A Treasured Encounter: Honoring the Stories of Fair Trade Month

cross-670244_960_720October is Fair Trade Month, a time when we are invited in a special way to reflect on and lift up the dignity and rights of workers throughout the world.  While we are called to make ethical purchases throughout the year, Fair Trade Month provides us with the opportunity to share the stories and the people behind the products. Recently, I was able to hear one of those stories and was reminded of why supporting Fair Trade products is so important.

I was finishing set-up for my display of Fair Trade crafts and chocolates at the Annual Convention of the Palm Beach Diocesan Council of Catholic Women when I placed a sign that read: “My work makes me very happy because it has enabled me to send my daughter to school.”  The sign had a photo of Etia and her daughter, a picture I had taken from the tag of the pond critter planters made in Bangladesh.  Most Fair Trade products from SERRV have a tag that shares a story about the artisan that made it. “I have never met Etia,” I said to myself as I wished that someday I would have the opportunity to meet one of the many artisans who create the products sold in the CRS Ethical Trade/SERRV catalogs.

At that moment, I looked up and I saw a man walking by my booth. For an instant, I thought he was going to be my first customer, but he continued walking as if taking a panoramic view of my display. Then he left.  After a few minutes, he came back and walked from one end of my table to the other end and then walked away again.  Since this was a women’s conference, I gathered he must have been someone’s husband who had come to drop off his wife. But he came back again.

“My father used to make those crosses in Bethlehem,” he said, pointing to an olive wood cross from the West Bank displayed at my table. In disbelief, I asked him: “Your father made crosses in Bethlehem?”  “Yes,” he answered. “My father made crosses like that one.”  “Are you from Bethlehem?” I asked.  “Yes, I was born in Bethlehem,” he said. “My name is Tariq Hamad.”

Tariq then proceeded to tell me how a woman named Barbara, who came from SERRV, would come by his father’s shop in Bethlehem every year and buy a large number of crafts from him.  “This helped our family survive financially,” he said. Tariq was in high school when Barbara first came, and she continued to come back every year even while Tariq was in college.  “When I went to study at the Aristotle University in Greece, my dad was able to send me money each month and this helped me to continue my studies,” he added. Tariq emigrated from Greece to the United States after he finished his education. He now resides in Miami where he has his own religious gifts shop named “Bethlehem Treasures.” He was present at the Conference of Catholic Women this day as an exhibitor.

I have been the CRS Diocesan Director in Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach since 2011.  From the beginning, I was sold on the principles of Fair Trade that protect the rights of workers and empower the poor and vulnerable by guaranteeing fair wages that allow them to send their children to school. In 2013, I was a member of a Delegation from the United States that visited several CRS programs in Rwanda, including a coffee cooperative that put Fair Trade principles into practice. During this experience, we met the coffee farmers and heard their testimonies, but I had never met someone whose family had been a beneficiary of the crafts that I sell at the CRS Ethical Trade sales.  I never imagined that I would ever meet a beneficiary of Fair Trade whose father could say:  “My work makes me very happy because I have been able to help my son continue his studies at the university.”  This indeed was an encounter that I will treasure and will further motivate my involvement with CRS Ethical Trade for years to come.

As we continue to celebrate Fair Trade Month, learn more and discover how you can support workers, farmers, and artisans like Tariq and his father:

Elena Muller Garcia

 

Elena M. Garcia is Director of Parish Social Ministry and CRS Diocesan Director at Catholic Charities Diocese of Palm Beach.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Live Out the Resurrection

“Jesus himself is the model of the Good Samaritan; by imitating his love and compassion, we show ourselves truly to be his followers.” –Pope Francis

Lent is a time of preparation for the Resurrection. During these 40 days, we have an opportunity to walk with Jesus and reflect on his suffering, and the suffering of so many communities worldwide. How do we respond?

The Good Samaritan is moved with compassion at the sight of seeing his neighbor in need. In his compassion, he suffered with—and we are called to do the same when we encounter another person who is suffering. Whether the man in the parable or so many of our brothers and sisters in need around the world, we can follow the Samaritan’s example. The Church always challenges us to show compassion particularly for those who are most vulnerable. As we look out at our world, we see countless refugees, migrants, women, men and children on the move, fleeing violence, economic hardship, persecution and climate injustice. These are some of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” That question applies to us, too, and the answer must include these individuals on the move. As we encounter them on life’s roads, do we allow ourselves to be moved with compassion, as the Good Samaritan was? Ultimately, this Lent, we prepare for the joy of the Resurrection. That joy is something we are called to share; it is a way of living.

How does this joy guide our acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, especially where refugees, migrants and others suffering are concerned? How will you prepare for the coming of the Easter season as a time to imitate Jesus’ self-sacrificing love?

Find this video and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection here.

