New Ways of Proclaiming Ancient Truth

Dear Friend,

Easter is upon us, our day of redemption and joy as the grace of our Lord turns the despair of the crucifixion into the joy of the resurrection. This most important day of our faith is a celebration of life, both temporal and eternal, the fundamental gift that God has bestowed upon us. It is the Good News that we must proclaim.

Easter has been celebrated for over two millennia by Christianity. Its linkage to the life-affirming celebration of Passover gives it a heritage that goes back many more centuries, to the beginnings of humanity’s understanding of the one God who is the Lord of us all.

These are indeed venerable traditions and we should be rooted in the authenticity that comes with their age. Our faith is not subject to the winds of change or the whims of fashion. It is solidly anchored, the rock upon which our Church is built.

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Lent, Rice Bowl, and Rich Rewards

Dear Friend,

This month we observe Lent, when we contemplate the sacrifice our Lord made on our behalf, performing acts that are both symbolic and concrete, and which are designed to lead us to a better understanding of what it means to be selfless—to sacrifice for others.

CRS Rice Bowl is a Catholic Relief Services Lenten program focused on faith formation through helping the poorest of the poor around the world. Many think it is a fundraising program, but that is not why we do it. Certainly we are grateful for the generosity of millions of Catholics across the United States who fill their CRS Rice Bowls. The money helps tens of thousands of poor people in other parts of the world.

But we look at CRS Rice Bowl as primarily being about gaining a better understanding the Gospel message that Jesus brought us.

I know that many of you, like me, can remember a moment when it “clicked”—when the faith you were taught and which you accepted suddenly took on a deeper resonance, a meaning that touched your soul as it never had before.

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American Farmer Applies Insights, Experience to Challenges in Africa

This article first appeared on Catholic Rural Life in this post. Reprinted here with permission.

For Reuben DeMaster, the owner and operator of Willow Haven Farm, helping others comes naturally. For instance, DeMaster put his carpentry abilities to use this past week and built a set of beds for a family in his local community whose house had burned down last year.

But his efforts to serve and support others extend beyond the confines of his hometown in New Tripoli, Pa. For two and half weeks in January, DeMaster shared his agricultural insights with farmers in Kirima Boro, Tanzania.

“It was a beautiful trip, an amazing opportunity,” he said of his time in East Africa.

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What Solidarity Means

Dear Friend,

The Lenten season approaches and, at Catholic Relief Services, that means the season of CRS Rice Bowl.
In 1975 a group of Catholics in Allentown, Pennsylvania, heard the cries of hungry people in the Sahel region of West Africa, which was suffering from famine. During Lent, they created Operation Rice Bowl to reach across the ocean with their prayers and donations.

Two years later, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the program as a recurring expression of their Lenten tradition. CRS Rice Bowl became a pillar of our work as the official international relief and development agency of the Catholic community in the United States. So this Lent, for the 40th time, Catholics will take part in fasting and almsgiving as we prayerfully consider the plight of the hundreds of millions in God’s family who hunger for food every day.

In the past 4 decades, much has changed. CRS Rice Bowl has spread from Allentown to the majority of parishes nationwide. You can now download the CRS Rice Bowl app—and I urge you do so. You can watch videos about the impact CRS Rice Bowl has in countries where hunger is endemic. You can also hear personal reflections on the meaning of Lent from prominent Catholics and learn how to prepare simple meals that are enjoyed by the people CRS serves. And you can get ideas for small sacrifices you and your family can make during the 40 days of Lent that will help our global brothers and sisters in need. Read the rest of this entry »


Good News Amid World Troubles

Dear Friend,

And so a New Year begins: a time to make resolutions and face the future with a clean slate, ready to write a better narrative. Maybe this is the year you will get that promotion or lose those 10 pounds or spend more time with your children. I encourage you to nurture such hope. From it can spring the flower of positive change.

At the same time, we realize that the New Year begins amid many problems around the world.

You are aware of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and how Catholic Relief Services—with your help—is responding to thousands of people affected by this deadly virus. Children who are now orphans need our support, and the virus has dealt a major blow to economies still recovering from years of war. These effects will be felt for a long time to come.

Beyond West Africa, we can point to crises in other countries, including Syria, Iraq and Central African Republic. Violence rooted in politics has taken on religious dimensions, forcing millions of people from their homes.

