BELLINGHAM – Local Catholics are writing to elected officials and newspapers, advocating for those in need around the world through a new initiative of Catholic Relief Services.
The CRS Bellingham chapter formed in January is a joint effort of parishioners at Sacred Heart and Church of the Assumption parishes in Bellingham.
“Charitable works and advocacy for the good of all, especially the most vulnerable, are some of the greatest calls for us as Christians,” Kelsey Harrington, an Assumption parishioner and the group’s co-leader, said in an email.
Through the chapter, Catholics are trained how to interact with public officials and write letters to the editor, while working collectively with other motivated Catholics here and across the country for the common good, Harrington explained.
“The goal is to advocate, at a national and local level, for programs that serve the poor and marginalized in areas where CRS works globally,” Carol Gavareski, a Sacred Heart parishioner, said in an email.
Harrington said the chapter already has had “incredible success,” bringing attention to and urging passage of the Global Child Thrive Act bill being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives. Letters written by members have been published in local newspapers, and the group convinced two of its representatives to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill.
The legislation “asks that we integrate proven early childhood development strategies and activities across already existing child-focused international programs, all without asking for additional funding,” Gavareski said in a letter published in the May 8 Seattle Times.
“As we reflect on what kind of ‘new normal’ we want post-pandemic, let us think both locally and globally, and ask our congresspersons to support this legislation,” she wrote.
Empowered to lift their voices
Catholic Relief Services, well-known for its Lenten Rice Bowl collection, was looking for ways “to become much more engaged,” said Jesus Huerta, CRS community engagement manager for the western U.S.
That meant transforming its existing CRS ambassador program — which works at the parish level to promote global solidarity and discipleship — into a grassroots kind of movement.
Many of the Bellingham chapter members were already CRS ambassadors, Huerta said. By giving them intensive training and the tools to become advocates in CRS’ quest to end global poverty, “they feel empowered to lift up their voices,” he explained.
Annie Welch, a retired educator, is co-leader of the Bellingham chapter. As an associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, Welch said she longed to live their charism of peace through justice.
“As a Catholic, I believe that advocating for our poor brothers and sisters is what I am called to do,” Welch said in an email. Joining the CRS chapter gave her a tangible way to do that.
Members of the new CRS chapter in Bellingham meet virtually to discuss their advocacy efforts. The chapter is a joint effort of parishioners at Church of the Assumption and Sacred Heart parishes in Bellingham. Photo: Courtesy CRS Bellingham chapter
Beyond the comfort zone
Learning to advocate forced some of the Bellingham members out of their comfort zones.
Gavareski said she had to get over the feeling of being “a pest” in contacting her congressional representatives. “I need encouragement to remember that it really does make a difference,” she said.
Nancy Wopperer, an Assumption parishioner, said in an email that she had never written a letter to a representative, but CRS provided guidance that was helpful. And she has been talking with friends in the hope of increasing awareness of “this important way to help the children of the world.”
“I feel I have been given much, so I believe it is up to me to share what I have been given: talent, time, treasure,” Wopperer added.
Gavareski said she has been spiritually inspired by the work being done by the CRS chapter, and thinking about her grandchildren “makes me so aware of the needs of children around the world.”
In the coming months, members of the Bellingham chapter will expand their advocacy to other issues. Harrington said she is excited about what they might accomplish.
“It just reminds me to never underestimate the power of a committed, dedicated and organized group of people working for the good of others,” she said.
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