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.

Lent: A Journey of Encounter

 Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

We Encounter Ourselves

To build a culture of encounter, we must start from within ourselves, from our personal call to discipleship. God knows our true selves, desiring that we, too, discover the person God has called us to be. Through prayer, we encounter ourselves before God; we see ourselves as God sees us. And we realize that God delights in every member of our human family because God is truly present in each of us.

Jesus reminds us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To love another, we must come to know our own selves, our own hurts and triumphs, our own joys and challenges. What begins as an interior encounter necessarily goes beyond ourselves, challenging us to live in solidarity with people we may never meet.  How can we hope to go to the margins, to accompany those who are most vulnerable and in need, if we haven’t properly wrestled with our own vulnerability, our own need? Only then can we recognize that each person we encounter can share with us some unique insight about our world, about ourselves and, ultimately, about our God.

We meet Jesus in the desert, a time of introspection and discernment before he begins his ministry. What has he gone there to accomplish? Luke tells us that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” There he fasts and prays—and the Enemy takes that opportunity to tempt Christ with those temptations we each encounter daily: material comfort, honor and pride.

Jesus responded by trusting in God, by emptying himself of pride and power and ultimately rejecting the invitations of the Enemy.

We, too, can better understand where we are broken and turning away from who we are called to be by following Jesus’ example and encountering ourselves through prayer and fasting. We may not go into a desert for forty days, but we can and should take the forty-day invitation of Lent as an opportunity to reorient our lives, examining how we are living in relationship with God and our neighbors.

That might mean coming to terms with troubling or disappointing truths. Can we, like Jesus, radically reject the offering of power, of influence? We all want glory, praise, a pat on the shoulder, but as Jesus turned away from the Enemy’s offering, so too must we. And then, where do we turn? We go to the margins with humility and compassion. Only by encountering ourselves can we then encounter our neighbors.

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

Prayer can open our hearts and minds to God’s love and compassion for every person—no matter who they are. Read about this youth pro-life team, whose prayer for those on death row helps the entire community reflect on our commitment to protect all human life.

This Lent, use this Examination of Conscience in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (also en Español) to encounter God’s love and forgiveness, and to help us discern how to better love those on the margins, whom God loves.

God Weeps

A carved wooden crucifix sits atop a green and white woven basket from RwandaLast night I dreamed of rows of machetes emerging from a farmer’s field, point first, like the tips of corn stalks. I saw many machetes during my recent trip to Rwanda – sharpened steel used to trim back vegetation and cut paths through the thick foliage of “the land of a thousand hills.”

Rwanda is also the land of a thousand views –the hills and mountains of the lush terrain provide endless scenic vistas of neatly-maintained crops. Rwanda’s equatorial location means that seasons are defined by rainfall. The rainy season is about to peak, and with it the annual April period of national mourning – the 22nd anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. God weeps from the skies.

Rwanda’s complex history – prerecorded, colonial, political and institutional – setting the stage for tragedy, may be another window on the land of a thousand views, or perhaps, viewpoints. To visit some of the genocide memorial sites, many of them Catholic churches where men, women and children seeking sanctuary were shot and hacked to death by the thousands, is to encounter, in the mounds of faded, bloodstained clothing and stacks of skulls and bones, a lesson we have not yet grasped. The murder of up to a million people over several months by their neighbors, fellow parishioners, family members and leaders, cries out to heaven – and to us, wherever we live.

How could they do this? How could we do this, within the last century or so – to indigenous Americans, Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Bosnians and so many others? As Good Friday approaches we line the route to Golgotha once again, watching the innocent led to slaughter.

How can we do this? By using real or contrived differences of race, socio-economic class, religion, lifestyle, language, or ethnicity to create communities of scapegoats, onto whom we pour the verbal venom of our fears, our hatreds, our ignorance, our insecurities. Once dehumanized and separated from “us,” the “final solution” can seem logical, necessary, patriotic.

At one parish genocide site, the Eucharist in the tabernacle was destroyed by gunfire before the terrified members of the Body of Christ, crowded into the liturgical space, were murdered. The heroes of genocide in Rwanda are those who hid their neighbors, sometimes at the cost of their own lives; those, like Sister Felicitas Niyitegeka, who chose to die with the targeted rather than be separated from their brothers and sisters in Christ and live. Accompaniment and solidarity were expressed in the laying down of lives.

Healing and restoration linger on the horizon in Rwanda. Many of those who survived, scarred and traumatized, have not been able to speak their stories – it can be dangerous to do so. Counseling resources are inadequate. The broken church is trying to be a vehicle for healing and wholeness. Many significant tensions are unresolved, as seen in the most recent refugee situation involving neighboring Burundi.

How do we move forward with justice, mercy and love, learning enough about ourselves as human beings to ensure that such crimes never happen again – anywhere? Such a perspective includes hard work, and open hearts, minds and ears; solidarity in action. The way forward is to experience and to share God’s love – the love, as the Easter Vigil testifies each spring, that never dies. Love that sees each life as precious. Love that finds new, respectful relationships, not weapons, emerging from ground soaked with the blood of our scapegoats.

Headshot of Susan Stevenot Sullivan, USCCB

Susan Stevenot Sullivan is director of education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


Go Deeper!