By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Each Lenten season, Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport drop coins and bills into Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl banks in an effort to help the poor and vulnerable locally and overseas.
Last fall, Father David Brownfield, a priest of the Diocese of Davenport and a local CRS board member, had the opportunity to see the work of CRS up close in the Middle East. “I got to see how CRS takes an integral approach to giving aid to people.”
The week-long pilgrimage was part of a class he took at North American College in Rome’s Institute for Continuing Theological Education, The Work of CRS in the Land of the Patriarchs. The class and the pilgrimage that followed reinforced his belief that “CRS has done a lot of good work over the years.”
Jordan, though it has few natural resources, is generally friendly toward refugees who are fleeing religious persecution in the region. “It’s one of the most open Arab countries,” Fr. Brownfield said. It is estimated that refugees make up about one-third of the current population. Refugees there generally live alongside citizens rather than in segregated camps, he said.
In Jordan, CRS partners heavily with Caritas Jordan, a charitable organization within the Catholic Church. Among other endeavors, Caritas Jordan has resource centers where individuals — refugees in particular — can receive food and assistance for immediate needs, medical care, counseling to deal with trauma, and receive advice. Each site has a child safe zone for youngsters to play and receive age-appropriate counseling from trauma while their parents are seeking assistance, Fr. Brownfield said. “Being a refugee is a traumatic experience, I’d think.”
The largest groups of refugees in Jordan come from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Palestine and Yemen. Most are waiting for another country to accept them as citizens. While refugees are not allowed to take jobs from Jordanian citizens, they are allowed to make money through entrepreneurial endeavors. Caritas Jordan, with help from CRS funds, aims to “not just give fish for today, but also train people how to fish so they won’t be dependent on aid in the future,” Fr. Brownfield said.
For example, refugees have an opportunity to learn how to make mosaics, with the support of CRS, Caritas and other local partners. Fr. Brownfield had a chance to observe refugee mosaic artists at work during his pilgrimage. The mosaics are intricate and require many steps, he noted. One of the mosaic frame makers he met is a refugee who used to work as a carpenter in his home country.
One of the most encouraging things Fr. Brownfield observed during his pilgrimage to Jordan was that Muslims and Christians in the country generally make an effort to get along. “I could hear church bells and Muslim calls to prayer at the same time. … (people) realize they can get more out of life by cooperating than fighting. There are extremists in both groups that would like to make problems, but most people just want to get along.”
Support CRS Rice Bowl
CRS Rice Bowl is the Lenten program of Catholic Relief Services, the official relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Through CRS Rice Bowl, faith communities in every diocese throughout the United States put their faith into action through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Lenten alms donated through CRS Rice Bowl support the work of CRS in roughly 45 different countries each year. Twenty-five percent of all donations to CRS Rice Bowl stay in the local diocese, supporting hunger and poverty alleviation efforts. Since its inception in 1975, CRS Rice Bowl has raised nearly $300 million.
For more information about local CRS Rice Bowl efforts, contact the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action office at (563) 324-1911.