I have really enjoyed the past month especially Christmas. There were so many beautiful ceremonies and celebrations. Our two Cathedrals provided many wonderful experiences and our gatherings of priests gave me the occasion to thank so many priests who worked so hard to make the people of God so happy. We were fortunate to have so many faith-filled families and individuals in our Churches praying and singing and taking care of others. Our people full of smiles and warm greetings were working to make others happy. I just pray that we can carry this sincere and beautiful time into this New Year. I am grateful to God for all of God’s graces that were given to so many.
This January has brought us one of the coldest winters I can remember in West Virginia and I know that many of you are very aware of that fact. It is important to remember all those who must work outside and those who suffer from the cold. The snow is really beautiful but it creates a lot of difficulties, especially for the elderly and for our children and young people who are unable to get to school. Each time there is a school cancellation, I recall the great number of our children throughout West Virginia whose daily nutritional needs are met by the National School Lunch Program, which provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost and free lunches to needy children. Some schools also offer a warm breakfast at no cost to qualifying children. These meals are often the only warm and nutritional meals that these children have each day. Long breaks because of snow become a many-layered hazard for such children who are often left at home alone and who do not have a hot meal or a balanced meal throughout the long breaks created by snow days. I am so grateful to the many parishes that sponsor or participate in BackPack Programs, which send needy children home with nutritional food each weekend to ensure their well-being.
As you can tell, this has been a growing area of concern for me as your Bishop. Nationally, more than 22 million children receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program. In our own state, more than 180,000 students participate in these programs in the schools where they are offered. BackPack Programs help to address the gap created when these children go home over the weekend and some regions of our State participate in a Summer Food Service Program. Nationally, only 3.9 million students receive these meals during the summer, about 17% of the number of students who receive these meals during the school year. In West Virginia, the numbers are similar. These numbers make it clear that we, as a community of faith, have much to do to care for our young people in need. I encourage parishes to consider supporting BackPack Programs in their area, to help close the gap for these children in need. We now set about making 2018 another good year in our lives. The occasions of grace are multiple and we start with the March for Life in Washington. Many West Virginians will travel and pray together to protect human life. There will be busses of our Catholic students traveling from all over and many adults and older people. I am always impressed with so many saintly people who really want to protect human life.