Archbishop Lucas on CRS in Uganda: Good work for families, community
Seeing a family in Uganda making enough money with help from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to send their children to school, and over several years build a larger, more comfortable house.
Witnessing inspired service as hundreds of thousands of people from war-ravaged South Sudan find help and safe haven in Ugandan refugee camps supported by CRS and other agencies.
And visiting with young wives and mothers who are learning, with the relief agency’s assistance, to make and find local markets for dresses, sandals, cookies and other goods.
Those were among the experiences Archbishop George J. Lucas, a member of the CRS board, shared with the Catholic Voice after a July 16-23 CRS Journeys of Hope trip to Uganda to view the agency’s work. The trip included agency president and CEO Sean Callahan and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour, CRS board chairman and bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn.
"I was very impressed with the caliber of the people doing the work and what was being received by the beneficiaries," Archbishop Lucas said of his tour with CRS, the U.S bishops’ overseas emergency and economic development arm.
For example, one family the CRS group met is growing vanilla in western Uganda and being paid a fair price as part of a broader CRS project with Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Corp.
The mother and father can afford to place their children in school and in stages are building a brick home with several rooms to replace a smaller, temporary home, the archbishop said. With this year’s vanilla harvest, they hope to put on the roof.
"It’s really an upgrade," the archbishop said. "They’re excited, and everybody gets excited with them, that they’re able to have a new home."
Strengthening families, and in turn, the community, is an important focus for CRS, which works in more than 100 countries around the world. That priority is reflected in the agency’s project in Uganda helping young mothers, many without an education and lacking practical experience, make dresses and sandals, and learn parenting and other skills, the archbishop said.
Vanilla production, arts and crafts are examples of CRS’ economic development efforts, and the refugee camp housing about 300,000 people from South Sudan is an example of the relief agency’s emergency aid, Archbishop Lucas said.
The archbishop and his traveling team of six people visited one section of the camp with about 60,000 people. CRS is helping dig wells for drinking water and build brick homes with metal roofs to replace temporary, tarp shelters, he said.
"There is terrible privation and suffering and displacement, but also huge numbers of people who are helping," the archbishop said. "You see ... generosity, and competence, and care for the dignity of the refugees. But also terrible suffering."
And the help CRS provides is based on Catholic teaching – the dignity of the human person and the concept of subsidiarity, helping families and local communities function well, the archbishop said.
"It was beautiful to see that in action," he said.
The archbishop and others on the trip also visited with local government officials, and leaders in the church and country in Uganda, including Archbishop John Baptist Odama, chairman of the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Ruhakana Rugunda, prime minister of Uganda, and Deborah R. Malac, U.S. ambassador to Uganda.
Those visits brought home how well CRS works at all levels of society in any given country, invited by the local church and welcomed by national and local officials, Archbishop Lucas said.
The visit to Uganda also illuminated the church living mercy, one theme of the Archdiocese of Omaha’s pastoral vision, the archbishop said. It is important to provide assistance to people close to home in the archdiocese, but also overseas, he said.
Donations of any size to the agency can go a long way toward building strong families and communities, the archbishop said.
"The Gospel question, ‘who is my neighbor?’ has a big answer," he said. "I can help us see opportunities, and others will help, too, see opportunities close to home. But we also can be part of a more global responsibility. With the understanding that a little bit of help can make a big difference."
Another CRS initiative
Archbishop George J. Lucas’ six years of service on Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) board is ending in December, but increased involvement continues by the archdiocese.
Work on developing parish ambassadors for CRS began in March and continues, with plans to form an initial group in the coming year, the archbishop said.
Among other things, the ambassadors will promote CRS’ Lenten Rice Bowl and at least two other projects designed to help people at international, national or local levels.