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Give

The Parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that almsgiving is an act of charity that shares God’s love with our brothers and sisters in need.

At the end of the parable, Jesus asks his disciples to name who was “neighbor” in the story. Jesus urges his followers to prioritize love and mercy, which motivate us to do for another. Almsgiving is an exercise in mercy—a gift of self for the betterment of another.

Jesus’ invitation is to go out and be the Good Samaritan for others, to break down barriers that make us strangers and instead build bridges that make us neighbors. By going out to encounter others, we necessarily must allow others to encounter us. We walk together. We become companions on the journey. And, we become a church that goes out to encounter, as Pope Francis has so often said.

What act of almsgiving will you undertake this Lent? How will that action respond to Jesus’ invitation to “Go and do likewise”?

Find this video, featuring Lisa Hendey of CatholicMom.com, and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection, here.

CRS staff Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Fast

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) reminds us that fasting helps us encounter those things about ourselves that prevent us from loving God and neighbor.

How does the Parable of the Good Samaritan point to fasting? In this story, we see the Good Samaritan quite literally giving something up—his own, hard-earned money. The question then, of course, is this: How does this giving up of something make room for the needs of another in our life? How does fasting become something that is focused on and oriented towards others? Again, the parable shows us the way. What the Good Samaritan gives up immediately goes to meet the needs of another.

We can easily reflect on how we might have otherwise spent two silver coins: a cup of coffee, a meal out, etc. Do we follow the Good Samaritan’s example in our own fasting? The Good Samaritan pledges to return and promises that if the innkeeper spends more than those two coins, the Samaritan will be sure to reimburse him. That’s an act of fasting that is offered freely, without counting the cost.

How can we commit our Lenten fasts to make room for those in need in our lives—and in our world? How can our Lenten fasts remove the walls that separate us from our neighbors—and God?

Find this video, which features Dr. Hosffman Ospino, PhD, and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection.

CRS staff Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Pray

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) reminds us that prayer is an encounter with Christ, who is present in every member of our human family.

This is a story about people encountering one another on one of life’s roads. So many of us are tempted to pass by others without recognizing their needs, their common dignity. In this story, that’s not the case. The Samaritan, traveling down the road, was “moved with compassion at the sight.” This is the moment of encounter—a prayerful experience of seeing Christ in the face of the stranger.

We must be open to experiencing God in our encounter with others. In fact, this can be a powerful form of prayer. What if we aren’t encountering someone on a physical road? We can still encounter others in our prayer by calling to mind their stories, the faces of individuals on the news, etc.

How can we embody this call to encounter in our prayer this Lent? How can our Lenten prayer be both a moment of encounter and a “walking with” our fellow travelers on life’s roads?

Find this video, which features Prof. Helen Alvaré, JD, and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection.

CRS staff Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

Forging a Path to Interreligious Action for Peace

What does it take to build peace among people divided by religion? Is it dialogue about beliefs, traditions, and values that creates greater understanding, and thus more harmony? Or is it joint action that generates cooperation and strengthens relationships? The resounding answer from Catholic Relief Services’ interreligious peacebuilding experience is: both. Talking theology matters, but so does the opportunity to work side-by-side and put values into practice.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has been supporting peace and development efforts since the height of the country’s civil war, programs invite people to connect through dialogue and action. Young people, many of whom attend segregated schools and have never heard stories of the war from the perspective of other ethnic and religious groups, jointly visit one another’s places of worship, perform musical concerts together, and collaborate on art exhibitions, and carry out cooperative community initiatives across religious lines. These shared activities are important to create common experiences and connections.

But deeply held perceptions and attitudes do not change through these joint activities alone; it is also important to delve into values and histories that connect and divide people. Young people have the opportunity to do so through seminars, dialogue sessions, and participatory theatre. Another important tool that CRS has been using in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been “Speaking Out” events, in which war victims share their stories of suffering at the hands of other ethnic and religious groups, and their journeys towards reconciliation. For many in the audience, young and older, this may be the first time that they are confronted with the “other side’s” narrative of the past. While this is challenging, it also opens them to the possibility of greater empathy for people from the other groups.

The stronger relationships and improved mutual understanding that emerge from activities like these prepare the ground for concrete steps towards reconciliation. These can include local initiatives involving ordinary citizens as well as building a vision for changes in the institutions that touch the lives of the broader population. A case in point is a national “Platform for Peace” just recently adopted by the highest level of government in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This Platform, developed at CRS’ initiative in collaboration with local partners and a range of key leaders, commits government officials and other authorities to work for long-term peace and reconciliation through measures such as institutionalizing trust-building mechanisms, reducing divisive rhetoric, and promoting peace education in schools. Over 40% of the country’s mayors have also signed on to the Platform for Peace, and have pledged to dedicate resources from their local budgets to put it into action.

