Posts Tagged ‘Global Fellows’

In Nicaragua, Hope Amid a Sea of Poverty

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Rev. David H. Garcia serves as Senior Advisor for Clergy Outreach for Catholic Relief Services. He also supports the agency’s Global Fellows program, a grassroots speaking initiative for Catholic priests and seminarians. He recently accompanied a group of Global Fellows to Nicaragua to see CRS programs in Fair Trade and microfinance.

My recent trip to Nicaragua with a Global Fellows group of seven priests, permanent deacons and seminarians along with Ted Miles from HQ put me through a roller coaster of emotions. This was my introduction to learn about CRS first hand for my new position as Senior Advisor for Clergy Outreach, which I began July 1.

an organic coffee plant

Consuelo Alvaro of the FEM Cooperative in Yano Uno, Nicaragua, shows Fr David Garcia an organic coffee plant. Photo by CRS staff

It is hard to not be depressed by the sea of poverty all around you as you travel Nicaragua. Over 70% of the people in this country, second poorest after Haiti in the hemisphere, live on less than $2 a day. Yet the price of many items is similar to the United States. Gas is higher than in the US, hovering at $5 a gallon, while inflation this year is approaching 22%. People live trying to decide what they can and cannot do about the basics of life for themselves and their families.

Recent history has not been kind to this country. Managua has yet to recover from an earthquake in 1972 that devastated the capital city, destroying the downtown area, including the old cathedral. Although a new cathedral was built away from the city center with funds from donors in the U.S., the downtown has not come back. The Sandinista overthrow of the the Somoza regime in 1979 and the Contra War in the ‘80’s, along with Hurricane Mitch, which soon followed, have taken a harsh toll. Over half a million Nicaraguans have migrated to neighboring Costa Rica looking for work. There they are often treated harshly by the residents. Some have made their way to the United States in a desperate bid to provide for their families.

What we saw gave us hope in a sea of poverty. Hard-working people had received micro loans through Catholic Relief Services, as well as technical, educational and resource assistance. With this help they had organized their farms, small businesses and cooperatives into viable income-producing projects that have helped change their lives.

In one area, Yano Uno near Matagalpa, a group of 12 women told us how they began the FEM (Fundacion Entre Mujeres) cooperative as part of Proyecto ACORDAR with a CRS loan, which helped them rent land to grow coffee and other crops. They also received help from the local diocesan Caritas through a CRS grant to address issues of education, literacy, health, violence and domestic abuse. While we visited they showed us a new wet mill, which is a machine that separates the coffee bean from the fruit pulp. CRS provided it and we were asked to bless it, as they looked forward to a more efficient processing of the coffee crop this year. The women now have a growing business selling Fair Trade organic shade-grown coffee, which is among the highest quality possible. They have paid back the initial loan and their children are now dreaming of going to the university. It was impressive how much they are aware not only of good business practices, but also marketing, prices, organic methods, and preserving the environment. These women never had much chance at formal education and now are changing the future for their entire village.

The women of the FEM Cooperative in Yano Uno, Nicaragua, share their Fair Trade coffee with Fr. David Garcia. Photo by CRS staff

Fe Y Esperanza (Faith and Hope) is the name of a cooperative of men and women in a small rural community near Esteli. They spoke of organizing to produce organic fertilizer. Other individuals in other rural areas spoke of increasing their crop yields through improved farming techniques like drip irrigation and organic practices. All told us they were doing their work to preserve the environment as they raised their crops. CRS had helped with micro loans and technical assistance through Caritas.

We were perhaps most moved by one man, Don Juan Alberto, who was helping build a home for his family of five children, including two who were disabled and one he had adopted. The materials were donated by the local Caritas, with CRS help.

Like I said, it was a roller coaster of emotions all week. I saw and experienced personally that the work of CRS changes lives. I heard from the people their extreme gratitude for our help. I felt the solidarity of our common brotherhood and sisterhood with them. The group of Global Fellows became more committed to our preaching ministry.

There was tremendous poverty and wonderful examples of hope. I chose to believe in the hope and the people who shared it with me.