Then there’s South Sudan, the world’s newest nation. Fighting there is entering its second year and making it difficult to get support to those who need it the most.

Such tough challenges can make you wonder if New Year’s Day really marks the beginning of something new or just a recurrence of old problems.

But you are making a difference, and progress against malaria is one example of that. The World Malaria Report 2014 shows that the incidence of this disease dropped by 30% from 2000 to 2013. Mortality rates have declined by 47% worldwide and by 54% in Africa. Among children under age 5, the mortality rate declined by 53% worldwide and by 58% in Africa.

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Waiting for a Message of Hope

We are now entering Advent, the four Sundays of preparation before we celebrate the birth of Our Savior. For most of us, December is a busy month of shopping, cooking and baking, entertaining, traveling, and savoring time with our families.

I ask to you to take a moment in the midst of it all to ponder what “advent” means. The word’s origins are in the Latin word for “coming.” It means the arrival of something notable or important, such as the advent of the printing press, television or the internet. You get the idea.

In the Catholic Church, Advent points toward the arrival of the most notable and important event—the coming of Christ. It is a time of preparation, expectation and waiting, which are reflected in the liturgies and rituals.

So in the hustle and bustle of the season, slow down for a few minutes. Let your mind and your soul contemplate the expectation. Let them wait.

In our contemplation we can glimpse fleetingly the experience of people 2 millennia ago—the fear and despair of a world that God seemed to have abandoned and the hope that something was about to happen that would change everything.

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Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer Brings Business Support to Farmers in Kenya

By Donna Rosa, Volunteer for the Farmer-to-Farmer (FTF) Program 

Donna Rosa, with the Huruma Women’s Group in Kibwezi, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Donna Rosa.)

Donna Rosa, with the Huruma Women’s Group in Kibwezi, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Donna Rosa.)

The Farmer-to-Farmer Program is well known for providing technical assistance to small farms in developing countries, but did you know that the program also contributes much-needed business support to agribusinesses and small food enterprises?  After all, farms are businesses.

I recently returned from a volunteer assignment in Kenya where I helped a women’s community group with a complete business evaluation, business plan, financial tracking, business development, and business advisory services. I was sent by CRS under USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program. This program sends U.S. volunteers to developing countries to assist small farms, agribusinesses, cooperatives, and food processors.  Volunteers are selected for specific skills, and they work hands-on in the field for 2-4 weeks. Expenses are covered by the program. Group training is often involved, but work with individual businesses is also typical.

While much of the Farmer-to-Farmer work involves horticulture support, there are assignments that call for small business support and training.  My experience in Kenya is an example. It illustrates how one person can make a difference. I feel strongly that there is not enough individualized business support for small enterprises in developing countries, particularly at the base of the pyramid.

I worked with the Huruma Women’s Group in Kibwezi.  This remarkable group of 30 women (and one man!) understands that if they want to improve their lives, they must take action to help themselves.  They formed a community group after seeking and receiving local training in crop irrigation.  In addition to providing ongoing social services for the community, they also took advantage of training in basic commercial food preparation and processing.  Importantly, they came to understand the concept of adding value.

Along the way they entered and won a contest by collecting the detergent packages. But instead of splitting the 250,000 Kenyan Shillings (about 3,000 USD) winnings among the group, they used it to purchase milling equipment in order to generate ongoing income. Pretty smart and a flicker of business acumen.

Huruma began by offering milling services to individuals and schools in the community, and later opened a small retail store where they sell flours, flour blends, crafts, dried fruits and vegetables, and snacks. The group members are poor, illiterate and lacking in business skills (especially record keeping).  They required help with their day-today business, but also needed a business plan to provide a roadmap.

Inside the Huruma Women’s Group retail shop in Kibwezi, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Donna Rosa.)

Inside the Huruma Women’s Group retail shop in Kibwezi, Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Donna Rosa.)

That’s where I came in.

What was the experience like? The area was rural and very poor.  I stayed in a local guest house where the accommodations were basic, but the staff couldn’t have been nicer. Internet access was manageable but spotty and slow, and there were several power and water outages.

I met with the group several times under a towering fig tree, with occasional visits from cows, goats, chickens, and baboons. Only one member, Rahema Madega, spoke English. I also met with the group’s stakeholders, including local government officials, USAID, customers, suppliers, and other women’s groups. I used afternoons, evenings, and weekends to work on the business plan, financial templates, analysis, final report and presentation for CRS in Nairobi.