In another landmark move, the deans of the country’s three theology schools – Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim – recently announced a joint Master’s degree program in interreligious peacebuilding. This program, which will accept its first students in the fall, is the first of its kind in the region. It is the fruit of several years of patient and steady work on the part of the seminary representatives, supported and accompanied by CRS as they worked to bring their vision to life. Graduates of the program will emerge with a strong grounding in the three faith traditions’ teaching on peace, justice, and ethics; internship experiences will also give them strong practical skills to contribute to forging unity in their communities and country.

What barriers divide people of different faiths in your community? What opportunities do you see to forge connections across these barriers, through dialogue and action?

Nell Bolton is Senior Technical Advisor for Justice & Peacebuilding at Catholic Relief Services.

To learn more about what works in interreligious peacebuilding, download a copy of CRS’ new book, Interreligious Action for Peace: Studies in Muslim-Christian Cooperation.

Easter: We Encounter Resurrection

When the risen Jesus encounters his disciples on the road to Emmaus, it’s quite clear that their journeying away from Jerusalem is in fact a journeying away from hope. They have witnessed their friend, their hoped-for savior die; they have seen their community scattered; they have understood their trust in God to have been misplaced. What is left for them now?

Jesus, of course, turns them around—quite literally. The encounter with the risen Christ means a renewed encounter with hope; that God is not done yet; that darkness and suffering do not have the final word.

Indeed, this story continues to unfold in our own time. We look out at a world wracked by hunger, poverty, war, injustice and we, too, feel like walking away. Where should we place our hope when the challenges seem insurmountable?

This is the story of resurrection. We encounter Christ daily in the faces of our neighbors, of those we meet in our work, our home, on our streets, those whom we have yet to meet face to face but with whom we are intricately tied as members of God’s one human family. We encounter Christ, too, within ourselves. And in these encounters, we have reason to hope. Because God is not done yet—and so long as we have strength to continue the work of building a culture of encounter, of responding to our Gospel call, neither are we.

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections. Don’t forget to turn in your Lenten alms to CRS Rice Bowl!

Going Deeper

How are you called to join with others to “turn around” and challenge injustice that you see or experience? How can you work with others to be a sign of Christ’s resurrection in your community?

Read about how, in the face of the violence and unrest that followed the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has served as a witness to God’s love and hope.  Read these recommendations from the USCCB Special Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities for ways your faith community can work to build peace and end racial injustice.

Encounter Dita

Tena is one of many children severely affected by the worst drought in 50 years, prolonged by El Nino. Photo by Petterik Wiggers for Catholic Relief Services.

Tena is one of many children severely affected by the worst drought in 50 years, prolonged by El Nino. Photo by Petterik Wiggers for Catholic Relief Services.

When we think of those goods the poor are stripped of daily, there are probably several key items that come to mind: food, water, and shelter, to name a few. We so often see countries rich in resources, and yet, the people of those countries live in poverty. How do we ensure that the wonders of the natural world are used in a sustainable, equitable way? Giving a man a fish, as the old adage goes, only solves the problem for the day.

Pope Francis says it best in his encyclical, Laudato Si’: “We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Dita’s story of resilience and success in the face of a devastating drought in Ethiopia brings the pope’s quote to life. Dita, her husband and their seven children depend on the money they earn selling crops from their small farm in Ethiopia. But frequent droughts often mean that families like Dita’s who depend on home-grown crops go hungry. And amidst the current historic drought, more than 10 million people are struggling with hunger.

But thanks to a CRS program that helps families prepare for crises like droughts, Dita was able to build a new house and open a small store. Instead of relying solely on what she can grow on her farm, she is able to sell items like pasta, shampoo, and bananas. She earns a steady $400 a month.

“Before, I had to get eggs from my neighbors. Now I have 15 hens,” she proclaims. Saving money and being able to borrow not only allowed her to buy hens but also a metal roof for her new house, a rarity for families in this part of Ethiopia.

“Now we have no problems with food,” she says. Unlike families across Ethiopia that struggle to find enough to eat, Dita says her children eat three times a day, thanks to her newfound business knowledge.

And what’s more, all her children are attending school. “When I was a child, there were no education opportunities,” she says. Then, with a shy but proud smile, she adds, “That’s a big difference.”

The environment and the people that inhabit it are interconnected; all of God’s creation is one. God calls us to be stewards of the resources which we have been given, to look out for one another by sharing and collaborating, rather than grabbing up everything we can get now and worrying about others later. After all, teaching a man to fish will be of little value if we’ve left a polluted pond.

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.

Encounter Maria

As Catholics, we go to God together. We’re all in this together. God’s family extends beyond time and space, and we’re called as individuals to participate in that family, both in the daily realities in which we find ourselves and in that eternal reality to which God calls us. Our participation matters, whether it’s buying a homeless man a sandwich, spending time with our parents, or supporting just and fair social systems.

