Tagged: Solidarity

Pascasie from CRS Rwanda is coming to Camden (And she sent an awesome video greeting to us)

Pascasie Musabyemungu works for Catholic Relief Services in Rwanda, her native country. She’s visiting the United States this Lent to share her story and talk about the work of CRS, and she’ll be stopping by the Diocese of Camden on Wednesday, March 9, at 2:30 pm.

Download a flyer for the event here.

She’s so excited for her visit to South Jersey she recorded a special video greeting just for us! Check it out:

Event Details:

Pascasie Musabyemungu (CRS Rwanda) Special Event
Wednesday, March 9, 2016 | 2:30 — 3:30 pm
Diocese of Camden Pastoral Center (3rd Floor)
15 N. 7th Street, Camden, NJ 08102
Free admission
Registration required:
Email michael.laskey@camdendiocese.org to RSVP.

A bit about Pascasie:

Pascasie Musabyemungu has a mission: to work for peaceful, healthy communities in her home country of Rwanda.

Pascasie, who has worked with Catholic Relief Services for more than 15 years, will share stories of people whose lives have improved dramatically since they began participating in CRS programs.

Pascasie works with the hungry, people living with HIV, orphans, vulnerable youth, the elderly and people traumatized by a region rife with conflict and social division. The Women Building Peace Project Across Borders brings together 60 women traders to promote peace. The women serve as critical conduits of information, breaking down harmful stereotypes and preconceptions.

Pascasie was born and raised in the eastern region of Rwanda. When she was a child, her family provided food and essential living supplies to patients in need at a clinic near their home. Additionally, she and her siblings spent two afternoons each week caring for an elderly couple.

In 1994, Pascasie and her family lived through the horrors of the Rwandan genocide. These experiences profoundly influenced her decision to work for CRS and help others in her community.

Pascasie resides in Kigali with Laurent Twahirwa, her husband of more than 30 years. They have four daughters—Josianne, Carine, Christelle and Samantha—and four grandchildren.




Three Lessons from the Diocese of Camden Pilgrimage to West Virginia

Last winter, a friend of mine in West Virginia invited me to speak at a social ministries conference there. “Sounds good,” I said to her,” but instead of just me, how about I get a group of South Jerseyans together and we come down for a few extra days?”

“Why not?” she replied.

So I reached out to some Catholics from around the diocese and invited them to join me for a “solidarity pilgrimage” – a trip to Appalachia designed to introduce us to the region’s gifts and challenges and to facilitate relationship-building across state lines.

For five days in May, eight of us from the Diocese of Camden traveled around West Virginia in minivans and connected with different Catholic ministries there. The pilgrimage was a series of incredible experiences. Here are three of the many lessons our group learned on the trip, which I’ve pulled from reflections several of our pilgrims wrote when returned home.

Diocese of Camden pilgrims to West Virginia worked with local resident Ron Hutson (fifth from right) on a repair project during their stay at Nazareth Farm. From left to right: Nazareth Farm staff member Annika Darby; pilgrims Mike Jordan Laskey, Yanelis Fernandez, Donna Mills and Steve Mills; Ron Hutson; and pilgrims Jim Steintz, Amanda Dupras, Roger Asselta, and Geneva O’Brien.

Diocese of Camden pilgrims to West Virginia worked with local resident Ron Hutson (fifth from right) on a repair project during their stay at Nazareth Farm. From left to right: Nazareth Farm staff member Annika Darby; pilgrims Mike Jordan Laskey, Yanelis Fernandez, Donna Mills and Steve Mills; Ron Hutson; and pilgrims Jim Steintz, Amanda Dupras, Roger Asselta, and Geneva O’Brien.

1) Take risks.

The opportunity to take part in the pilgrimage came out of left field for the participants. “With little understanding of what to expect, six others and I said, ‘We’re in,’” writes Roger Asselta, a pilgrim from the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit (Mullica Hill/Woodstown).

