Diocese establishes first CRS chapter in Iowa; A University of Iowa chapter will launch this fall

CRS/Eric Clayton
Sisters Nguyen Thi Trinh and Nguyen Thi Trang share breakfast in their home in Vietnam. Since 2016, Catholic Relief Services has been working in the farming community of Binh Dao commune, working to increase the resiliency of family farming in the face of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Many Catholics are familiar with CRS Rice Bowl, a Lenten fundraiser for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), but fewer may be aware of the scope of its humanitarian work.

CRS, founded in 1943, is the overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. CRS is more than a yearly Rice Bowl collection and more than “a big organization doing things thousands of miles away,” said Deacon Joe Welter, who was assigned at his 2017 ordination to support diocesan CRS efforts.

With the creation of a diocesan CRS chapter, and a university chapter on the way, Catholics will have year-round opportunities to support global relief efforts. For several years, Deacon Welter and Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action, worked to expand local CRS participation beyond the Lenten Rice Bowl, “but we weren’t getting much more interest in CRS and what you can do at a local level,” Deacon Welter said.

That changed in March 2020 when Alysson Riutta, volunteer manager for CRS’ Midwest region, contacted the diocesan Social Action Office about the organization’s desire to expand outreach through creation of local CRS chapters. She said the chapter concept, developed in 2019, aims to bring people together in a structured setting to organize local activism and fundraising efforts.

“The great thing about chapters is they allow Catholics in the U.S. to still participate in CRS’ mission even if they aren’t international aid workers or advocates,” Riutta said.

After speaking to Riutta, Ferris consulted with Bishop Thomas Zinkula, who gave his blessing to move forward. “It has been said that Catholic Social Teaching is the best kept secret in the Church,” Bishop Zinkula said. “Along these lines, I would suggest that the work of Catholic Relief Services is the best kept secret of Catholics in the United States providing monumental assistance to poor and vulnerable persons overseas who are suffering greatly due to disease and poverty. I witnessed their impressive, inspirational outreach firsthand when I visited a program in India a couple of years ago.”

With the bishop’s encouragement, Ferris recruited Deacon Welter, who saw the chapter model as an “answer to a prayer,” and felt optimistic about its potential to increase CRS awareness and involvement in the Diocese of Davenport.

Even while dealing with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferris and Deacon Welter worked to gauge interest in chapter formation. They reached out to people they thought might be interested in joining, and spoke during virtual presentations in December and January.

As interest grew, it became clear that the best path forward would be to start a diocesan group, and to train and meet virtually. The 12 prospective members of the diocesan CRS chapter began a four-part virtual orientation in March, with each session lasting about 90 minutes. They completed orientation earlier this month. The diocesan chapter is the first CRS chapter in Iowa, Riutta said.

Members will meet monthly to participate in a national chapter call and discuss local initiatives. The national chapter calls provide opportunities to get updates on relevant legislative actions and hear experts’ stories. “There is also a skill-building element” where chapter members can learn how to set up meetings with Congress, write effective letters to the editor and engage in social media campaigns, she said.

Deacon Welter said the meetings offer guidance on where chapters can most effectively focus their efforts that month. In May, the diocesan group worked on a social media campaign. This summer, the group plans to set up meetings with U.S. senators and representatives when they return home for recess. “We will take training and get ready,” Deacon Welter said.

Riutta emphasized that CRS is a nonpartisan organization, focusing on specific issues and not political party agendas. Deacon Welter added, “We are trying to support things that are in Catholic Social Teaching: dignity of the human person, support of the common good and protecting people’s right to food, water and education.”

Several chapter members have ties to the University of Iowa’s Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, which plans to establish a chapter in the fall. Diocesan chapter member April Rouner, development director for the Newman Center, said CRS gives her an opportunity to “do Christ’s work for our brothers and sisters throughout the world.” She believes that a university chapter will provide students the opportunity to tap into the “great resources” CRS provides in the areas of leadership, fundraising and advocacy.

The Newman Center chapter will operate under the “CRS University” model and, like the diocesan chapter, will be the first in Iowa. The two chapters, separate entities, will complement each other’s efforts, organizers said.

Newman Center is in the process of hiring a donor-funded student leader to help the university chapter through the 2021-22 school year. “For a student to have that background and experience will hopefully set them up for a long life of social justice and service. It will also be a good resume builder,” Rouner said.