That’s why the saints are so important: women and men who have gone before us who shine the light so that we can see, who relate to us in their humanity and call us beyond ourselves in their examples of holiness. Some of these men and women walked with Christ himself; others lived years later; still others we know from our own lives. This is what it means to be in community—to be a part of God’s community: that we look to one another for support, for prayer, for inspiration and motivation along the journey, because we’re all just pilgrims on the road.

And that’s why we go out into the world; that’s why we build the Reign of God on earth. We should never grow tired of hearing St. Teresa of Calcutta’s words: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” We are called to be saints today; we are called to holiness. And we are called to go to God together. So, as members of a community that stretches far beyond ourselves, we go out to our brothers and sisters to be for them what Christ and the saints are for us.

Maria de lu Luz Lego Martinez, here with her grandson Alexis. runs a household without a husband, who went to the US. Of her 10 children, four have died, two live in the United States, and the other four live nearby. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services.

Maria de lu Luz Lego Martinez, here with her grandson Alexis. runs a household without a husband, who went to the US. Of her 10 children, four have died, two live in the United States, and the other four live nearby. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services.

Maria, a woman from Ejido Hidalgo, Mexico, provides us with a living example of this principle in action. She remembers what it was like growing up in her small village. “We said we were rich because we had a lot of corn, beans and animals.” But now, with few jobs and even less rain, young people—including Maria’s children—are leaving the community in search of a better life.

To help families like Maria’s, CRS launched a greenhouse project empowering women with meaningful work and community. Women visit their community greenhouses to grow cactuses to sell—but they also go for so much more. “At the greenhouses, we laugh, we talk, we spend time together. Sometimes we leave our homes angry or sad. But then we start working with the plants, and we forget. Talking, laughing—we forget our problems for a while,” says Maria.

As the cactuses grow, so to do the economic opportunities. “We didn’t believe we were going to get that far. It’s a lot of joy, a lot of excitement to see so many plants flowering.”

The flourishing cactuses aren’t the only things that give Maria pride. Even though they live far away, she still remains close to her family. “I give thanks to God that he gave me all my children and grandchildren,” she says. “They give me strength and courage to work hard. My children call and say, ‘Don’t give up, Mom. Have faith in God.’”

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.

 

 


 

Encounter Fernando

“Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work…anoints us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works…”
– Pope Francis, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, 2013

 “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” John 5:17 How tempting it is to relegate these words of Jesus to the archives of history. But let us realize that they are as relevant now as they were 2,000 years ago—ours is a God of work, a God who is constantly creating anew in us and in our world, a God who beckons us to work alongside with our own skills and passions and dreams, no matter who we are or where in the world we may live.

 Santos Fernando Sánchez García, 22, a member of the Youths Builders “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Santos Fernando Sánchez García, 22, a member of the Youths Builders “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Fernando dreams of becoming a businessman. He also dreams of a better future for his family, and this motivates him to sell cookbooks on San Salvador’s buses. It’s dangerous work for $10 a day—gangs frequently stop and harass drivers and passengers—but he keeps going, determined to achieve his dreams.

It was his dreams that led him to YouthBuild, a six-month, CRS-sponsored program that trains young people in business. There, he found a positive community to help him pursue his passion, despite the challenges of life in El Salvador. “When I tell my classmates that I want to do something, they tell me to try it and to not hold back.”

Training for six months with YouthBuild wasn’t easy on Fernando or his family. Without his wife to support him and care for their two young daughters, the early mornings and long days might have been impossible. “YouthBuild is a family because families help you realize your dreams,” Fernando says. It’s a fact he knows well.

Group photo of members of “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services and its local partners Glasswing. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Group photo of members of “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services and its local partners Glasswing. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Fernando is putting his newfound skills to work. After graduating from YouthBuild in 2016, he took part in a series of entrepreneur workshops organized by CRS and is currently working on a new business plan. He is also a part of the YouthBuild network of graduates, youth leaders who mentor other young people and look for new opportunities for employment and growth.

 

“We have a saying,” says Fernando. “Once a YouthBuilder, always a YouthBuilder.”

Fernando’ story gives us pause. Knowing that God desires us to use our passion and dreams to guide our work in building a culture of encounter gives us pause, too. Let us pause, then, and think over our own work. Do we recognize God’s hand in the tasks we are given to do? Do we embrace Jesus’ call to keep working, to enter into relationship with a Creator God who never tires? Or do we allow ourselves to give in to our frustrations, to deem a task frivolous or beneath us, to take the easy way out? Do we fail to allow God to use our efforts—no matter how seemingly small!—for God’s own greater glory?

The opportunity to create in the image and likeness of the Creator is a right of every person, the avenue through which each human being is able to more fully reveal God’s glory in the world. How, during this Lenten season, will we liberate that which is holy and hidden in the world around us?

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.