“Truthfully, none of us really knew what to expect or why we were going,” writes Jim Steinitz, who’s from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish (Collingswood/Westmont). “But every one of us just knew we were being called by the Spirit to an encounter with others. My encountering began immediately as we gathered in Cherry Hill because I had previously met only one other person of our group.”

I’m not sure what convinced my seven co-pilgrims that traveling to West Virginia for five days with a relative stranger leading the way was a good idea, but they jumped in headfirst. Their courage and openness inspired me throughout our journey.

2) West Virginia is a beautiful place with some big-time challenges.

Our first stop on the pilgrimage was Nazareth Farm, an intentional community of young adults that welcomes groups like ours from around the country throughout the year for community service-based retreats. The afternoon we arrived, the farm’s director, Brian, led us on a hike.  “I don’t think any of us expected to go up a mountain a few hundred feet for our hike to the tallest point on the farm’s property, but once we got there, the view was breathtaking,” writes Geneva O’Brien, a pilgrim from Stockton University’s Catholic Campus Ministry program. “We were asked to close our eyes to pray and reflect in silence, and when I opened my eyes, I felt this overwhelming sense of peace and saw the beauty of God in the bright green trees and rocky earth.”

West Virginia is the only state that is entirely located in Appalachia – it’s nicknamed “The Mountain State” after all. Getting to know the state’s land was an essential part of our journey. Against this beautiful backdrop, though, we learned about the poverty and environmental degradation that have plagued much of the region.

We spent one morning of the pilgrimage at one of Catholic Charities West Virginia’s mobile food pantries, which sets up once a month in different communities. Roger sat in with a caseworker at the pantry who walked new clients through an intake process. “This involves a very close and personal interview revealing details of sad and sometimes desperate stories,” Roger writes. “I heard the words ‘I am hungry’ with a poignancy I never experienced before. It took all I had to keep it together.”

The next day, we toured Kayford Mountain with an attorney and advocate named Elise Keaton. Kayford is a piece of land that has been protected from the ravages of mountaintop removal coal mining. The late Larry Gibson, who grew up on the mountain, refused to sell it to mining companies. He started an organization called “Keeper of the Mountains” that advocates for an end to mountaintop removal mining. From Kayford, you could look out over a barren, leveled landscape that had once been a tree-covered mountain. The experience had a profound impact on Donna Mills, a pilgrim from the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit. “The destruction of mountaintop removal mining affects just about every part of the population by ripple effect. The vegetation has been destroyed – resulting in catastrophic flooding in the valley villages below,” she writes. “Businesses close, people can’t find employment, poverty takes over. And most disturbing to me as a mother is the fact that families must consider whether it is safe enough to bear children considering the toxic water supply.”

Elise Keaton from the Keeper of the Mountains organization describes the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. The barren landscape in the background was a lush mountain before it was mined.

Elise Keaton from the Keeper of the Mountains organization describes the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. The barren landscape in the background was a lush mountain before it was mined.

3) It’s OK to be unsettled and confused in the face of the world’s problems. But respond to the unsettling with education and action.

 Donna and her husband Steve, who was also on the pilgrimage, describe feeling almost helpless in the face of so many challenges. “Tucked away in my little corner of New Jersey, I had little knowledge of the challenges confronting the people of this region on a daily basis. That this level of poverty can be found in our country seems unconscionable,” Steve writes. “For the first few days after returning home I felt what I can only describe as an unsettled spirit, and it persists even now.”

And Donna shares, “The needs of this world can seem overwhelming. We can’t possibly fix everything. We might be inclined to think there is nothing one person could possibly do. It became very clear to me that God does expect each and every one of us to do something. Whether it is taking on the big industries that are destroying God’s creation (man and planet), being kind to the elderly person at the grocery store, or feeding a hungry child, we all have a the ability and responsibility to be His representatives and caretakers of this great earth and its inhabitants.”

We encountered so many examples of individuals and communities in West Virginia who recognize the size of the challenges they face and act with hope and love anyway. From the Nazareth Farm volunteers to the Catholic Charities staff we met to the Keeper of the Mountains organization, we met inspiring people whose witness compels us to continue our work for justice no matter the obstacle.

