Politico reported March 11 that more than 1.4 million Ukrainians had crossed into Poland, “the largest influx of refugees the country has seen since World War II.” Polish volunteers rushed to assist their terrified, shocked Ukrainian neighbors fleeing Russia’s invasion of their country. Polish volunteers have donated food, water and clothing and even opened their homes to refugees. However, the immensity of the humanitarian crisis is fraying nerves.
“Warsaw’s train stations and sports halls are filling up with camp beds or people sleeping in the rough as there simply aren’t enough free rooms in the country’s largest cities,” Politico reported. “Volunteers are engaged in increasingly testy exchanges with government officials they accuse of doing too little to help organize the relief effort and instead are free-riding on the goodwill efforts of the population.”
Clearly, the upheaval in the lives of the refugees and their benefactors underscores for all followers of Christ the true meaning of our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We journey toward Easter together, “supporting one another through our Lenten works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said in his Lenten letter (Feb. 24). “This is the path that being a synodal Church calls us to follow. We travel this life together.”
Bishop Zinkula invites us, in solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters, to donate to a special collection in our parishes this weekend (March 19-20) on behalf of the Ukrainian people. The money will go to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to support refugees and internally displaced Ukrainians in collaboration with Caritas agencies.
The special collection is one side of the coin of almsgiving. Throughout Lent, our Church also asks us to contribute to CRS Rice Bowl, which benefits the hungry and impoverished through development programs around the world and close to home.
The resource materials — reflections, prayers and activities — that accompany CRS Rice Bowl help to expand our understanding of almsgiving. Our own diocese does a terrific job of vetting organizations across 22 counties in southeast Iowa that work to alleviate hunger and poverty. They do so with the assistance of parishioners who advocate on behalf of poverty alleviation groups in their communities, encouraging them to apply for funds through the diocese’s Social Action Office. This is effective advocacy, inspired by an understanding that everything we have is a gift from God, and we reciprocate in gratitude. The concluding sentence from a prayer on a side panel of the cardboard CRS Rice Bowl states our giftedness eloquently. The prayer asks our Lord, “When we give, help us recognize our gifts are from you so that we are generous with others.” We might consider copying this phrase to a sticky note to attach to the refrigerator or some other object that receives our daily attention.
People’s lives depend on our gift of goods and of ourselves. The Rev. Eugene Cho, Bread for the World’s president and CEO said in a March 7 statement that Russia and Ukraine account for more than a quarter of the world’s exported wheat. War between the two countries could result in a sharp increase in global grain prices — as much as 55% in some countries — “many of which are already impacted by rising hunger.”
The countries of Afghanistan, Yemen, Tigray in Ethiopia, and Myanmar, among others, “are already experiencing major humanitarian and hunger crises of their own due to conflict and violence,” Rev. Cho said. “In Afghanistan, 98 percent of the population does not have enough to eat and up to 1 million children under age 5 could die from malnutrition by the end of the year.”
We, as individuals and as a nation, cannot solve these humanitarian crises single handedly, but we can lead by example, which is another aspect of almsgiving. The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs that almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work pleasing to God.”
Last week, Congress passed the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill to fund the government through Sept. 30, according to the National Law Review (March 11). The legislation includes $13.6 billion to support Ukraine in humanitarian and defense-related aid. This financial commitment is just. However, we cannot ignore the other countries in desperate straits.
Let us ask Congress to provide FY22 supplemental emergency funding of more than $1 billion for Food for Peace II supplemental emergency funding and more than $2.8 billion for International Disaster Assistance. The latter would go toward food and nutrition assistance, including funds for Ready to Use Therapeutic Food treatment for severely wasted children through the Emergency Food Security Program, the Rev. Cho said.
Contact U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Committee on Appropriations; U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, the committee’s vice chairman; U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the House Committee on Appropriations; and U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, ranking member on the House Committee on Appropriations (go to congress.gov).
When we connect prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we give of our goods and of ourselves. We become the body of Christ, broken for others who desperately need sustenance.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor