Archbishop's web site Denver Catholic Register Parishes Catholic Pastoral Center
February 21, 2001
Catholic Relief Service efforts change lives of poor
By Roxanne King
Even small efforts to help can make a big difference in the lives and dignity of the world's poor, a priest with Catholic Relief Services said.
In Denver to promote the Global Fellows program, in which seminarians visit CRS relief sites around the world to encourage solidarity with the poor and awareness of the organization's aid projects, Father John Geaney, C.S.P., made the comment lauding local Catholic school students, who raised nearly $1,400 to help earthquake victims in El Salvador. The students are exhibiting the kind of solidarity CRS hopes to develop in the hearts of all the faithful.
El Salvador experienced its worst quake in a decade when it was struck by a magnitude 7.7 quake Jan 13. Salvadorans then experienced a 6.7 quake Feb. 12. India was struck with a 7.9 tremor Jan. 26. More than 20,000 people are feared dead in the combined tragedies, which left hundreds of thousands homeless.
CRS, the international relief agency of the United States Catholic Bishops, is providing aid to both areas.
"The tragedy is equal in both places," Father Geaney said. "People need food and clothing. It is only through the generosity of people that we can provide these lifesaving measures."
CRS provides emergency relief such as food, water, blankets and temporary housing to people in crisis, then follows up with development projects to prevent future tragedies from being as devastating, the priest said.
"In Ghana, CRS has what is called the Food and Education program we feed the children then we educate them," Father Geaney said. "After a time, they have an education and have an opportunity to make other choices than poverty."
During a visit to a seminary last summer to promote the Global Fellows program, Father Geaney said that a seminarian from Ghana stood up and said, "I want you to know that I'm a product of the Food and Education program."
"Now he's a deacon in the Church," Father Geaney said. "He will be ordained (to the priesthood) this May or June."
The most satisfying aspect about working for CRS is seeing firsthand "how even small programs change people's lives," Father Geaney said.
"For example, in Cuba, one parish has four washing machines and an extractor a wringer that extracts the water," he said, adding that in the CRS assisted project, a parish volunteer uses the machines to do laundry for the elderly. "That's an apostolate, a ministry. They can't wash their clothes. He has soap and water the people don't. The people take the clean clothes and hang them up to dry. They don't have to do the hard washboard scrubbing.
"It shows you what a small amount of money can do to help restore people's dignity."
In Bosnia, CRS bakes 45,000 loaves of bread a day and distributes them.
"I asked the manager of the food distribution, `What else do they eat?'" Father Geaney said. "He said, `Father, they're happy to have the loaf of bread.'
"I don't think we know what that means," the priest added.
If not for the generosity of people in the U.S., many of those rendered helpless by the earthquakes in El Salvador and India would not eat, Father Geaney said.
"All of us are Church. Those kids that are starving are just like the kids in our parish religious education classes," he said, adding that the seminarian program is designed to build "global solidarity" that seminarians will take with them into parishes after ordination.
"CRS takes seminarians from major seminaries on formation trips to various developing nations so they have the sense of having the hearts of missionaries, even though they will be serving in local dioceses," Father Geaney said, adding that he was "very encouraged" by the interest of the local seminaries in the program. Providing relief and restoring dignity to the world's poor is the two-fold mission of CRS, Father Geaney said. A seminarian who participated in a recent Global Fellows trip told Father Geaney that now when he sees photographs of starving children anywhere in the world, he realizes he could have taken the same photo while he was in Africa. The trip made him realize that change can happen. "I know from those pictures what it means to be hurt and yet, to see hope in their lives," he said. Send donations payable to Catholic Relief Services, 1300 S. Steele St., Denver, CO 80210. Indicate whether donation is for El Salvador or India.