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.

Encounter Evelina

“This teaching rests on one basic principle: individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social institution. That is necessarily so, for men are by nature social beings.”

—St. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, # 219 (Mother and Teacher, on Christianity and social progress)

It’s a pretty radical thing to say that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. That’s what we’re talking about when we reflect on the sacredness and dignity of the human person—each one of us, every human on the planet, reflects the Divine, the Creator, God. Each of us shines forth that which is holy. None of us is left out; God is present in a unique and irreplaceable way in every human being.

What, then, happens when that unique expression of God is silenced, when that holy light is dimmed? What does our world lose? As we look out upon our global community, it’s not hard to see that some of us have access to more opportunities than others. It’s not hard to see that some of us would rather pretend that human dignity is not universal, that there are people in whom God does not dwell.

Evelina Banda, 35 years old, Petauke District, eastern Zambia. Photo by Nancy McNally/Catholic Relief Services

Evelina Banda, 35 years old, Petauke District, eastern Zambia. Photo by Nancy McNally/Catholic Relief Services

Let’s reflect on Evelina and her son, Stephen, both of whom live in Zambia. Growing up, Evelina, like generations of Zambians before her, used to survive on meals made from corn flour, usually a porridge called ‘nshima.’ “I’d eat porridge in the morning, at lunchtime and again in the evening,” she says. After all, it was cheap and easy to make.

Unfortunately, nshima has very little nutritional value—and relying too heavily on it has led to high rates of malnutrition. Many in Zambia have full bellies, but little nourishment. And this is particularly dangerous for children under the age of two, who need high levels of vitamins and minerals to grow up healthy and strong. That means mothers who are nursing—as well as their children—need nutritious meals.

Evelina Banda, 35 years old, with her son, Steven, 16 months old, in Ndombi Village, Zambia. Photo by Jim Stipe/Catholic Relief Services

Evelina Banda, 35 years old, with her son, Steven, 16 months old, in Ndombi Village, Zambia. Photo by Jim Stipe/Catholic Relief Services

So, CRS is teaching women like Evelina how to prepare healthier meals and grow new, vitamin-rich crops like peanuts, pumpkins and sugar cane. In many cases, these crops were already being grown in the village. Now, Evelina and others are adding more nutritious food to their children’s nshima: ground peanuts or eggs, for example. And, what the women learn, they share with their community—especially expectant mothers.

“We sing and dance during the cooking lessons because we are happy to learn how to cook different types of food,” says Evelina. Evelina is healthier, and so is her son, Steven. “I know I am taking good care of him, because he’s full of energy, he’s strong and never sick,” she says, with a smile.

We see in this story an opportunity to protect and promote the dignity of the human person. Our care for and commitment to individuals and communities—even those far away—is vital. We need only look to Jesus who stood with those on the margins, affirming their dignity, their right to an abundant life even if it meant his own death.

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 the Singh Family

“Love for others, and in the first place, love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice.

—St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, #58 (On the Hundredth Year)

 Jesus lived a life of poverty, from his humble birthplace to his death alongside common criminals. He lived among the poor; he cared for them and taught others to do the same. Working with and for those trapped by poverty was not an add-on, or an extra thing to do if there was time; for Jesus, it was a requirement of daily life, a way of encountering God.

We must ask ourselves: What does the preferential option for the poor mean in our own concrete, nitty-gritty realities? Who are these least among us? How do we find them? How do we ensure that we keep seeking the poorest of the poor, those in whom Christ is ever present?

Let’s reflect on how the option for the poor can be brought to life in India.

When the Malaguni River in East India floods, Megha and Raj Singh, their two children and their extended family cannot get to the nearest market—nearly five miles away—to buy and sell food. If the waters do not recede quickly, their rice fields fail, and their animals become sick from diseases spread through dirty water. The family faces financial danger.

That’s why CRS is helping the Singh family prepare for flooding with new farming tools and techniques. Now Raj plants his fields worry-free using a special type of rice that can survive flooding. He can collect and save his seeds for future use. And he now has the resources he needs to vaccinate his cows, ensuring they, too, survive the floods.

