Before Cardinal Dolan did his traditional recitation of the birth of Jesus from the second chapter of St. Luke at the Waldorf Astoria for the 69th Cardinal’s Christmas Luncheon Dec. 8, he invited his guests to consider the familiar story from a different, perhaps more contemporary, perspective.
“We’re talking about a young woman, a woman named Mary, with what sociologists would call today a problem pregnancy, an untimely pregnancy,” the Cardinal said. “We’re talking about a young couple, Mary and Joseph, who are dealing with a crisis and wondered where to go. We’re talking about a young couple that had to hit the road and go traveling a long way from their support system, their family and friends. We’re talking about a young couple who were literally homeless and hungry the very night that their first born, whom they named Jesus, came to them. We’re talking about the family that we call holy, Jesus Mary and Joseph, who within a couple of weeks experienced intense violence, such a violent situation from a tyrant, they had to flee the City of Bethlehem. And we’re talking about a family that became refugees without a home in Egypt, a strange country.”
Indeed, they were the same kind of family, the Cardinal explained, that today might seek the aid of Catholic Charities. And he noted that there are thousands of families like Jesus, Mary and Joseph that Catholic Charities helps every day across the archdiocese.
“Thanks to God’s grace and thanks to the significant boost of good folks, like you, like Ana Laffont, like Bob and Joyce Giuffra, and like all of you who today raised close to $1 million dollars to help those families, we’re able to continue. We’re able to continue the love of God that was made incarnate in the one whose birthday we anticipate.”
The Cardinal was referring to the recipients of the luncheon’s annual Christmas Angel Award, which had just been presented to Ms. Laffont, and the Spirit of St. Nicholas Award, which went to the Giuffras. Ms. Laffont is chairman of the board for Mary’s Meals USA, a nonprofit organization that provides meals for impoverished children around the world. The organization has helped nearly 1 million children.
“This is a really a great and unexpected honor,” she said in acceptance. “I’m really humbled to have received this award, especially because it’s the first award that I have ever received. So I have to say thank you for putting a little bit of pressure on me by skipping straight to the Angel Award. Essentially it’s all downhill from here. Unless you decide to do the Archangel Award, I’m done,” she quipped.
Afterward she told CNY that she was surprised by her selection but said she was accepting the honor on behalf of all the “angels” at Mary’s Meals. “All those other people that I mentioned at Mary’s Meals should be getting it. I’m just a little bit the visible hand,” said the native of Spain, wife and mother of six.
“It’s a way that people will get to know Mary’s Meals, people that may be sensitive to the things that we do.”
In accepting the St. Nicholas Award Bob Giuffra spoke about his maternal grandmother, Mary McAnena, who arrived in the United States from the west coast of Ireland in 1922 at 19 alone and made a life herself working 50 years as a nurse.
“When she was 82 years old she was walking through a park and saw a woman with two small children eating pork and beans with their fingers from a can. She asked them a question that would change the last 19 years of her life,” he recounted, ‘Don’t you have a home?’ She went back home and brought some food for the woman. The next day she brought more food. Within a year, with the help of the priests and nuns and other volunteers from her parish, she was feeding dozens of people every day... today, 11 years after my grandmother’s passing, her soup kitchen (Mary’s Kitchen) feeds hundreds of people every year” in Orange, Calif.
Joyce Giuffra was also raised in a family in which her parents instilled the importance of faith and giving back. Both have had long careers in public service at the most senior levels of government and Bob in legal practice on Wall Street. The Giuffras have three children.
More than 1,000 attended the luncheon, which raised some $900,000 for Catholic Charities. Attendees were entertained by the Our Lady of Pompeii School Choir and by Isabel Leonard, an accomplished mezzo soprano of the Metropolitan Opera. Children from St. John Chrysostom School in the Bronx performed the Nativity tableau while Cardinal Dolan delivered the Gospel reading.