Giving your pennies to Peter or Mary

“It’ll be interesting,” a reader said to me in an email today, “to see if Peter’s Pence brings in more than in the past — that’d be a sure sign of the ‘Francis effect,’ wouldn’t it?”

Peter’s Pence is an annual, global collection of the Catholic church. The money goes directly to the pope, who uses it to “provide emergency assistance to those in need because of natural disaster, war, oppression, and disease,” according to the website of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

The collection is take up annually in parishes around the world in late June. This year it will be weekend of June 28-29.

The practice, according to the bishops’ website, dates from 9th century England when King Alfred the Great assessed landowners a “pence” for financial support of the pope.

The last two financial reports that the Vatican releases in July each year record Peter’s Pence collections of $82.5 million in 2009, $67.7 million in 2010, $69.7 million in 2011 and $65.9 million in 2012.

A quick search of the Catholic News Service archives suggests that the U.S. has been in the top or among the top two or three donor countries to the fund since at least 2000.

Over the last 10 years, U.S. Catholics have sent nearly $190 million to Peter's Pence, the bishops' Office of National Collections estimates based on diocesan reporting. It's an estimate because funds go directly from dioceses to the apostolic nunciature, not through the bishops' office itself.

The theme for the 2014 collection is “Be a Witness of Charity” and focuses on the need to show Christ’s love to others.

“The Peter’s Pence Collection is a way for individual Catholics to help Pope Francis as he reaches out to our suffering brothers and sisters around the world,” said Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, the chairman of the committee on national collections for the bishops’ conference.

Now I’m not advocating anything here, just sharing information. I know some people who want to support development and relief work in the developing world, but also want an alternative to Peter’s Pence. These people give to Mary’s Pence.

From more than 25 years, Mary’s Pence has been helping found projects in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, including farms and markets, small businesses and job-training programs. It focuses especially on projects that are self-sustaining and run by women. “We invest in projects that support women’s well-being – physical, social and economic,” Mary’s Pence website says.

A Mary’s Pence grantee was profiled in a recent issue of NCR. Water With Blessings works with parish partners in Central America, mainly Honduras, to provide water filtration systems to marginalized communities around the world. That sounds like a project even Pope Francis would support.

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