To read each pilgrim’s reflections in full, click the links below:

Roger Asselta
Jim Steinitz
Donna Mills
Steve Mills
Geneva O’Brien

Guest Post: Christ Our Light Is Building Relationships in Guatemala

By Glenna Harkins

In June of this year, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Guatemala with the Catholic Community of Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill. Guatemala is a country of about 16 million people located in Central America, just to the South of Mexico. It is a place of great beauty, with a horrifically violent recent past and a less than stable present.

glenna photo 2Over the past eight years, Christ Our Light has established a relationship with the indigenous Maya community in a remote mountain village called La Puerta, located about five hours northwest of the capital of Guatemala City. The village was a target of both the government and the guerrillas during Guatemala’s thirty-six year civil war, and lost close to thirty of its catechists and community leaders during the bloodiest few days of fighting.

Unlike many mission trips from the United States, the Christ our Light mission is not about building projects and physical labor. Instead the groups of about 15-20 adults each year offer a “ministry of presence” and catechesis to the people of the village.

For those readers who aren’t quite sure what a ministry of presence seeks to do, its main purpose is to build relationships and greater understanding between groups of people. Over the course of the week spent in La Puerta, we shared meals and stories together, read and studied the story of creation, celebrated Mass together, and visited community members’ homes together.  Even with the language barrier (conversations had to be translated from English to Spanish to their native Quiché and back again); by the end of the week the two groups had bonded.

I think about La Puerta and the people that I met there every day. There was Marcela, an older woman with a warm smile and crooked second-hand glasses, who welcomed us with hugs when we arrived. Lorenzo and Domingo, hardworking church leaders who served as tour guides and translators each day that we were there.

It was a young mother named Manuela and her children Maria, Maricruz, Jose, and Gregoria, who especially made their way into my heart and my prayers. Manuela had recently moved to La Puerta with her parents and brother and her own small children, while her husband moved to the coast of Guatemala to work on a coffee plantation. He had been sick, racking up medical bills that they couldn’t pay, which forced them off of their land and into a situation where they no longer live together. The father is able to come to visit the family only once per year, and that is only if he’s willing to forgo being paid. Their home in La Puerta was a three room log cabin where eight people lived. There was no electricity, no running water, no latrine, no stove. I’m about 5’10 and I couldn’t stand up straight inside. Yet the whole family radiated love. For God, for each other, for what they had, for their new community, and for us.glenna column photo

This trip to Guatemala was my third mission, and my seventh trip to Latin America. For me, one of the most difficult parts of any trip outside of the United States is trying to explain the depth of the experience that I had to folks back home. It’s like the feeling I get when people ask me about my work in Camden, NJ.

These places and their people are special, and you just kind of have to go there to get why. So, if you have it in your heart and your means to serve God and others by going on a mission, I encourage you to do just that. You will be enriched beyond anything you can explain.

Glenna Harkins is the Director of Programs at Catholic Partnership Schools in Camden, NJ.  

Five Tips for Building Global Solidarity at Your Parish

This is the fifth in a series of “Best Practices” posts that will cover various aspects of Life & Justice Ministries. (To see the all the entries in the series, click here.) Today, Cheryl Mrazik and Katie Kernich of Catholic Relief Services’ Mid-Atlantic regional office in Radnor, Penn., offer five tips for building global solidarity in your parish. 

As Catholics, we are blessed to be part of a truly universal Church that connects us to others around the world. The Catholic social teaching principle of solidarity beautifully expresses the universal nature of our Church: “We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching). But how can we live out this profound challenge in our parish communities? Here are some practical tips to consider:

1. Include the 6 o’clock news in your prayers at Mass. Often, we can feel very overwhelmed by the various conflicts, natural disasters, and other “bad news” around the world. It is easy to feel helpless and removed from these situations. But as Catholics, we are called to pray for and take action to assist those in need both in our own local communities and in our global community. Consider relating one intercession during the prayers of the faithful each week to a global issue that has been in the news lately. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) often has intercessions available on their website. Here is a recent example from CRS:

For communities around the world living in fear of war and violence, especially those in the Central African Republic, that the God of peace and justice will comfort and protect them in these dark hours, we pray to the Lord.

