By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
As he recounted the plight of refugees, which he saw first-hand last week, Deacon Scott Haner told area students, “Your witness makes a difference.”
He repeated this phrase several times at DeSales High School Feb. 2 during the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl kick-off luncheon.
The luncheon, held annually, educates students from area schools about the work of CRS, the international aid organization of the U.S.
Catholic bishops. Rice Bowl is a nationwide Lenten fundraiser to support the work of CRS.
Mark Bouchard of Catholic Charities of Louisville told the 260 or so students and adults gathered for the event that Rice Bowl is a way for schools and parishes to put their faith in action. Last year, families collected $12 million nationwide for CRS. The Archdiocese of Louisville collected $109,000.
Deacon Haner’s presentation brought to life the real struggles of refugees who fled Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and are now being aided by CRS.
Called “Refugees on a Journey,” his talk detailed his recent trip to the Balkans as a global fellow with CRS. He traveled to Greece and Serbia last week to learn more about the international refugee crisis in the region.
“The journey is tough. Many countries say, ‘Go away. You are not welcome here.’ And they close their borders. And others, like Germany, say ‘We’ll take up to a million new refugees.’ So people start the journey and move forward,” he said.
Deacon Haner described the refugee journey as “a long and winding road.” Typical refugees leave their homeland seeking Turkey, he said. Once there, they must travel to the Greek islands. Then, they catch a ferry to Athens. From there, they take a bus to Macedonia and then another to Serbia. Once in Serbia, they take a train to Croatia. From there, they make stops in Slovenia and Austria and finally arrive in Germany.
“We were able to observe just a slice of that journey,” he said.
While in Athens, Greece, he greeted people at the port when they arrived by boat.
He described the scene as a “river of humanity.” Members of his CRS group offered the arriving refugees hats, gloves and food.
“You’ll have a mom holding a baby with two or three others (children) moving
through eight different countries because you must register in every country. Sometimes they are in line for 8 to 10 hours,” he said.
Deacon Haner also worked in a soup kitchen operated by Caritas Athens. He said he and others with CRS would try to take a moment to talk with the refugees they were serving.
“Sometimes asking someone their story is the nicest thing you can do because you show that what they say is important,” he said. “It’s about realizing everyone has dignity and worth.”
He added that the millions of refugees are “just like us. They are just living in a different circumstance.”
Deacon Haner told the students that one way they can become involved is by praying.
“We’ve got the power of prayer. … We’ve got to pray for these refugees, that their basic needs can be met and they can move safely on
their journey,” he said.
He also urged the audience to stay informed about the situation and “become an advocate.”
“Remember they are just like us. They are just looking for a safe place that they can call home,” he said.
By participating in the CRS Rice Bowl fundraiser, Deacon Haner said, students are able to change the lives of refugees.
“It gives us an opportunity to reach out in mercy to those in most need. … You have teachers, coaches, parents and friends. Our brothers and sisters shouldn’t walk alone either,” he said.
Deacon Haner lauded the efforts of students in recent years and challenged them to continue their involvement.
“Each of you, as part of our U.S. Catholic Church, supports the work of Catholic Relief Services,” he said.
Students also heard from CRS staffer Laura Dills via speaker phone. Dills, a graduate of Presentation Academy, is currently working in South Sudan.
She told the students that their donations to CRS “make a difference.”
“Your contributions to the CRS Rice Bowl really make a difference in people’s lives all around the world. I see that in South Sudan,” she said. “People appreciate all the work you do.”
Deacon Lucio Caruso, director of mission advancement for Catholic Charities of Louisville, read a letter from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz who could not attend the luncheon.
Archbishop Kurtz thanked the students for taking the time to learn about CRS and its Rice Bowl program and encouraged them “to take this opportunity to enter more deeply into Lent, as you pray, fast and serve others, especially those most in need.”
He added that CRS “truly embodies the spiritual and corporal works of mercy that we are celebrating in a special way during this Year of Mercy,” he said.