With the development and progress of the Share the Journey program, Pope Francis’ call of concern for our refugee and immigrant brothers and sisters, I found it fitting that this past July I would be taking a journey myself — to Burkina Faso, West Africa, with Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
The purpose of the trip was to further understand and evaluate the incredible work CRS does all over the world. In this particular case, the focus was outreach work in Burkina Faso.
Along with representatives from Catholic agency offices in Philadelphia and Santa Barbara, St. Augustine Church parishioner Joyce Frazier and I traveled with CRS representatives for 10 days in West Africa.
Burkina Faso is bounded by Mali to the north and west, Niger to the northeast, Benin to the southeast, and Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo to the south.
We met with farmers who benefit from agricultural projects in which CRS collaborates with US AID programs. These projects promote improving agricultural production and community development.
We also visited three sites where CRS supports nutrition programs: an orphanage, a place where women are housed and protected after being accused of witchcraft and a haven for girls escaping arranged marriages. All of these sites were started and managed by nuns from various orders in Africa.
Another site involves a program that enables female entrepreneurs to develop their own business organizations by accumulating assets and then lending to each other. Assisted by CRS caseworkers, the Savings and Internal Lending Communities provides the structural and organizational training and technical assistance for these groups to flourish. The day we visited, our team was greeted by over 2,000 members who welcomed us with customary singing and dancing rituals. We were moved and overwhelmed by this acceptance, making for an unforgettable experience.
Finally, we visited the warehouse where U.S. food donations are stored for the Helping Hands program. That food is used to alleviate some of the hunger issues facing Burkina Faso as a prolonged drought has engulfed the country for quite some time. Helping Hands initiatives have been held here in Louisville three times in the past four years by the Pax Christi parishes and St. Patrick Church. Information about the program can be found on the CRS website.
I hope to further advance the message of Catholic Relief Services and enhance the understanding of our global church. We have ways and means to connect with our brothers and sisters all over the globe.
By our Baptism we are not allowed to live in isolation. CRS, working in conjunction with Catholic Charities, can provide many ways to reach out and learn, reach out and make a difference. Not only here in the archdiocese, but globally. I hope to present more of those opportunities moving forward.
Two quick ways to learn more:
- Search the Days of Human Dignity website. https://www.archlou.org/days-of-human-dignity/
- Participate in the CRS Rice Bowl Lenten Program https://www.crsricebowl.org/
Mark Bouchard serves in the Office of Department of Mission Advancement at Catholic Charities of Louisville.