Reflections Upon Visiting in The Holy Land

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

This month, Catholic Relief Services has received a series of personal reflections from The Holy Land. These dispatches were written by participants in the Global Fellows program.

Each year, participants in the Global Fellows program are invited to travel to the developing world, to experience the plight of the poor and marginalized overseas. Upon their return, the Global Fellows are empowered to preach in parishes across the United States about social justice and peace around the world.

This year, they traveled to Israel and the Palestinian territories, to observe daily life in this difficult place.

Read these personal reflections from The Holy Land.

The Impact of Settlements
Fr. Paul Esser – Archdiocese of Milwaukee
Tale of Three People: Christians, Palestinians and Israelis
Fr. Don Lapointe – Diocese of Springfield, MA
Human Dignity for Both Palestinians and Israelis
Msgr. Joseph Ciampaglio – Diocese of Paterson
Walls Instead of Bridges?
Fr. Joe Muth – Archdiocese of Baltimore

The Impact of Settlements

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Fr. Paul Esser – Archdiocese of Milwaukee

Osama Shakanah addressed our CRS delegation to the Palestinian village of Nahaleen, near Bethlehem. Everyone sat on white plastic chairs in the dusty, cold room. Small plastic cups of hot coffee were given to everyone. Amid the cacophony of cell phones and the scraping of chairs being moved; the coming and going of men, women and youth; we were welcomed by Osama. President George W. Bush was in town and nearby, creating a massive traffic mess. In this village of 7,000 persons, there is a 70% unemployment rate. They depend on agriculture but the Israeli settlers have taken their land and cut down their trees.

The people of Nahaleen poured out their hearts to the members of our group. They wanted us to know how the four Israeli settlements that now sat on the hill overlooking Nahaleen have drastically changed their lives. “We want to live here; this is our land,” they said. They have lived in peace for generations. Everything they said added up to a cry for help. CRS’ Food for Work program is a help, but merely sufficient for them as they struggle to survive, though they want to live.

After the 1948 UN resolution creating the State of Israel, Palestinians were advised that they could return to their home shortly. Our visit to the Dehaisheh refugee camp showed us the successive generations still waiting to return home. The youth of this camp are full of the spirit of hope. They are being worked with to develop their leadership abilities. Through a CRS program called Cyber Bridges, they are in contact with a high school in Chicago; they exchange names, learn about each others countries, but they long to meet face to face. Only lack of money keeps them from coming to the United States. Meanwhile they use the computer to visit with each other. They are helped by leadership programs to develop their social skills and they are guided to stay clear of drugs and to avoid giving up hope.

A visit to Hebron showed our group the significance of the Jewish settlement right in the middle of the bustling Palestinian city. Many Palestinians have been displaced from their homes; their shops have been permanently closed and sealed. The Israeli military is a strong presence in the city as they patrol and set up checkpoints. We came upon a Palestinian being questioned at length by a group of Israeli police. A certain area of the city has been turned into a ghost town by vacated Palestinian homes and shops. Our visit several days ago to B’Tselem and the CDs they gave us showed us the violence the situation in Hebron has caused.

Fr. Paul Esser, from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, is a member of the Global Fellows: Parish Homily Program. The Global Fellows: priests, deacons and seminarians, travel to the developing world to experience the plight of the poor and marginalized overseas. Upon their return, the Global Fellows are empowered to preach in parishes across the United States about social justice and peace around the world. This entry is a personal reflection by one of the participants in this program, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Catholic Relief Services, or its partners.

Tale of Three People: Christians, Palestinians and Israelis

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Fr. Don Lapointe – Diocese of Springfield, MA

We have all heard of the “The Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. I call my reflection the “Tale of Three People.” I am here in Israel on our fourth day with Catholic Relief Services. We were able to celebrate Mass at the Chapel of St. Peter in Galicantu. It is the place which marks the incident where the Apostle Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Oh how good it would be if we could just turn our backs and deny the suffering that we see in this part of the world.

It is indeed the struggle of three people. The number of Christians is at record lows in this country, down to less than two percent of the total population. The Israeli people struggle for security from fear and attacks from all sides. The Palestinians suffer from the effects of the Israeli insecurity. They feel the frustration and oppression and they find themselves in desperation.