Megharani (Megha) Baliar Singh. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/Catholic Relief Services

Megharani (Megha) Baliar Singh. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/Catholic Relief Services

Megha grows vegetables in a kitchen garden, so her family has healthy meals even when she can’t visit the market. During past floods, the family had to survive solely on rice. But now, planting veggies in special sacks, she is able to raise the plants above flood lines, ensuring her family has reliable access to nutritious food.

Just as important, Megha has learned new ways of growing food, so that the entire family gets the most nutrition out of every meal. Now, the whole Singh family is healthier, and with these new ways of farming, they can continue to thrive, even during floods.

After having reflected on life in India, think about your daily life. Think about the people you encounter each week, each day. Think about the people you don’t encounter, those you intentionally avoid or forget even exist. Think about the people you step around or whose eyes you don’t meet. Are these the “least brothers” of Jesus?

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.

We Encounter Our God

Eric Clayton, CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer

Eric Clayton, CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer

God’s vision can be scary. Sometimes, it’s easier to avoid encountering God. What might God ask of us? Will it be in line with what we ourselves want?

We hear Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” This is Christ’s prayer on the night before he died—through prayer, he encounters God. Yet, God asks something of Jesus that could not be more difficult. And Jesus carries on.

Realizing God’s vision for humanity is not an easy thing. We see in the Garden of Gethsemane that God enters deeply into human suffering, that not even Christ himself can avoid this all-too-prevalent part of the human experience. Indeed, we see in the Garden—and perhaps we recognize in our own lives—that God is at work through suffering, that we must enter into those dark moments in order to bring to fruition God’s great dreams for us and for others.

As we look out at our world, perhaps we, too, carry on our lips that prayer of Jesus in the Garden. That’s okay. That’s an honest and intense encounter with our God, a God who asks that we live the Gospel call to mercy, justice and love no matter the cost.

But we also know that the story did not end in the Garden. It didn’t end on the cross. It didn’t even end in the tomb. Rather, God makes all things new, emerging victorious in even the darkest of hours. God calls forth from us great and wondrous things if we have the courage to encounter within ourselves those seeds of love that God has planted.

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 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. Continue reflecting on how you can contribute to the culture of encounter with the CRS Rice Bowl app.

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections.

Going Deeper

Read about how one religious community uses restorative justice circles to help communities break free from the cycle of violence to experience hope, peace and healing.  How are you called to help realize God’s vision for humanity by working to restore or repair what is broken?

We Encounter Our Neighbors

Photo by Julian Spath/Catholic Relief Services

Photo by Julian Spath/Catholic Relief Services

Jesus’ ministry was a three-year encounter with others. He went to those on the margins, those whom society had rejected, those who themselves believed that they had sinned one too many times to be forgiven. He went to each of them with a message of love, of compassion, of mercy. And he called them back to themselves, so that they, too, saw themselves as God saw them: dignified human beings worthy of divine love.

John relates to us the story of the man born blind. Here, we see Jesus determined to encounter this man, to physically touch this individual where he was most hurting. Jesus does not allow politics, societal expectations or the gossip of others to stand in his way. Rather, he goes directly to meet the man, to work through him and to give him sight.

Society had forgotten this man, had quite literally kicked him to the curb, left to spend his days in poverty. But Jesus reminds us that no one is forgotten by God; no one should be condemned to a life of hunger, homelessness, poverty or injustice. Rather, Jesus quite radically points the finger at the accepted systems in place that deemed it okay to leave this man on the margins. And then he encounters the man in love.

But who is my neighbor, we may ask, echoing that scholar of the law who wished to test Jesus. Jesus replies with the Parable of the Good Samaritan—and it becomes quite clear that Jesus has little time for divisiveness, exclusion, or othering. Instead, we encounter those in need recognizing that it was God who encountered us first. And, indeed, it is God’s vision that we seek to realize through building a culture of encounter.

Eric ClaytonEric 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 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. Continue reflecting on how you can contribute to the culture of encounter with the CRS Rice Bowl app.

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections.

Going Deeper

Who is “kicked to the curb” in your community? Read about one Ohio parish’s efforts to encounter formerly incarcerated individuals, understand their stories and struggles, and then accompany them in advocacy to eliminate one of the major barriers they face.