2. Create a visible reminder of your parish’s commitment to our brothers and sisters around the world. Your parish could start a chalice program, through which individuals or families in the parish can sign up to take a chalice home for a week and spend that week praying for people in another part of the world. Your parish might also display a “world prayer map” on which parishioners can place pins to indicate people or parts of our country and the world for which they are praying, inviting the rest of the parish community to join with them in prayer.

3. Invite speakers to your parish who address global issues. Many parishes have missions during Advent or Lent that include speakers. This would be an opportune time to invite a speaker who can share with the parish community about a particular global issue, or about the Church around the world. Many Catholic religious orders with missions overseas have speakers available for parishes. You may also invite a parishioner or someone else from the local community who has immigrated to the U.S. to share stories from his or her home country. CRS Global Fellows are priests and deacons available throughout the year, at no cost to the parish, to speak at parish masses about the global work of the Church and CRS’ projects overseas.

4. Celebrate members of your parish community who are living out our call to global solidarity. In your parish bulletin once a month, spotlight a parishioner or group of parishioners who has volunteered, advocated, or shown other types of support for global solidarity. At Mass, have the parish community bless parishioners who are traveling on mission trips overseas.  When members return from trips, invite them to share their experiences in some way with the rest of the parish.

5. Commit as a community to a particular global issue. Many Catholic parishes “twin” with other parishes overseas. Consider “twinning” as a parish for a certain period of time with a specific global issue. Select an issue theme and then try to consistently include that theme in the life of the parish through liturgy, faith formation, community activities and events, and so forth. Create a parish prayer related to the issue, place prayer cards in the pews, and pray the prayer together at every mass. Hunger is one issue example that has both local and global implications. Your parish could also take action to address hunger locally by serving food monthly at an anti-hunger organization in your community, and could address global hunger by participating in CRS Rice Bowl during Lent.

There are countless ways to demonstrate your parish community’s care and concern for our brothers and sisters around the world. Get creative, and remember to integrate global solidarity into the activities and events already going on at the parish!  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.” May we all continue to be inspired as we together live out our Gospel call to global solidarity.

kernichKatie Kernich works for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in its Northeast/Mid-Atlantic regional office in Radnor, PA. In that role, she works closely with the Diocese of Camden and seven other Catholic dioceses in the region to engage Catholics in the global mission of the Church through CRS. Katie has a bachelor’s degree in theology from The Catholic University of America, and a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame. Prior to starting with CRS, Katie worked in a parish in Fort Worth, TX, and as a campus minister at St. John’s College High School in Washington, DC.

CM headshotCheryl Mrazik also works for CRS in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic regional office, liaising with nine dioceses in the region, including the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Before coming to CRS, Cheryl worked at Romero Center Ministries in Camden, and in the campus ministry office of St. Augustine High School in San Diego, CA. Cheryl has bachelor’s degrees in English and Philosophy from the University of Scranton and a master’s degree in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Why is Pope Francis Calling Catholics to Fast for Peace in Syria?

When Pope Francis called for a day of Fasting and Prayer for peace in Syria, many Catholic outlets pulled together prayer services and resources (including this blog). But why are we called to pray AND fast this Saturday? 

In 2009, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio issued a Lenten message to the Archdiocese of Buenos Aries all about fasting. His ideas then shed light on his request for fasting now:

In his Lenten message, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, said amidst the atmosphere of “sadness” on display in the streets of Argentina with so many going hungry and in poverty, the Lenten fast is a way of expressing “solidarity with those who fast involuntarily” and helps people overcome indifference.

In a press release about the message, the cardinal said the reality of “men and women begging or going through trash, the elderly sleeping on street corners, kids sleeping on top of subway vents to stay warm” no longer “shocks us.”

