[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This past Easter Week, I found myself at an elementary school graduation ceremony. It was the last day of class, and all the students were wearing their shiny graduation gowns. There were many people that turned out for the event, including the students’ parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. Diplomas were given to all the students, and afterward there was music, singing and dancing. The whole event was marked by both excitement and joy. Now, this may not seem like anything special, but for these Sudanese refugees in Egypt, it was cause for much thanksgiving, celebration and rejoicing.
Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College in Rome are given the opportunity every year to participate in a trip offered by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to one of the countries where they work to see the types of services and programs that they offer to those most in need.
For those who are unfamiliar with CRS, it is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. It is motivated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to cherish, preserve, and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life; foster charity and justice; and embody Catholic social and moral teachings such as the preferential option for the poor and solidarity.
One of the first places we visited was a CRS office in Cairo, where we learned about the agency’s programming for refugees. Overall, CRS has sent tens of thousands of refugee children to school in Egypt. In addition, we had the opportunity to visit with a group of adult refugees who are part of a training run by CRS aimed at helping them start their own small businesses so that they’ll be able to provide for themselves and their families.
During their lunch break, they took the time to visit with us, and we even had the chance to ask some questions. I asked them what their hopes were in this new country, and immediately one of the young mothers responded that she hoped to find good housing at a decent price and a good education for her three children. I walked away from this brief encounter with a better sense of the solidarity we all share among one another as what parent would not be concerned about a good home and a good education for their children?
We also visited another CRS office in Cairo where we had the opportunity to visit with two students who are in college thanks to scholarships from CRS. The first student, named Sajeda, is currently studying law with the hopes of entering into the diplomatic world. She is one of more than 100 refugee students who receive scholarships in order to receive the education necessary to find employment and a future in their new country. She spoke quite frankly with us, even mentioning that she has to continually deal with discrimination due to her gender and her status as a refugee.
I was amazed by her resolve and determination to be successful amidst her new surroundings and sometimes difficult circumstances, even going so far as to say that even if she did not receive the scholarship, she would find a way to go to college.
One of the last visits we made was to the small village of Al Odeysat in Upper Egypt, which has been dealing with growing hostility between Christians and Muslims for some time now. CRS recently initiated a project there called Bokra (Arabic for “tomorrow”) in order to broker peace between the two groups. We all gathered in the choir loft of the Anglican Church in town in order to ask questions and hear how these two groups have been able to peacefully coexist. What struck me the most during this conversation was just how similar we all are. They want peace, a better future for their children, and an end to religious extremism.
Thanks to the work of CRS, I was able to see this firsthand, and I know that it is something that I will take with me into my future priestly ministry.
Mleziva is a seminarian studying in Rome for the Diocese of Green Bay. He will be ordained to the diaconate Sept. 29 in Rome.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]
The annual Seminarian Collection took place the weekend of Aug. 6 and 7. Funds raised help pay for tuition, books, room and board, health care and other needs of seminarians. For more information, contact Fr. Daniel Schuster either by email, [email protected], or by phone at (920) 272-8293.