By Emmett Hall
Catholic Relief Services is putting the social teaching of the church into action in over 80 countries around the world, as the official international humanitarian agency of the United States Catholic Bishops. Yet many American Catholics are unaware of the good work CRS is doing on their behalf. This spring I traveled to Sierra Leone, which is located in West Africa, along with five other seminarians and one priest. The trip gives participants a unique opportunity to not only help others, but share their experiences and observations with others when they return home.
We arrived at Lungi International Airport on the evening of Easter Monday and took a ferry across the bay into the capital, where we spent the night. We were briefed at CRS headquarters the next morning, and then we began our long trek over mostly dirt roads to the east of the country, the area hardest hit by their recent civil war (1992-2002). We visited two villages there, both of which were participating in CRS programs to combat malaria and infant mortality. One of the villages had also received CRS aid in rebuilding homes after the war.
There are a number of charitable organizations operating in Sierra Leone and other countries around the world, but CRS stands out among them in some significant ways.
CRS serves the poorest of the poor, especially in remote areas beyond the reach of other organizations.
CRS engages the communities it serves, giving them a sense of ownership in a project or program and a stake in its success. They make a point of listening to the members ofa community so that they can address their real needs.
Finally, CRS is unique among faith-based organizations in serving the entire community, regardless of creed, and so is a force for unity rather than discord. They preach theGospel to all through their actions, and win many converts without proselytizing. (In fact, the bishop of one of the dioceses we visited attributes his own conversion in part to the witness of CRS.)
CRS serves the universal church, and we as Catholics have a stake in the success of its mission. The first and best way to support this mission is through prayer, which has a real effect on those serving and those served, while at the same time opening ourselves to the workings of God’s grace in our own lives.
In addition to prayer, there are many resources available online at www.crs.org to learn more about what CRS does and how to get involved.
Emmett Hall is a Diocese of Dallas seminarian studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.