It’s mailbag time! I’ve received this same question from a number of different readers. So, perhaps you’ve been wondering about it as well.
I am cleaning up the house and happened upon some mail that I wanted to ask you about.
Namely, ever since I began attending Mass on a regular basis, I have been receiving donation requests from various Catholic organizations and charities. Actually, I have two questions. First, is there somewhere I can go to read reviews about different charities? I’d really like to choose one or two to support, but don’t have any way to evaluate them all. Second, several of these organizations send sacramentals with their request. I know I’m not supposed to throw away a sacramental, but these aren’t things I have asked for or really have a use for. What should I do with them? The most recent example is a small prayer folder containing a relic of St. Padre Pio. It’s a little plastic folder, so I can’t burn it or bury it. What do I do with it? There’s a prayer chapel in town with 24-hour adoration. Would it be appropriate to just leave it there so someone else who would like it can pick it up? Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.
You mean THIS small prayer folder containing a relic of St. Padre Pio?
This is a great question. (What are sacramentals? Find out here.)
As you point out, blessed objects should not be thrown away. For disposal, they must be buried in the ground or burned (and then the ashes returned to the ground). However, that only applies to objects that have actually been blessed, not all objects with a religious theme to them. The disposal of religiously-themed objects is not covered in canon
law or in the catechism or official doctrine of any kind. Therefore, it’s up
to each of us to make a decision based on our consciences. So, unless you’ve had them blessed, or you have reason to believe that they were blessed before you received them, you are free to dispose of them in any way you wish.
Unless it specifically says otherwise, the things that come from those charities are not blessed, and so could be thrown out. The St. Pio one is a special case, since it appears to be a relic. (It’s probably just a tiny piece from a bolt of brown cloth touched to his tomb, and therefore third class, but still.) If I didn’t have kids who wanted to cherish it (I do), I would probably take it out of the plastic sleeve and bury it in the yard. It can just hang out there, making the yard a tiny bit holier. Or, as you suggest, I’d take it to church with me and put it in the adoration chapel or on the table in the vestibule that has fliers on it. That’s a completely reasonable thing to do with all that stuff sent by charities. You never know, SOMEONE might want it.
As for which charities to donate to, that’s a very personal decision. And I’m sure everyone who reads my blog has her own opinion on which charities are worthy and why. But for us, we really try to give our money where it can have the most impact. So we try to look for organizations with the lowest overhead. We have personal contacts at both the Missionaries of Charity and Opus Dei, and we know that pretty much every single cent of what you send them goes to their work. The Missionaries of Charity support the poorest and sickest and most vulnerable all over the world. Opus Dei focuses on solid spiritual direction and Catholic formation for children and adults of all income levels.
Probably related to the lack of a staff or an office building, both are kind of hard to track down. In both cases, we called a residence to get a mailing address for them, because we couldn’t find anything online.
The US Motherhouse for the Missionaries of Charity is:
Missionaries of Charity
164 Milagra Dr.
Pacifica, CA 94044
Opus Dei has many residences, all work in their local communities. Here’s one:
The Woodlawn Foundation
770 S. Windsor Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90005
That’s not to say that charities with more overhead are up to no good, we also sometimes contribute to Catholic Charities or Catholic Relief Services, when there is a special fund set up for a specific disaster. We just feel especially comfortable giving to charities where we can personally vouch for at least some of the people involved.
And if you’re interested in helping one specific person fulfill one specific dream, you could send a few dollars Emily’s way, to help her become a missionary in Denver. Read more about her journey and how to donate here.
Hope that helps!
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At the Catholic college I attended, the chapel office would collect unwanted or broken sacramentals to distribute or burn/bury. I don't know if other parish offices offer that service, but you may want to check it out! (also, just for clarification, a cloth touched to St. Pio's tomb would be 3rd class. 2nd class covers items that the saint actually used, like St. Gianna's gloves).
Of course, my mistake, fixed it. 🙂
Ooh this is a great answer! I will offer a little input on rating charities – there are websites like Guidestar.org and CharityNavigator.org that can give you some financial info about charities.
Also be careful of judging a charity SOLELY on their over head costs. It can be a good indicator and can also be misleading. I think of it like a family owning a big house. Remember that it may be because they have a lot of kids to shelter, not because they're extravagant. Overhead is also needed for growth, just like in any business. This guy says it better than me: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong
I'm sure that's true. Our MAIN consideration is that in these two cases we personally know the people using the money, which is nice.
Thank you Tara for the comment about overhead. I have close friend who works in fundraising. Sometimes charities have a low overhead because they rely on volunteers or amateurs to fill major roles, which would actually be better served by paid staff who are more capable of doing a better or more efficient job.
I was told by a Franciscian religious priest that ANY object (blessed or not) with a holy image on it (ie. bible, prayer cards, etc, religious posters, statues.). should not be thrown away, but should be burned or buried.
There really isn't an official answer, since this topic is not covered in canon law or in the catechism or official doctrine of any kind. So, it's up to each of us to make a decision based on our consciences. To me burning or burying every piece of Catholic junk mail I get, plus church bulletins, greeting cards, informational flyers etc, seems unnecessarily burdensome. We take care with blessed items, but feel comfortable throwing away non blessed religious images.
