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!

Few Words and Many Deeds

Headshot of Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., D.Min.

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C.

Pope Francis is calling all to be missionary disciples, to go out and draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ, not simply by words, but by deeds. During Lent, particularly on Fridays, he is witnessing to all how simple it is to do by making informal visits to the poor and the marginalized – a homeless shelter, a nursing home, a drug rehab center. Simple, but very clear actions that show how to live the Works of Mercy in everyday life.

His actions remind me of a member of my religious community who worked in the city streets caring for the poor, but at the same time helping others to recognize ways in which they could work together to be more merciful, charitable, and just. One day this community member met a woman who was physically challenged and nearly homeless. She thought that she was not capable of doing anything worthwhile. He invited her to collaborate with him and together with others – lay people, those in consecrated life, and clergy – they worked in that city to care for those most in need.

The year – 1835,
The city – Rome,
The priest – St. Vincent Pallotti,
The woman – soon to be Blessed Elisabetta Sanna.

St. Vincent Pallotti believed that all are called to be apostles – sent not only to preach, but to care for the suffering in the world since all human beings are in the image and likeness of God. He understood that our actions can be minimal when we do them alone. Instead, he promoted greater collaboration and co-responsibility among all. In a rather polarized world, both of these words can seem quaint and unattainable. But, without collaboration, solidarity cannot happen effectively and without co-responsibility, subsidiarity is not possible. Each person, then, is called to work together with God and with others and recognize who and how best to assist those in need. As Pallotti said,

“Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.”

 

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and Provincial Rector of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines).

Vaviroa’s story

Photo by Heidi Yanulis for Catholic Relief Services

Photo by Heidi Yanulis for Catholic Relief Services

Vaviroa is a smart, hardworking woman — with four children to feed. Though she had been raising her children alone for many years, their family was doing very well. They ate crops grown from Vaviroa’s family farm, and they even made money selling extra vegetables in nearby villages.

Then, in 2013, Cyclone Haruna hit, destroying most of northern Tulear, the part of Madagascar where Vaviroa and her children lived. Her fields flooded, and her crops died. With no way to feed her family, Vaviroa needed some help. She was already a great farmer — she just needed extra support to get back on her feet. And that extra support came in the form of seeds.

CRS’ seed fair program gives vouchers to farmers and their families so they can buy seeds, farm tools and livestock at local seed fairs. The goods they buy help them replant and rebuild their communities. The fairs also give farmers a chance to sell their crops in a safe place to people who need them. And these seed fairs help the environment by giving farmers the tools they need to care for God’s creation.

With the seeds she received at a CRS seed fair, Vaviroa has been able to replant her fields. Once again, her children are receiving the nutrients they need to grow and are able to attend school. Vaviroa is proud of all she’s accomplished-and looking forward to the next planting season.

Read more stories about how Lenten alms become lifesaving aid at crsricebowl.org.

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


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you 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.

Mayra’s story: Hungering to Learn in Honduras

Mayra Martinez, 11, and her grandmother Lucía Mancía, 62, showing her math and language diplomas from the Peer to Peer Tutoring program given by her tutor, Elías Fabricio. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services

Mayra Martinez, 11, and her grandmother Lucía Mancía, 62, showing her math and language diplomas from the Peer to Peer Tutoring program given by her tutor, Elías Fabricio. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services

Two years ago, Mayra was not a star student. She was very shy in the classroom and struggled with simple math and reading lessons. She often missed homework assignments and, some days, did not go to school.

Her teacher noticed and enrolled Mayra in the school’s tutoring program. In the months that followed, Mayra and Fabricio, her tutor and classmate, spent many afternoons practicing reading and writing stories together. They made up games to practice math. And when they were done, they jumped rope and played in their neighborhood. In the process, the two became good friends.

“Fabricio never looked down on me because I had trouble learning,” says Mayra. “He always treated me well.”

The extra attention was what Mayra really needed. She lives with her grandmother, Lucia, who works hard to take care of Mayra. She picks coffee on a nearby farm and does laundry to earn money to put food on the table. But this means she doesn’t always have time to help Mayra with her school work. In fact, like many people her age, Lucia cannot read.

That’s why Fabricio’s help was so important. Today, Mayra is proud of her reading and math skills. She does her homework and goes to class on time. She is more confident and has a new group of friends.

Mayra wants to be a teacher one day. But first, she will become a tutor so she can help her classmates-just as Fabricio helped her.

Read more stories about how Lenten alms become lifesaving aid at crsricebowl.org.

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


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you 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.

The Catholic Relief Services Collection: Helping Jesus in Disguise

crs-facebook-2-403x504Each time we encounter a suffering person, we encounter Jesus in disguise. The Catholic Relief Services Collection (CRSC) funds six Catholic agencies that serve the disguised Jesus in our suffering brothers and sisters around the world. His disguise might be that of those suffering from natural disaster, those displaced by violence or war, or those migrants searching for a better life.

In the developing world, it is often hard for families to support themselves and their children. Sophie, a widow working in a village in Burkina Faso, was struggling to feed her family and pay for schooling for her children. Thanks to the help of Catholic Relief Services, one of the CRSC supported organizations, her village was able to set up a Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC). Through the SILC, members contribute what they can afford, allowing them to pool their resources and save collectively. Members can then borrow money to meet pressing needs or develop business opportunities. Through the SILC, Sophie was able to take out a $200 loan to cover startup costs for her own canteen, a sum that would be nearly impossible for her to save. Her canteen has been very successful and began to pay off in only six months. Her community has benefited too, as she has been able to hire three assistants to work with her. Without the SILC and the work of CRS, it would have been nearly impossible for her, and others like her, to create a sustainable life for her and her family.

2016-crs-montage-text-270x200Even in the developed world, it is difficult for immigrants to navigate the American justice system and to know their rights. Another organization that receives funds from the Catholic Relief Services Collection is CLINIC, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. The BIA Pro Bono Project that CLINIC manages uses funds from the CRSC to provide support and legal representation to immigrants facing the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Pedro entered the United States to provide a better life for his family and to flee violence and persecution. He entered the United States without inspection, but nearly 20 years later, Pedro was taken to an immigration detention facility away from his wife and three children while the BIA decided whether he could stay in the country. Thanks to the BIA Pro Bono Project, law students discovered that he had never been considered for Temporary Protected Status, and local legal counsel represented him. This counsel helped determine that he was in fact eligible for this legal status. After a year in a detention facility, separated from his family, Pedro was able to return home.

This Lent, remember our suffering brothers and sisters and Jesus in Disguise.

Funds acquired from the CRS Collection are also distributed to these organizations: USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services for refugee resettlement USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development for advocacy The Holy Father’s Relief Fund for emergency relief USCCB’s Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church for evangelization and ministry

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (mt 25:40)

Bevin Kennedy, Office of National Collections at the USCCB

Bevin Kennedy, Office of National Collections at the USCCB

Bevin Kennedy is the Assistant Director for Promotions in the Office of National Collections at the USCCB.