Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago will once again have the opportunity to demonstrate stewardship in the form of the Annual Catholic Appeal, which will be announced the weekend of Feb. 19 and 20. The following weekend, parishioners will be asked to make a commitment to support the appeal, whose theme is " … seek first the kingdom of God" (Mt 6:33). Pledges can be fulfilled over the course of the year. This year's appeal is starting a little later than usual because Easter is late this year, said Barbara Collins, director of the Annual Catholic Appeal. It always runs the three weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, which this year is March 9. The 2010 appeal proved very successful, with more than 93,000 households giving $16.5 million, up more than $1 million from the previous year, Collins said. "It's the wonderful people of the archdiocese who understand that these are hard times and people need help," said Collins. "I've had phone calls from people who said they were increasing their giving because they knew people were in dire straits." So many benefits The appeal is the annual campaign to support the ministries of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Proceeds are used to make grants to needy parishes and schools, especially offering school scholarships and providing religious education in economically disadvantaged parishes; recruit and provide education and formation for lay ministers, deacons and priests. The appeal also supports Catholic Relief Services in its emergency response and development work around the world; pays for ministries that provide care, comfort and counseling to those in need; and promotes respect for life from conception until natural death. "In the name of Jesus in the archdiocese, we welcome, we serve and we support," Cardinal George wrote in his annual appeal message. "We welcome everyone who wants to share new life in Christ Jesus. We serve the world, especially those among us who are most in need. We support one another as we make our pilgrim way to the fullness of life in God's kingdom. Every school, every parish, every organization, every material and personal resource of our church finds its direction in welcome, service, and support." Parish target Each parish has a target of 6 percent of its annual ordinary collection income. As long as the parishes follow the appeal procedures — announcing the appeal the weekend before, playing Cardinal George's homily on commitment weekend and offering an opportunity for anyone who missed commitment weekend to pledge the following weekend — there is no penalty if they do not meet their goals. If parishioners from any given parish exceed the parish's goal, the extra money is rebated to the parish for its own needs, Collins said. Last year, $2.5 million was rebated to parishes, Collins said.