When fear dictates actions we, are in a poor position to make sound judgments and we make serious mistakes. We are led to do things we would not ordinarily do. This struggle illustrates a case in point. As a result of the Israelis’ need for security we find that the Christians flee the area as soon as they can. The Palestinians face unbelievable restrictions. We find 561 road obstacles in a country the size of New Jersey. We find people are not able to go out in the streets or even to cross the street for fear of being shot. We find people having to travel for hours through several road blocks just to work their land because they are not able to travel the same road as their fellow countrymen.

We find people being taxed or overcharged for water that comes from a well on their own property when the same water is transported long distances to other settlements for less charge. We find people not allowed to build a home on their own land when settlements are readily built on their land without their permission or consent.

There are so many more violations found in the reports of the United Nations and all in the name of “security.” How much more must we witness and for how long. Pain brings more pain and pain brings desperation. Nation blames nation and the beat goes on.

Thanks be to God and for the meeting at Annapolis. There is now a possible Peace proposal. It is a small chance. It is a difficult but workable proposal. But it is a chance which brings a spark of hope. It is a solution which has the potential to bring about a chance at a just and secure peace with dignity for all involved. Is it not worth our prayers? Is it not worth our support? Is it not worth any effort we can bring? The pain and welfare of so many depend on it. The alternative would only bring more pain, more distrust and more hopelessness.

Fr. Don Lapointe, from the Diocese of Springfield, MA, is a member of the Global Fellows: Parish Homily Program. The Global Fellows: priests, deacons and seminarians, travel to the developing world to experience the plight of the poor and marginalized overseas. Upon their return, the Global Fellows are empowered to preach in parishes across the United States about social justice and peace around the world. This entry is a personal reflection by one of the participants in this program, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Catholic Relief Services, or its partners.

Human Dignity for Both Palestinians and Israelis

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Msgr. Joseph Ciampaglio – Diocese of Paterson

We began our day with Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Despite the ornate surroundings, we were caught up in the mystery of what happened 2,000 years ago in this holy place – the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus – the central mysteries of our faith. To some degree that spirit permeated our day – a busy day of meetings with various officials and educators.

Mr. Avraham Lavine, Director of International Organization’ Relations, Ministry of Labor and social affairs and his associate, Eliane Haddad.

One of the major responsibilities of this office is to relate to 96 different humanitarian organizations, such as Catholic Relief Services, which respond mainly to the Palestinian needs. In 1994, when the Palestinian economy completely collapsed, CRS became central in providing food and other humanitarian aid.

Mr. Lavine believes that the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians wish to live in harmony, yet the actions of the extremists on either side continue to upset the apple cart. Only a deep sense of compromise can solve the current problems.

Risa Zoll of B’Tselem

B’Tselem is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the occupied territories. B’Tselem – “in the image of” – is a dynamic agency founded by a group of public figures to enhance human dignity for both Palestinians and Israelis.

It employs 26 field researchers. They take testimony from victims of human rights violations, video the respondents and publicize the facts to governmental agencies and the general public. It attempts to “jar Israelis from a state of denial.” They have documented facts that the “wall” and the settlements have caused many human rights violations for Palestinians. It is a credit to the Israeli government that it permits this organization to function so openly.

Most powerful of all were the videos taken by the local Palestinian people of the different abuses at the hand of the settlers. Settlers are seen taunting, throwing stones, at the Palestinians, in the presence of the police, so that the Palestinians are virtually prisoners in their own homes.

After lunch we headed for

Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Inter-religious affairs.

This man is truly dynamic and extremely articulate as he describes his life experiences of complex issues and situations without taking a breath. He suggested that we could help solve the problem if we enable people to get beyond the mentality of seeing the Israelis as all right and the Palestinians as all wrong or vice versa. See the facts as they are – people can be loved without somebody being hated. Also needed is more active engagement by the United States, without taking sides.

