I have just returned from a grace-filled journey to West Africa. There, in the country of Senegal, I experienced firsthand the life-giving mission and ministry of Catholic Relief Services, on whose board I am privileged to serve.
Senegal is a sub-Saharan country of contrasts and contradictions. Its capital city, Dakar, sits like a sparkling jewel on the Atlantic coast of Africa, yet is overcome by massive unemployment, failing infrastructures and recent civil unrest. Across the land, poverty and hunger are rampant, and diseases, including HIV-AIDS, malaria and yellow fever, menace the population daily.
Against this backdrop of human need and suffering, Catholic Relief Services brings a harvest of hope.
Since 1960, Catholic Relief Services staff has been on the ground providing humanitarian and developmental programs to improve the lot of the people in Senegal and in 100 other nations.
Working in a population of 10 million people, CRS/Senegal is the embodiment of Catholic social teaching. Its staff and volunteers promote social justice, preserve human dignity, champion human rights and never lose sight of the common good.
In this largely Muslim nation, CRS/Senegal has focused its mission in four areas, including health, micro-finance, agriculture, and justice and peace efforts, and help people help themselves through programs and services that address basic human needs, including nutrition, maternal and child health, hygiene, hunger, poverty, agricultural assistance and emergency help.
During my recent visit, I listened attentively to Catholic Relief Services’ staff and leadership, and had the privilege of visiting many sites that serve Senegal’s poor and marginalized. At every venue, I wondered how it is that they have not become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of human need they face daily.
Beautiful memories that continue to dominate my mind are especially the joyful faces of women, children and families who have benefited directly from the life-giving ministry of CRS.
CRS has a remarkable grasp of the complex social, economic, cultural and political challenges of the day. They are undaunted by the problems that beset the country, and go about their work systematically, doggedly and joyfully.
Clearly, the work of Catholic Relief Services across the globe is based on the deep conviction that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. This conviction is the point of departure for all the programs and services Catholic Relief Services offers.
In his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedit XVI wrote that a Christian knows “When it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and let love alone speak.” Catholic Relief Services is an amazing witness to the love of God in Christ, Whose word and example stand as a credible and powerful witness to the love of God.
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 23, No. 12, December 21, 2007.