Ferris said he’s grateful so many diocesan Catholics have embraced the CRS chapter concept. “It has been particularly gratifying to see both the laity and clergy supportive of this.”

What is CRS?

The U.S. Catholic Bishops founded Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in 1943 to assist the poor and vulnerable overseas. CRS is the official international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic community. CRS provides emergency supplies to families in other countries following disasters and assists with food, water and housing. In poverty-stricken areas of the world, CRS provides better agricultural practices, public health information, microloans to help individuals or groups to start a business, and a number of other ways to assist people to help themselves. CRS operates in more than 90 countries. For more information go to http://crs.org/

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Support CRS/Apoye CRS


Support CRS

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

At this time of the year, we have the opportunity to reflect on how we have responded to the Gospel call to serve Jesus through those who are poor and vulnerable around the world. This year’s theme for the Catholic Relief Services collection, which is held on March 13-14, is Jesus in Disguise.

Bishop Zinkula

The collection supports six Catholic organizations:

• Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is the official international Catholic humanitarian overseas relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). CRS provides emergency relief and long-term assistance to help people become more self-sufficient.

• Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB helps dioceses and churches resettle refugees as well as victims of human trafficking.

• Holy Father’s Relief Fund assists victims of natural disasters and other emergencies around the world.

• Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB advocates for poor and vulnerable people throughout the world, and works for international justice and world peace.

• Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) is a network of legal immigration programs that promote the dignity and protect the rights of immigrants. It provides technical assistance and training to dioceses with immigration programs like ours in the Diocese of Davenport.

• Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church of the USCCB supports a network of national pastoral centers and diocesan personnel who minister to various ethnic groups and migrant communities.

For more information on the Catholic Relief Services collection and the organizations it supports, please visit www.usccb.org/catholic-relief.

Let’s continue to pray for Jesus in Disguise in our brothers and sisters who are served by CRS and other organizations supported by this collection, and to help them by contributing generously to the collection on March 13-14.

Sincerely in Christ,
Most Rev. Thomas Zinkula
Bishop of Davenport

Apoye CRS

Queridos Hermanos y Hermanas en Cristo,

En esta época del año, tenemos la oportunidad de reflexionar sobre cómo hemos respondido al llamado del Evangelio; para servir a Jesús a través de los pobres y vulnerables en todo el mundo. El tema de la colecta del Servicio de Ayuda Católica (CRS-siglas en inglés), es Jesús disfrazado y se llevará a cabo el 13 y 14 de marzo.

La colecta ayudará a seis organizaciones católicas:

• Servicio de Ayuda Católica (CRS): Es la agencia oficial de la Iglesia Católica que brinda ayuda humanitaria internacional y a la oficina de Desarrollo de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los Estados Unidos (USCCB-siglas en inglés). CRS proporciona ayuda de emergencia y asistencia a largo plazo, haciendo que las personas sean más autosuficientes.

• Servicio de Migración y Refugiados de la USCCB: Ayuda a las diócesis e iglesias a re-ubicar a los refugiados y trabaja activamente con las víctimas de trata de personas.

• Fondo de Ayuda del Santo Padre: Asiste a las víctimas de desastres naturales y otras emergencias en todo el mundo.

• El Departamento de Justicia, Paz y Desarrollo Humano de USCCB: Aboga por los pobres y vulnerables de todo el mundo y trabajar para la justicia internacional y la paz mundial.

• La Red Legal de Inmigración Católica, Inc. (CLINIC): Es una red dedicada al programa de inmigración legal, que promueve la dignidad humana y protege los derechos de los inmigrantes.

Proporciona asistencia técnica y capacitación a las diócesis que tienen programas de inmigración, como la nuestra en la Diócesis de Davenport.

• Secretaría de Diversidad Cultural en la Iglesia (USCCB): Apoya la red de centros pastorales nacionales y al personal diocesano, que sirven a diversos grupos étnicos y comunidades migrantes.

Para obtener más información sobre la colecta del Servicio de Ayuda Católica (CRS) y las organizaciones que apoya, por favor, visite www.usccb.org/catholic-relief. (buscar “Colecta del Servicio Ayuda Católica (CRS)”).

Seguimos orando por Jesús disfrazado en nuestros hermanos y hermanas, quienes son servidas por CRS y por otras organizaciones que son apoyadas por esta colecta y ayudarles contribuyendo generosamente a la Colecta de marzo 13-14.

Sinceramente en Cristo,

Mons. Thomas Zinkula
Obispo de Davenport

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