After many years of work with Catholic Relief Services, Lent, and its seasonal period of reflection, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, grows more meaningful to me year after year. It’s not just because of the stories I hear about the help that CRS provides to those who are suffering. It is the fact that with each season of Lent we are coming closer and closer to the realization of a global community – of one human family.
Each Lent we come together as a Catholic family to pray for those suffering from poverty and injustice. As we pray for peace this year, I think about our work with the worlds’ refugees, our brothers and sisters who are enduring violence and civil strife in their native lands. They may not be in the news every day, but they are our companions. We should walk with them and pray for them this Lent.
We should pray for people like Jenita Lopessa, a 13 year-old girl who, because of continued fighting in her native Angola, did not receive immunizations for polio. She contracted the disease in 2001. The Polio Project, a joint endeavor between CRS and the Angolan Ministry of Health, is helping to build polio vaccinations campaigns around the country to ensure others will not be infected with this crippling disease. We are also working with those like Jenita to help them live full, happy and healthy lives.
As we fast this Lent, we fast in solidarity with our brothers and sisters overseas who do not have enough food to feed their families. We work to feed the hungry. We work to make sure farmers have enough water to grow their crops. Many of them will not be fasting out of sacrifice, but we will be with them as we do so during Lent.
We are also asked to give whatever we can to help those less fortunate during Lent. Every little bit helps – small sums can add up to provide significant help to those who need it overseas. Here at CRS, we work with our local partners to provide economic opportunities for women who need a source of income to support their families or to help farmers grow their crops and their farms. When we make a contribution during Lent, we help men like Ek Sakhorn, who participated in an agricultural improvement group sponsored by CRS and its partners in his Cambodian village. As a result of what he learned, he is now making enough money to not only grow crops for his family but to sell at the market. With the added income, he built a new home, paid for treatment of his wife’s illnesses and is sending his children to school. Whether we make a small gift or contribute to a large collection, we recognize that helping people like Ek is the reason we all give.
As we enter Lent this year, I hope that we will be able to see and feel the powerful experience of global solidarity that comes with helping others. As somebody who is privileged to work with CRS, I see this connection every day. It is my hope that this season of giving will last well past Easter, and inspire us all to follow Jesus’ example, to “love our neighbors.”
Elizabeth Martin is the Senior Program Manager for Operation Rice Bowl CRS’ annual Lenten program, through which Catholics in the United States pray, fast and give in accordance with the themes of Lent, as they learn more about our global community. For more information, please visit http://orb.crs.org.