Deacon, seminarian view relief operations firsthand - Catholic Courier

Deacon, seminarian view relief operations firsthand

Deacon John McDermott came back from the Holy Land in June troubled by how ongoing conflict over political boundaries and natural resources has caused ordinary people to suffer.

Seminarian Matt Jones came back from Ghana and Burkina Faso having witnessed the struggles of people surviving in a desert without ready access to the necessities of life: water, and animals or other food sources.

Both men have committed to becoming a voice for the people they met. As participants in Catholic Relief Services’ Global Fellows program, which accepts applications from priests, deacons and seminarians, they both received a free trip overseas in exchange for committing to spread the word about CRS’ humanitarian programs at least three times during the upcoming year: once at their parish, once at another parish in the diocese and a third time in a different diocese.

Although the Global Fellows program was started in 1993 as a fundraising vehicle, it is now geared toward raising awareness, said Mikaele Sansone, Global Fellows Program Officer for CRS.

"So many Catholics don’t know that CRS exists," Sansone said. "We have found the best way to promote (the organization) is to send priests and deacons to have them tell the story of people in crisis and what CRS is doing to help our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate."

Priests, deacons and seminarians must apply to participate, and their applications should include a videotape of a homily they are giving. Participants receive a two-day training program prior to going overseas. Then they travel as a group to locations with ongoing humanitarian needs, which also include Guatemala, Nicaragua, Madagascar, Rwanda, India and Sri Lanka.

"When they see it (the humanitarian need) in person and have that experience, they talk about it with more passion, with more depth and with that personal experience," Sansone said.

Deacon McDermott, a frequent world traveler who lived in Cairo for eight years while working for Eastman Kodak Co, and who had been to Israel several times for personal pilgrimages, said on this trip he saw poverty to a greater scale than he had ever before witnessed.

"Nothing prepared me for this — the immediacy of this (humanitarian need)," said Deacon McDermott, now president and CEO of Label World in Chili.

During a nine-day trip to Israel and the West Bank, Deacon McDermott’s group met many people being helped by CRS projects and affected by ongoing violence. Their visits included touring a women’s artisan group that participates in a CRS Food for Training program; B’Tselem, an Israeli human-rights group that is supplying Palestinians with video cameras to document human-rights abuses; and a decades-old refugee camp overflowing with 13,000 people.

As the only member of the group to speak Arabic, Deacon McDermott celebrated Mass in Arabic on Pentecost Sunday and told those at the Mass about the trip. The group also took the opportunity to see several holy sites in addition to visiting the CRS locations.

Visiting CRS sites was the main component of Matt Jones’ trip in February and March to Ghana and Burkina Faso.

"We saw people who were able to live because of what CRS can do," Jones said.

Jones recalled one trek the group made into the desert, where the travelers met a community of people who lacked basic necessities: water, animals and other food sources.

"These people had nothing to sustain themselves," said Jones, 27, who traveled with a group of seminarians from his school, University of Saint Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary. The school requires its pre-theology students to either go abroad on a CRS trip or to participate in a mission trip in the United States. An Elmira native, Jones was assigned to Fairport’s St. John of Rochester Parish during the summer of 2009.

Jones said the people he met were not focused on poverty but were proud of all they had received.

Jones said one highlight of the trip was visiting a tribe that was governed by a king and elders. He was able speak a smattering of French with the king, and they took a picture together.

Although the students were not tourists on the trip, they did visit a former slave camp in Ghana.

"We saw where slaves lived and where they ate," said Jones, who noted that some of the images from that part of the journey were difficult to digest.

Jones said coastal Ghana, a former British colony, and landlocked Burkina Faso, a former French colony, were remarkably different, even though they share a border. One thing they had in common, though, was lively Masses.

"It’s very much a healthy church because it’s welcoming," he said.

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