ROCHESTER — The Diocese of Rochester is making a solid effort to assist people well beyond its borders, said two Catholic Relief Services officials during a recent visit.
“This is a diocese that really seems to be engaging in issues,” said Maureen McCullough, director of CRS’ Northeast Region. “The work they are doing here is a real model.”
McCullough and Dennis Fisher, CRS Northeast program officer, toured the diocese March 2-3. Fisher spoke to several schools about Operation Rice Bowl, a Lenten program of prayer, fasting, learning and giving through which U.S. Catholics help combat poverty and hunger at home and abroad. McCullough, meanwhile, was part of a two-hour teleconference on African priority issues. It was held March 2 at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Pittsford, and simulcasted to St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen and St. Alphonsus Church in Auburn.
The conference was attended by social ministers, parish staffs and parishioners. It featured a presentation by sisters Susan and Monica Deng, who are Sudan natives currently attending Our Lady of Mercy High School in Brighton. The siblings talked about their years in a war-torn climate that included living in a refugee camp. Also at the conference were four African priests currently serving as externs in the Rochester Diocese: Fathers Symon Peter Ntaiyia, Dominic Baffour-Akowua, Emmanuel Nyong and Bernard Munjalu Wakhungu.
Fisher spoke at Elmira’s Notre Dame High School and Holy Family Junior High March 2, and Rochester’s Cathedral School at Holy Rosary and Seton Catholic School the following day. He also appeared at St. Mary’s Southside Parish in Elmira March 2 to talk about a program recently begun by that parish to support efforts in Malawi, an Africa nation severely hampered by poverty and illness.
At the schools Fisher emphasized how students’ Operation Rice Bowl contributions make a difference around the world, noting that Afghanistan, Zambia, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Kenya will receive funds from ORB 2006 for development efforts. According to Kathy Dubel, diocesan CRS coordinator, a total of $83,254.36 was raised in 2005 for Operation Rice Bowl by 94 diocesan parishes and schools. Fisher said he was “really impressed” at the depth to which ORB is promoted here.
“To see it so active in this diocese is a real treat for me,” Fisher commented, adding that students also appeared to have strong interest in the causes that ORB serves: “They were really good questions on the part of the kids.”
McCullough, whose CRS Northeast Region office near Philadelphia covers a nine-state area, wrapped up her visit March 3 by meeting with Bishop Matthew H. Clark and Jack Balinsky, diocesan director of Catholic Charities. She and Fisher said they traveled to the Rochester Diocese in part to thank Bishop Clark and Catholic Charities officials for their ongoing effort to raise awareness of, and solidarity with, Africa. The diocesan Public Policy Committee has made Africa an educational priority for 2006, and the diocese also is promoting CRS’ Africa Rising: Hope and Healing campaign.
“(McCullough and Fisher) were very impressed with the many ways the people of our diocese live faith’s call to global solidarity,” said Dubel, who also serves as justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier.
McCullough said she encourages Catholics of this diocese to become more involved in such areas as advocacy, fair trade and agricultural development for African nations. She also lauded the Rochester Diocese for supporting other recent CRS initiatives such as tsunami relief in 2005.