This resource from WeAreSaltAndLight.org can help you create a culture of encounter in your community through one-to-one relational meetings.

St. Mother Teresa, Eileen Egan and Holy Friendship

Egan and Teresa, ca. 1970s. Catholic Relief Services was instrumental in aiding and spreading Teresa’s mission and message across the world. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Egan and Teresa, ca. 1970s. Catholic Relief Services was instrumental in aiding and spreading Teresa’s mission and message across the world. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Saint Teresa of Kolkata (1910-1997) and Eileen Egan (1912-2000) represent two Catholic women who played a central role in the Church’s international work in the latter half of the twentieth century. Coming from different backgrounds, these two women nevertheless shared much in common, including a deep interest in alleviating the suffering of their fellow humans. While they did not meet until they were both in their mid-forties, they nevertheless managed to form a close personal and working relationship that would span the remainder of their lives.

The future Saint and Eileen Egan spent the first few decades of their lives in a similar fashion. Raised by Catholic families in regions with few other Catholics, the young Teresa and Egan nevertheless found a strong core of faith within their domestic settings. In their teens, both women left their home countries and settled in regions wherein they would remain the rest of their lives. In the 1940’s, they each experienced a calling to aid those ravaged by poverty, disease, and conflict. While Egan put her organizational and journalistic skills towards refugee relief, Teresa began the initial steps in founding a new religious order devoted towards tending the sick, poor, and dying.

On an October day in 1960, a small, sari-clad woman arrived in Las Vegas. It was her first visit to the United States and first time away from her adopted home in India in over 30 years. A former geography teacher and now head of her own order, the Missionaries of Charity, this unassuming nun known as Mother Teresa had arrived in a city she described as a perpetual light festival, or “Diwali.” While little known outside Kolkata (Calcutta) at the time, Teresa had been invited to address the National Council of Catholic Women annual conference. Sitting at a little booth during the conference, she addressed an endless series of questions about her sari, free service to the poor, and Albanian origins.

Months ahead of her trip, Teresa had written to her colleague, Eileen Egan: “Thank God I have plenty to do – otherwise I would be terrified of that big public. Being an Indian citizen, I will have to get an Indian passport.” These two sentences encapsulate much of the friendship between Egan and Teresa, revealing personal elements of Teresa’s life and work, as well as the more mundane background work it took to continue her mission.

Egan, a long-time peace activist and employee of Catholic Relief Services, had been a co-worker of this relatively unknown nun for five years at this point. In 1955, they met for the first time in the streets of Kolkata.

After her initial meeting with Teresa, Egan became a major supporter of the Missionaries of Charity and their lay counterpart, the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa. Often acting as both the coordinator and travel companion for Teresa’s many international travels, Egan also contributed to the Co-Workers’ newsletters and meetings. Simultaneously, known for her work on the behalf of peace, Egan was one of several American witnesses who addressed the Second Vatican Council on issues of war and peace. In 1972, she became one of the co-founders of Pax Christi-USA. She would continue to speak out about the need for pacifism throughout the remainder of her life.

St. Mother Teresa and Eileen Egan founded their friendship in the Tradition of the Catholic Church and their work for the common good. This guided their respective work for decades.

May we remember them each for their contributions to Communion of Saints and seek ways for deep and nourishing friendships in our own lives. Cherishing the gift of friendship is one way that we celebrate the feasts of All Saints Day.

To read more about St. Teresa, click here. To read more about Eileen Eagan, click here. This text was originally published at The Archivist’s Nook– a work of the Catholic University of America.

Going Deeper

On this All Saints day, learn more about one of the most recently canonized saints, Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Sept. 4, 2016).  Catholic Relief Services offers numerous resources on St. Teresa of Calcutta’s life and legacy, including an intergenerational session, a prayer, and video stories and reflections.

In Solidarity With Syria

prayerenglishThe picture of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year old boy, who washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach last year after drowning along with eleven others including his mother and brother as they tried to escape war-torn Syria, alerted the world to the plight of Syrian refugees. Pope Francis, in an effort to stem this humanitarian crisis, called on all Catholics to “express the Gospel in concrete terms” and assist the millions of refugees risking death to migrate from Syria. “In front of the tragedy of the tens of thousands of refugees escaping death by war or hunger, on the path towards the hope of life, the Gospel calls us, asks us to be ‘neighbors’ of the smallest and most abandoned.”