Yeah…I don't worry about things like bulletins or flyers or cards or junk mail…those we just recycle. But, we do try to not throw away any holy cards, prayers cards, bibles, prayer books, even if they aren't blessed.
HI Kendra! Another idea for your readers is to look for a CCD teacher, DRE, or Catholic School teacher who can use those sacramentals to giveaway to their students. Sometimes those kids might not have their own rosary/scapular/prayer book- so this is a perfect/free way to help those teachers out. My coworkers and several ladies at church save all of their Catholic junk mail for me and it all get used. 🙂 Specifically, with my students I use a reward system where the kids earn and trade Saint cards. Those free ones that come in the mail are a welcome addition (no cost for me, and variety for the kids)! If anyone is interested how I make that work in my classroom, you can read about it here: Saint Trading Card Reward System Thanks!
Our DRE asked parishioners for donations of religious items to use in the “store” at the end of Catholic Kids Camp week. My kids loved getting a piece of Last Supper wall art and a picture of Padre Pio. The bottle of holy water was also a huge hit.
Interesting that you chose an image from the Universal Living Rosary Association for your "What to Do" meme! I believe the ULRA accepts sacramentals (holy cards, rosaries, etc.) and even used prayer books and missals to send to reliable catechists and missionaries in very poor parts of the world, where they are grateful to receive them and will treat them appropriately. You can contact the ULRA at philomena.org to ask questions. My experience is that they are delighted to receive sacramentals for the missions.
In our home parish, there is basket at the religious goods counter labeled Free, where people drop off and pick up 'spare' sacramentals. My mom grabs holy cards from there to give to her grandchildren, who each have a photo album for them.
It's a relief that the saint cards the kids got are not blessed, as they generally get tossed in fits of "why is nothing put away???" And I don't get any Catholic junk mail. I feel weirdly bad no one has sold my info.
I brought home my first ever holy water (we didn't keep any when I was a kid and I'm going to bless us! I'm excited) but what happens when someone inevitably spills (or possibly dumps….) some? Can I wipe it up and wash the towel?
According to this, it looks like you can either leave it to evaporate, or wipe it up and leave the cloth somewhere where it can dray and let the holy water evaporate before you wash it.
I also still support the Blessed Nuno now St Nuno Society in Duluth, MN. He has sure been a blessing to our family. From getting Jack a ticket to get his First Communion from Pope Benedict to helping us with our travel.
So a follow up question to this. I was helping a friend move and he had an old bible that he wanted to throw away. I took it with me to make sure that it was disposed of properly – but I am not sure what that is!
The bible is not a Catholic bible – it is the King James Version (The Criswell Study Bible) – so I am guessing that it has not been blessed. I've heard that if it's not blessed, it's ok to throw it away. I've heard from others that it's still God's Word and should be disposed of by burial (which is problematic because I live in a high rise apartment without any yard to call my own…. or dig a hole in). Do you have any guidance on this? Thanks Kendra!
I'd probably try to donate it, either to a used book store or a Goodwill-type shop. Even if it doesn't have all the books, it might be the only Bible someone can get!
Also, I recommend charitynavigator.org when researching different charities – they give you a pretty good idea based on public records as to how an organization uses their money. I too like my money going to a charity that is going to use it wisely, and I've found that charity navigator gives a pretty unbiased view on how an organization operates. So I take my list of possible charities over there to check them all out!
Another idea for the unwanted sacramentals and prayer cards… I save all mine for a prison ministry. There is a box at our church for this (so you may have to find one on your own). But the thought of bringing something beautiful (some of the things that I receive are really pretty and uplifting!) into an atmosphere like a prison makes me feel good about where they are going.
I have always wondered this!! Saving them and dropping them at a table in the vestibule near other paraphernalia is really a great idea. Thanks!
Kendra, When I was buying a rosary at the Postal Office, RIGHT outside of St. Peters at the
Vatican, I overheard a women tell the postal worker she would like to mail a blessed rosary to someone she was giving as a gift. The postal worker firmly and promptly told her that YOU CAN NOT SEND BLESSED SACRAMENTALS through the mail. She said she would have to hand deliver it.
That makes me wonder if the mail I received saying something is blessed, is really blessed, or they are not they are not aware of this fact or they know and it's a way for you to keep it and then feel guilty and donate. I asked my spiritual director/priest/benedictine monk what to do with all these
rosaries and he said, "That's a gimmick." Do what you want with it." The ideas of Mary Beth are good suggestions as you guessed it…….I still keep every thing!! Thanks for the ideas!!
Kendra, Post Script. I have the same Padre Pio booklet….anyone else?
Does anyone know if there are any charities in the UK (can mail overseas as well if necessary) that make use of mass cards that were received upon the death of a relative? My Uncle (Catholic Priest) died recently and my Mom literally got 100's of mass cards which she is loath to simply recycle if there are any charities out there that could use them (similar to those who reuse Christmas cards). Thanks!