I asked a lot of questions, but the poor record keeping made it difficult to get an accurate picture of the financial status. They did not have a handle on either income or expenses. Still, I was able to make recommendations. For example, Rahema was managing the entire enterprise herself, and this is not sustainable. We outlined a management team structure in order to split the work, but there will be challenges to find people with the requisite skills.

The milling operation was losing money due to constant equipment breakdowns, but they had taken steps to purchase new equipment and locate better manufacturing and retail facilities from the county government so they might eventually become a certified food processing plant. Huruma also had a solar drying facility donated by USAID that was completely underutilized, so we explored other fruits and vegetables that they could dry and sell at low manufacturing cost but good profit margins. In addition we identified marketing tools, promotion ideas, and new value-added products that they could add longer term. They now have a plan to use as a guide for growth and importantly, to obtain financing.

This type of volunteer work is ideal if you enjoy hands-on international development experience and learning about a culture by living it. It is also great for building experience for a career or job change, if you can block the time to do it. Each assignment is unique, and the challenge is exceedingly gratifying.

For more information on the Farmer-to-Farmer Program click here.


God’s Grace Is in Your Gift

Dear Friend,

Thanksgiving is a time to take stock of our many blessings: our families, friends, health, freedom—and the remarkable bounty that provides for our needs.

Certainly there are needs, wants and injustices in this country that prompt our concern and action, but consider that at the very least our well-developed food supply chain ensures that there will be plenty to eat.

Even if there is a drought that disrupts the harvest we celebrate every autumn, we won’t go hungry. Millions of small-scale farmers and poor urban dwellers wish that they could enjoy that kind of resilience. Catholic Relief Services works alongside them every day to make their resilience a reality.

But as we contemplate a table groaning under the weight of the food we will soon put on it—and the friends and family we will share it with—I want to draw your attention to an even more fundamental gift from our generous God.

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Pope Francis Calls for ‘Change of Paradigm’ in Ending World Hunger

VATICAN CITY, October 17, 2014 (Zenit.org)

Bor County (Kondai Village - Makuach Payam), South Sudan - Beneficiaries Ayak Wal Garang, 14, and her father, Wal Garang Dhiek, 42, remove weeds from the family's groundnut field. The tools they're using and seeds for the groundnuts were provided by Catholic Relief Services. Ric Francis for CRS

Bor County (Kondai Village – Makuach Payam), South Sudan – Beneficiaries Ayak Wal Garang, 14, and her father, Wal Garang Dhiek, 42, remove weeds from the family’s groundnut field. The tools they’re using and seeds for the groundnuts were provided by Catholic Relief Services. Ric Francis for CRS

Pope Francis says that defeating world hunger will require more than aid and donations. Instead, we must “change the paradigm of aid and development policies” and change “how we understand work, economic aims and activity, food production and the protection of the environment.”

The Pope said this in a message to the director general of the FAO, Jose Graziano da Silva, to mark World Food Day, held Thursday.

World Food Day was instituted in 1979 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in order to raise public awareness and strengthen solidarity in the fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

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CRS Offers Five Fixes for Youth in Central America

Claudia, pictured here with her daughter and cousin, lives in a small town in Honduras. With the highest homicide rate in the world and few economic opportunities, many young people like Claudia feel compelled to migrate. She tried to reunite with her mother, who lives and works in the United States, but the journey was too dangerous, and she was eventually sent back to Honduras. (Photo by Silverlight for CRS.)

Claudia, pictured here with her daughter and cousin, lives in a small town in Honduras. With the highest homicide rate in the world and few economic opportunities, many young people like Claudia feel compelled to migrate. She tried to reunite with her mother, who lives and works in the United States, but the journey was too dangerous, and she was eventually sent back to Honduras. (Photo by Silverlight for CRS.)

Sean Callahan, chief operating officer for Catholic Relief Services, recently traveled to Central America to meet with government officials, members of marginalized communities and Church partners to discuss real solutions to the realities children face.

 

“I not only heard of, but witnessed the increasing desperation of families due to inescapable violence for many children, degrading poverty and family separation,” Callahan said. “In the long run, we must help to provide security and opportunity in their home communities to stem this migration.”

 

As part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s annual conference, Callahan participated on the panel Unaccompanied Central American Minors: Long-Term Solutions. He presented five fixes to help youth in the region:

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