The University of Scranton responded to this call from the Holy Father last year by launching In Solidarity With Syria, a coordinated effort involving university administrators, faculty, staff, alumni, and students to aid those most affected by the current immigration crisis through education and advocacy. Since then, I have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of concern from the students, faculty, and staff for refugees coming to Scranton.

We began last September with an interreligious prayer vigil during which the community was invited to pray in solidarity with our sisters and brothers displaced from their homes in Syria. One who spoke that night was a student originally from Hebron. He spoke of his Muslim faith being honored and respected at a Catholic university. “Together… we can fight the darkness and violence. And together we will make a better future for our families and children.”

Other events followed from that evening of prayer: students wrote to elected officials, attended lectures given by authors on the topic, heard first-hand experiences from advocates working directly with refugees, watched documentaries together, participated in discussions on the topic, and greeted refugees arriving in the Scranton area. We held several film series, took part in webinars, facilitated a refugee simulation, hosted round-table discussions, and continued to greet more families arriving at the Scranton airport. Our final event last year took place at a local restaurant where Syrian refugee women served as guest chefs, sharing their cuisine and cultural traditions. This year, we are continuing the conversation with the community, beginning with David Miliband, President and CEO of International Rescue Committee and former UK Foreign Secretary on the Global Refugee Crisis, who presented new insights to our campus about how we can help refugees together.

What can you do? Lots.

First, foremost, and imperatively, educate your community about what it means to be a refugee living in the United States.

Many think there’s no system in place to oversee refugees seeking entrance into the country. In reality, it takes a minimum of 18 to 24 months for a person to achieve refugee status. The vetting process involves a number of governmental and non-governmental partners both overseas and in the United States. Their need is dire and immediate, yet many live in refugee camps for years awaiting the chance to legally enter our country. A local Scranton refugee from Bhutan who now works with Catholic Social Services spent the first 18 years of his life in a refugee camp. It’s easier for someone to enter on a tourist, work, or student visa than it is to become a refugee in our country.

Another concern many people have is security. Contrary to pronouncements by leaders in our government and those seeking political office, refugees entering the U.S. are not a threat to American communities. Since January 2010, nearly 3,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State, none has been arrested or removed on terrorism charges. And people seeking to enter as refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They have to prove they are facing persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Seeking job opportunities is not a qualification for refugee status.

How can you get started?

Form a committee to begin outreach to your community and then plan educational programs that will make an impact. But you don’t have to start from scratch. There are resources out there. Check out the events and programs facilitated at The University of Scranton since September 2015 that are listed on our In Solidarity With Syria web page. Other resources include:

You can also plan a Refugee Simulation and invite community members to participate. The simulation was created by Jesuit Refugee Services.

Educational programs, advocacy opportunities, and prayer activities are concrete, tangible ways to not only express the Gospel, but also to live the Gospel – to bring Christ’s message of love, hope, and justice to those seeking sanctuary here with us.

Don’t forget about five-year-old Omran Daqneesh sitting in the back of an ambulance covered in blood and debris after surviving an airstrike this past August in his native Aleppo. Once again, a picture of a small boy awakened the world to the plight of those living in Syria just as that photo of Aylan did last year.

For Omran there is hope – he is still alive. But he needs our help. This call to help is quite challenging in light of the fear that many have, given the state of the world and the words we hear from today’s political aspirants and news media agents.

As people of faith, we cannot turn our backs on our sisters and brothers at risk of life or liberty. Together we can build communities that move beyond those fears in order to care for the refugee in our midst and respect the smallest and most abandoned of our neighbors.

headshot_helen-wolfHelen M. Wolf, Ph.D. is Executive Director, Office of Campus Ministries at The University of Scranton.


Going Deeper

Did you know that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is active in assisting those who have fled their countries, through its Migration and Refugee Services (MRS)?  MRS provides processing and resettlement services, assists unaccompanied children, leads efforts to end human trafficking, and engages in public policy advocacy. Find out more about how the U.S. Catholic bishops are urging Catholics to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.