Responding to crises

I often joke that I became a writer because I have no other useful skills. Which is only mostly true.

But each week as I put this blog together, its focus on how Catholics respond to crises around the world (which is why, around the office, we refer to it as the “crog,” for Catholic response blog) reminds me that when it comes to many problems, I often feel that my only skills in helping solve them are to either A: write about them here in hopes that others can either do something or be inspired by those who already are; B: write a check; or C: both.

But the Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities have come up with a way to help people like me (and, I’m assuming, people like you) make a difference in the world, even though we may already be bogged down with jobs, shuttling children, yard work, feeding children, work, and dealing with children.

Called the Walk with Francis campaign, the goal is to get 100,000 people to do a good deed ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in September. The web site is filled with resources and ideas, and you can see what other people are doing by checking Twitter for the hashtag #WalkwithFrancis.

The idea is not so different than the Pay It Forward or Random Acts of Kindness initiatives, but is centered on the pope’s push for all of us to do more for each other, especially for those in need.

So whether it’s praying every day, volunteering or writing a check, with the Walk with Francis campaign, you can recognize that your effort – no matter how small – matters and adds up and that all of us, whatever our skills or lack thereof, are useful in some way to someone.

Fearing the worst in Ukraine

Back in June, we told you about how things in Ukraine may not be getting much attention, but are not getting better. In fact, the head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church said then that the situation was turning into a “humanitarian catastrophe,” and warned that Russia had been moving heavy equipment and weapons to the border.

Now, Monsignor Jan Sobilo, auxiliary bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia in Ukraine, says only a miracle will stop a full-fledged Russian invasion, The Tablet reports.

“It will be a miracle if Russia doesn't decide on a total invasion – the American intelligence services and NATO have warned we must be ready for such a scenario at any moment,” he said. “If it happens, and Russia attacks Ukraine, this will be a Europe-wide, if not worldwide, problem. Millions of desperate refugees will have no prospect other than escape to the West.”

Sobilo said pastoral work is paralyzed, some areas are devoid of priests because of threats against them, and humanitarian aid from the West often fails to reach those who need it.

“At this moment, Ukraine’s only defence is prayer – only this can halt an aggression which diplomatic efforts have been unable to restrain,” Sobilo said.

An oasis of peace, comfort

Even in areas where humans seem to be doing their worst, if you look hard enough you can often find humanity at its best.

That’s the case in Deir al Ahmar, Lebanon, a Christian town where Catholic nuns are caring for 800 Syrian Muslim families who have fled the civil war across the border.

“We lived under ISIS,” one man told Aid to the Church in Need. “They’re not Muslims. They’re criminals. Our women had to completely veil themselves. We men were no longer allowed to smoke. They control everything.” A woman adds: “We knew God before ISIS. They don’t need to explain anything to us.”

These refugees literally came only with the clothes on their backs. Some 800 Syrian Muslim families are now in the care of a group of Catholic nuns, who are running a local aid center that provides food and medicine. Each day, the sisters run a school that serves 350 Syrian children, who are assured of a hot meal as well. Local Christians are also pitching in.

“God bless Sister Micheline,” says one woman. Good Shepherd Sister Micheline makes a gesture of dismissal, saying, “What was I supposed to do? In the middle of winter 2011 I suddenly had more than 150 people, some wearing only sandals, standing in the deep snow at my door. . . . I couldn't possibly send them away.”

Students work for change

Students of Boston College’s School of Social Work found a way to be useful this summer – they lobbied the Massachusetts legislature.

As part of their coursework, some testified in support of a bill that would strengthen the state’s anti-human trafficking law, and others worked to end discrimination.

Because it’s never too soon to put your education – and your faith – into action.

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Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]

Celebrating Award-Winning Content: GSR recently earned seven awards for editorial excellence from the Associated Church Press.