Diocese’s Catholic Relief Services chapter looks to inspire others
By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
In January, the Diocese of Dallas’ only Catholic Relief Services chapter marked its one-year anniversary. Now its members hope to inspire other parishes to start their own chapters.
“It has been such a blessing to be able to directly contribute to Catholic international efforts through leadership with CRS,” said Mya Hardee, 21, who serves as the co-leader of the Dallas chapter along with Joan Toplicar. “Among our chapter members, I have seen so much passion and dedication for the efforts of CRS and its overseas programming in agriculture and climate adaptation.”
Catholic Relief Services is the official international Catholic relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Catholic Relief Services currently serves more than 100 countries in the regions of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Carribean, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
“CRS does this by providing programming that meets the needs in agriculture, education, and emergency response and recovery,” Hardee said. “Volunteering with this organization is so empowering because I know that my efforts are in conjunction with chapter members all over the country, and that together we are supporting CRS’ efforts to alleviate suffering in the present while also instilling powerful programming to sustain our brothers and sisters in the years to come.”
The Dallas chapter is the first and currently only CRS chapter in the diocese. The chapter has about a dozen active members, including parishioners from Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church in Allen, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Plano, and Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Dallas.
The chapter officially was formed in January 2023 and was born from the efforts of members of the existing Our Lady of Angels’ Catholic social teaching ministry.
Spearheading its formation was Deacon Mike Picard, who once served at Our Lady of Angels but is now assigned to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. For Deacon Picard, forming the diocesan chapter was a passion project.
“Two years ago, at a CRS Global Fellows gathering in Baltimore, I committed to starting a CRS chapter in the Dallas area. It took a while to get it going, but I was committed to starting a chapter here in the Diocese of Dallas,” said Deacon Picard, who also serves as a CRS Global Fellow. “I’ve always had a passion for Catholic social teaching. I’ve been talking about and preaching on that subject for 23 years.”
CRS Global Fellows are trained and vetted to represent Catholic Relief Services in dioceses across the United States. Deacon Picard said Global Fellows deliver homilies during weekend liturgies and present at community events. Their witness aims to describe “the good work that the Catholic Church is doing alongside the world’s most vulnerable people.”
At its roots, Deacon Picard said his passion for CRS is fueled by the call to promote a culture of life.
“For a lot of people, the pro-life ministry is really all about anti-abortion but there’s so much more to it than that,” he explained. “I often preach that we care about the unborn but not so much about the born. With Catholic Relief Services, we can help people all over the world who are in need. We can make a real difference in many people’s lives. That’s what calls me to be a part.”
As a Global Fellow, Deacon Picard has had the opportunity to travel internationally and see Catholic Relief Services’ efforts at work firsthand. In February 2023, he traveled to Zambia, Africa with a CRS delegation.
“I got to see where the money raised goes and how it helps the people in those nations who are in need,” Deacon Picard said. “One of the first things I noticed was that the people were so joyful, so appreciative. It was our Catholic faith in action.”
A key aspect of CRS’ international aid program involves providing opportunities for people to support themselves by hiring locals to oversee and train others to continue the relief efforts.
“It’s the old adage, ‘Rather than give a man a fish, teach him to fish.’ CRS’ mission is to teach others so they can teach even more people and so on,” Deacon Picard said. “It’s really about giving them ownership of this ministry.”
Not everyone can travel internationally to help with CRS’ mission. Instead, Deacon Picard said a big focus of local chapter members is on legislative advocacy and noted that advocacy is a key reason why he’d like to see more CRS chapters form in the Diocese of Dallas.
“The more voices we have, the better,” Deacon Picard said.
Local chapter members want to see other chapters formed in the diocese, Hardee said.
“Having multiple chapters would mean more influence in state advocacy efforts, as well as opportunities for the chapters to work together,” Hardee said. “The chapter believes that its success and passion is evidence of the importance of this ministry.”
CRS chapter membership is a flexible commitment, allowing members to contribute what they can to help. All members are encouraged to attend monthly chapter meetings as well as CRS national calls in which members from chapters across the U.S. gather virtually to hear from CRS staff and special speakers about the current initiatives of CRS. Aside from these basic commitments, members can choose to what extent they are involved in advocacy or fundraising.
“Some of the chapter members are more comfortable with writing letters, while some enjoy speaking directly with representatives,” she explained. “Still others enjoy organizing fundraising events. CRS also provides opportunities to complete a simple action every month to support current legislative goals.”
A Lenten tradition
Toplicar can trace her involvement with Catholic social teaching back to her childhood.
“When I was a child at Catholic school in New York back in the 1950s, we would have to collect pennies for the poor,” she recalled. “It was that practice, that idea, that built the foundation of my wanting to help people in need no matter where they were in the world.”
Toplicar said that the same ideal is the basis of one of CRS’ most visible fundraising efforts. For more than four decades, Catholic Relief Services has been enriching the Lenten journey of U.S. Catholics through Rice Bowl; Toplicar said the popular program does that by adhering to three pillars of Lent.
“Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving,” she explained. “It’s what we want to do as Christians, help our neighbors — whether we know them or not — no matter where they are in the world. This is how all of us can do it. It’s an excellent way for a Catholic to help a Catholic organization that is doing so much good.”
As the Lenten season begins with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 14, Hardee said the local chapter has focused on increasing involvement in the Rice Bowl program this year.
“We have created an online giving page, and Deacon Picard has made plans to speak about the significance of the Rice Bowl during Masses at area parishes at the start of the Lenten season,” Hardee said. “This initiative provides Catholics with the opportunity to donate to CRS efforts and experience solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world through regional meatless meals and educational resources.”
Anyone wanting to start a chapter in their parish can find more information at CRS.org or is welcome to reach out to Deacon Picard by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate to the CRS Rice Bowl initiative online, visit https://mobilizecrs.donordrive.com/team/Dallas.