A diocesan deacon became a Catholic Relief Services Global Fellow in October. He will be a representative of, and spokesperson for, the work of the Catholic Church's official international humanitarian aid organization which helps less fortunate people in countries around the world.
On Oct. 20, Deacon Donald Weigel, a permanent deacon of the diocese, traveled to Baltimore, Md., for the organization's annual meeting to be made a Global Fellow, and said he hopes to use his new position to increase awareness, in Western New York, of the good CRS does worldwide. Global Fellows include priests, deacons and seminarians that serve as community ambassadors for CRS.
"CRS has this Global Fellows program, where they train priests and deacons to be the voice of the voiceless, basically," Deacon Weigel explained. "There are about 115 Global Fellows, now, around the country. There was a new crop of 12 of us that were just installed this past October and trained."
The installment and training took place on Oct. 20. After this, for the next two days, the new Global Fellows spent the day with the rest of the Global Fellows to learn about the latest updates and missions CRS will be performing. The main focus of being a Global Fellow is to speak of the missions, but they also travel both locally and outside of their area to help people understand what CRS does.
Currently, CRS provides aid in approximately 100 countries, Deacon Weigel said, including in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and the islands of the Caribbean. "Their main focus is on the emergency response, certainly, but they also focus on helping people create and maintain agricultural livelihoods, and also on helping them improve their health and some of the social services they have in their individual countries, so it's a pretty wide ranging thing that they do."
"CRS provides not just disaster relief, which they do, but that's only about a third of their work," said Deacon Weigel. "Besides disaster relief, they also have a whole lot of other projects that they do, which is really about giving people who are most vulnerable, in underdeveloped places of the world, a way to help in their development, so they really do a lot of individual development work. Deacon Weigel stressed that when the Global Fellows travel the country, they do not ask for money.
"We go around to parishes, locally and not locally, just to help people understand the work CRS does, the plight of people around the world and help people to kind of get engaged with CRS and the cause that underlies why CRS is there," he also commented. "It's very easy to keep your focus in your own backyard, and that is pretty natural, but the Gospel calls us to reach out to the whole world."
CRS began in 1943 and was originally known as a war relief organization. Its job then was to give aid to people in Europe who had been displaced by World War II. From there, it grew into something where they realized they could build up a capacity to help people all around the world, not only for victims of disaster or war, but also to help people develop within their own communities. Currently, CRS has donated more than $1.5 million to help West African countries affected by the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
The Global Fellows preach about their own experiences with people in developing countries, in addition to tell people what CRS does. CRS has a four-facet approach to participation that it calls "engaging with CRS," which involves praying, learning, acting and giving. The representatives encourage parishioners in their areas to pray for CRS, learn more about the mission, advocate and learn about global issues.
"Certainly, CRS survives on donations from people around the world," Deacon Weigel said. "The neat thing about the Global Fellows is that our main focus is not on fundraising. We're not doing the fundraising. We are the educators - we're the ones who are going out and preaching, to help people understand the Gospel call to be in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us."
In the future, Deacon Weigel plans to continue preaching and will work with Sister Mary McCarrick, OSF, diocesan director for both Catholic Charities and CRS. Under her direction, he will look for opportunities to get parishes more involved with CRS' work. Since the organization is involved with fair trade, and many parishes do not participate in efforts to promote products such as fair trade coffee and chocolate, he plans to speak to parishes about ways they might involve themselves in this effort.
"Some of the youth efforts we have, some of the youth ministers have participated in something called a food fast, where young people fast for a day or longer and use the time to understand what it means to be hungry," Deacon Weigel said. "There are all kinds of programs we have to help people get in touch with the food insecurity that exists locally, as well as internationally."
In order to make people more aware of what CRS does, interested Catholics and others may visit CRS' website, where they can learn more about the work, sign up to receive regular emails, and learn more about what is going on in the countries where CRS serves. Through the website, they may also advocate for policies and write letters or emails to be sent to state senators or members of Congress.
For more information, visit www.catholicrelief.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.