“We show no interest in their lives, their stories, their needs or their future. How many times did their pleading looks made us look the other way and walk by.  When we get used to something we also become indifferent,” he warned.

Cardinal Berglogio called on the faithful to observe the Lenten fast as “God desires,” that is, “giving bread to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, clothing to the naked, and not turning our backs on our neighbor.”

“Today we need to fast by working so that others don’t have to fast. Today we can only practice fasting by taking of the pain and powerlessness of the millions who go hungry. Whoever does not fast for the poor cheats God. To fast is to love,” he said.

Our fasting this Saturday is a powerful way to stand with those who “fast involuntarily” in Syria, who are going without safety, shelter, peace, and more.

Guest Column: What Sarah Whitman Learned from the Materially Poor

Until recently, Haddon Heights native and St. Rose of Lima parishioner Sarah Whitman worked for an international volunteer program provider called ProWorld Service Corps. ProWorld has sites in several countries throughout the world, and at each of their locations, a group of local staffers coordinate volunteer experiences for high school and college students hailing from the United States. The work that ProWorld does is chosen based on community input, sustainable outcomes, and the cultivation of global citizens.

Sarah’s work with ProWorld was mostly in sales, but during the past two summers, she served as a support staff member. Sarah spent the summer of 2011 in Cusco, Peru and the summer of 2012 in Punta Gorda, Belize. Typically, her tasks involved serving as an unofficial counselor for students volunteering onsite and serving as a liaison between ProWorld and the greater communities of Cusco and Punta Gorda. “My experiences helped me to better (not fully, but better) understand the many types of poverty (physical, mental, spiritual, financial…) that exist in the world, and the meaning of God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves,” she writes. Sarah was kind enough to share a blog entry that she wrote while in Belize last summer.

To read more, visit her blogs at www.sarahperuana.blogspot.com and www.belizeyoume.wordpress.org. You can contact her at whitmanse [at] gmail [dot] com.


Be Yourself!

June 13, 2012

In my reading today, I came across a quote by Catherine of Siena. She said, “If you are what you should be you will set the whole world on fire.” What an incredible idea…that, simply by being our most authentic selves, we can start a revolution! So many of us wonder whether our lives have purpose (and if they do, what that purpose is), but Catherine reminds us of our capacity to be extraordinary simply be being the best version of ourselves! Could it really be that simple?

I find that in my travels with ProWorld, I am given the opportunity to meet and befriend many extraordinary people, who often possess beautiful gifts and specialized knowledge. Sometimes, I find myself envying someone else’s passion for keeping our planet green, or someone’s ability to stay energetic for seemingly endless hours in tropical heat, or perhaps someone’s knowledge of healthcare and healing. It’s very easy to focus on what we lack, or where we’ve failed, but imagine the good that could come from using that time spent moping to instead hone and practice the gifts that we do possess.

Sometimes, I find it really hard to be the best version of myself. On a long, hot bus ride, for example, I might not be inclined to respond enthusiastically to a conversation started by the person sitting beside me. Yet for the small price of my enthusiastic response, I can fulfill Mother Teresa’s command to “let no one come to me without leaving happier.” What’s worth more? Being exhausted and crabby, or spreading love and joy?

Choosing to be my best self every moment of every day is obviously easier said than done, but if Catherine of Siena’s words are right, then I’m pretty sure it’s well worth the effort!


Therefore, dearest readers, I challenge y’all today to think about what your best version of yourself would look like. What would “Super You” do?  Which of your talents are underutilized?  I often think about how funny it is that some people aspire to be dentists. In my mind, being a dentist would be the worst! Spending all day looking into peoples’ mouths and prodding their gums and smelling their breath? No gracias. And yet there are people who find dentistry fascinating and are excited to help make beautiful smiles, and I’m glad that they exist for the sake of the world’s teeth! What a riot, that both the aspiring dentist and I come from the same beginnings and yet offer such different takes on the world. We exist in beautiful, beautiful diversity, and I think that it is our uniqueness that really makes Catherine of Sienna’s words sing to me. If we all become “what we should be,” nothing will stop us from rocking the world!