Dr. Mahadi Hadi, Director of PASSA

Mr. Hadi is a brilliant man who has compiled detailed histories of both Israelis and Palestinians from the founding to the present in order to help people, especially youth, to talk, research and educate.

After years of study, discussion, meeting and organization, this man’s heart spilled over as he said, “at sixty I am tired of being nice. I must speak out about the facts as I see them.” The heart needs to be reached if decency, respect and dignity are to be honored. We must grapple with the soul of humanity to bring about peace.

Our visit with the Latin Patriarch was canceled, which was disappointing. By the end of the day, we were overloaded with information and needed a break to process all we had heard.

In summary, today was a powerful, yet overwhelming day!

Msgr. Joseph Ciampaglio, from the Diocese of Paterson, is a member of the Global Fellows: Parish Homily Program. The Global Fellows: priests, deacons and seminarians, travel to the developing world to experience the plight of the poor and marginalized overseas. Upon their return, the Global Fellows are empowered to preach in parishes across the United States about social justice and peace around the world. This entry is a personal reflection by one of the participants in this program, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Catholic Relief Services, or its partners.

Walls Instead of Bridges?

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Fr. Joe Muth – Archdiocese of Baltimore

We are told that three visitors from the East arrived one day in Jerusalem inquiring about the child that had been born. That was in the first century. Twenty centuries later seven visitors from the West (from Catholic Relief Services) arrived one day in the same town, wondering about the same child.

In Jesus’ time, Jerusalem was occupied by the Romans, and today many parts of the city are occupied, in violation of International Law by Israel. The State of Israel is creating a wall to make itself more secure and to extend the size of Israeli controlled Jerusalem. The Palestinians see this wall as an oppressive, insecure, illegal occupation of their land. Both sides vehemently defend their position psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and of course, militarily. The seven Global Fellows western visitors spent their first day in Israel in the Bethlehem District seeing glimpses of the wall; also referred to as an electrified security fence or security barrier.

Walls instead of bridges? In the motherland of faith, the home of Christians, Muslims, and Jews, who can believe what we have seen?

As visitors to this nation we have been told to look for balance, to listen for balance, and to seek balance. Even if we find balance I feel like we will be accused of betraying the Palestinians or not listening to the Israelis.

Balance is what Jesus cautioned against. Balance is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus says the new law is to love you enemies and pray for your persecutors. If the occupation of this land is still going on, then so must the message of Jesus.

Our day began with Mass at the Church of the Annunciation, in Beit Jala. Despite the difficulties we had heard about, there was singing, joy, and friendship at the liturgy. Good conversation followed the liturgy. We talked about the plight of the Palestinian people and their desire to be treated humanely, with dignity and respect. They want their story to be.

Throughout the day, we heard about despair, poverty and the illegal occupation of land. We heard that Palestinians are not allowed to fly out of Tel Aviv, but must fly out of Jordan. We heard about humiliation, harassment, and long waiting times at checkpoints. In all of this, people still had a sense of hope and survival. They were also excited about family parties as they were preparing to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.

We left to return to our hotel in Jerusalem – waited about 20 minutes at a checkpoint going from Palestinian territory to Israeli territory. While waiting a young Palestinian man wearing a knapsack walked up to the checkpoint. The Israeli soldier exchanged loud words with him – lifted his rifle, pointed it at the Palestinian boy, stepped behind a barrier, and prepared to fire. We watched this unfold, stricken with fear, fell silently waiting. The young man turned around and walked away. We breathed a sigh of relief and continued our journey. I imagine this happens many times in the course of a day. Tensions are high.

We can learn lessons from the Palestinian people. They have developed a spirituality of fear, despair and frustration – it is their life!

The Magi left their gifts and returned home. I hope that by the end of the week we can discover the gifts we are supposed to leave here, too.

Fr. Joe Muth, from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is a member of the Global Fellows: Parish Homily Program. The Global Fellows: priests, deacons and seminarians, travel to the developing world to experience the plight of the poor and marginalized overseas. Upon their return, the Global Fellows are empowered to preach in parishes across the United States about social justice and peace around the world. This entry is a personal reflection by one of the participants in this program, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Catholic Relief Services, or its partners.