It’s a fun game and teaches them a lot.” | catholicwords.com
• “Juan Diego: The Messenger of Guadalupe” movie
Sister Norma Muñoz, MCP, director of the Hispanic Ministry Office, said “Juan Diego” is a 30-minute cartoon — available in English, Spanish and French — that is entertaining and also gives the true message of Our Lady of Guadalupe when she appeared to St. Juan Diego.
“The dialogue between Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego is basically from the original story,” she said. “I even used it with grownups and teenagers.”
It is part of the “Saints & Heroes Collection,” 11 cartoons for children featuring saints and religious figures including St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bernadette and St. Nicholas by CCC of America. | cccofamerica.com/shop/saints-heroes-collection
Instead of giving a material gift, making a donation in someone’s name can be both personal and a way to give back to those in need.
“When you make a donation to something, some worthy cause honoring a friend or family member, for it to be truly appreciated they need to see the impact that gift is going to have on some need in the world,” said Cliff Yeary, associate director of Little Rock Scripture Study.
Seminarian Alex Smith said volunteering time can also be valuable to charities this Christmas.
“It’s not for your own ego or popularity, you do it because Christ’s love is there to help the person next to you. You want to do it in the name of the Lord and I think that’s important to recognize,” Smith said.
For the past 20 years, Sister Joan has visited inmate Dewayne Hulsey, who converted to Catholicism and was previously on death row, but is now serving a life sentence without parole. She said that inmates have to buy their own toiletries, shoes and other basic necessities and without money sent by friends or relatives, they go without. People can donate to prison accounts by visiting adc.arkansas.gov, clicking the Online Services tab and then Inmate Deposit Service. Their Arkansas Department of Correction identification number must be typed in, which can be searched for on the deposit service page.
“The first thing is that somebody thought about them and cared,” Sister Joan said about why Catholics should consider donating to inmates this Christmas. “Then, of course, it gives them the opportunity not to always be begging and struggling to get some money.”
There are also many families throughout the state, including immigrants and refugees, who will struggle this Christmas.
Catholic Charities of Arkansas executive director Patrick Gallaher said, “We without fail receive calls from several families looking for gifts or financial support so they can be able to provide for their family gifts for the holidays.”
Donations can be requested to go toward a specific ministry, like immigration or adoption services, or through the Family Assistance Program.
“If it were the donor’s intent for it to go to a particular family we’d satisfy the donor’s intent. If the donor specifically wanted to help a family of undocumented immigrants, we’d help with that. If they wanted to help a birth mother and her family, we’d help that. Or general needs through family assistance,” he said. “This is a time of year where there is a great emotional need as well as a financial need.”
In addition to supporting local parishes, schools and charities, here are some other Catholic charities diocesan leaders suggest donating time or money to this Christmas season:
• Cristo Rey Network
Provides college preparatory education to low-income students in urban areas while following Jesuit teachings | cristoreynetwork.org; (312) 784-7200
• Catholic Relief Services
Guided by the Gospel and Catholic social and moral teaching to help the poor and vulnerable throughout the world | crs.org; (888) 277-7575
• Jesuit Refugee Services
Accompany, serve and advocate for refugee rights | jrsusa.org; (202) 629-5939
• Catholic Charities of Arkansas
Provides ministries in immigration, adoption and disaster relief; CCA also offers services for those dealing with addictions, prison ministry, social action and the Westside Free Medical Clinic. | dolr.org/catholic-charities; (501) 664-0340
• Jericho Way, homeless day resource center
Run by Catholic organization Depaul USA, it provides resources including laundry services, showers, meals and job and housing assistance to the homeless | us.depaulcharity.org; (501) 297-8904
• Settled Souls
Ministry with volunteers from Little Rock and North Little Rock parishes who assist Jericho Way in collecting and giving household items to the homeless who have been put into housing. | E-mail: ; Stephanie Byers, (501) 590-6819
• Couple to Couple League
Teaches natural family planning to married or engaged couples and provides resources for healthy marriages | ccli.org; (513) 471-2000
• Catholic Schools Scholarship Appeal
Helps Catholic schools in Arkansas close the gap on funding for tuition assistance | givecentral.org/arkansas; (501) 664-0340
• Helping Hand of Greater Little Rock
Supplies food, thrift shop items including clothing and limited financial assistance to more than 1,000 needy families in Pulaski County each month | lrhelping hand.com; (501) 372-4388
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