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Jesus' Command: 'Give Them Some Food' View Comments
By Text and Photos by John Feister

BY MID-FEBRUARY, Catholics everywhere will be thinking Lent. It’s a time of the year when we aren’t squeamish about being Catholic, whether it’s wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday, observing meatless Fridays, or giving up something special and not fretting if people know about it. It’s a time when we repent of our usual ways and reflect on who we really are—and who we are to become.

This Lent, I want you to follow me on a trip to Niger, the poorest nation on earth. I went to this West African nation and neighboring Burkina Faso with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) last October. I came back with reams of notes, interviews, photos, and videos. We visited about 15 program sites in all. In the following pages, I want to share with you only a few highlights.

Faced with great poverty, I saw an incredible response to Jesus’ command to feed the hungry. CRS is our Church at work, doing incredible good. In a time when the Church in parts of our country is weary of argument, scandal, and shortcoming, I thought you’d like to know that.

Three CRS staff were among our guides, and I’ll depend upon them to help tell this story. They know the ins and outs of CRS’ work in these two countries. But more important, their own commitment says a lot about what our Church is doing in West Africa.

It is not an easy thing. There’s the decade-old drought and resultant widespread hunger in the Sahel, this region just below the Sahara Desert. And the US nemesis, al-Qaeda, has fomented political instability to the north and south of these countries. War is brewing even now, as the United Nations is assembling a multinational army to run al-Qaeda out of northern Mali, which borders both Burkina Faso and Niger. Refugees are fleeing without water, food, or shelter.

We journalists, in fact, wound up with an armed military escort for part of our visit and had to change plans to avoid a dangerous area near the Mali border. We’ll get to that as our story unfolds.

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John Feister is editor in chief of this publication. He has master’s degrees in humanities and in theology from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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John of Capistrano: It has been said the Christian saints are the world’s greatest optimists. Not blind to the existence and consequences of evil, they base their confidence on the power of Christ’s redemption. The power of conversion through Christ extends not only to sinful people but also to calamitous events. 
<p>Imagine being born in the 14th century. One-third of the population and nearly 40 percent of the clergy were wiped out by the bubonic plague. The Western Schism split the Church with two or three claimants to the Holy See at one time. England and France were at war. The city-states of Italy were constantly in conflict. No wonder that gloom dominated the spirit of the culture and the times. </p><p>John Capistrano was born in 1386. His education was thorough. His talents and success were great. When he was 26 he was made governor of Perugia. Imprisoned after a battle against the Malatestas, he resolved to change his way of life completely. At the age of 30 he entered the Franciscan novitiate and was ordained a priest four years later. </p><p>His preaching attracted great throngs at a time of religious apathy and confusion. He and 12 Franciscan brethren were received in the countries of central Europe as angels of God. They were instrumental in reviving a dying faith and devotion. </p><p>The Franciscan Order itself was in turmoil over the interpretation and observance of the Rule of St. Francis. Through John’s tireless efforts and his expertise in law, the heretical Fraticelli were suppressed and the "Spirituals" were freed from interference in their stricter observance. </p><p>He helped bring about a reunion with the Greek and Armenian Churches, unfortunately only a brief arrangement. </p><p>When the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, he was commissioned to preach a crusade for the defense of Europe. Gaining little response in Bavaria and Austria, he decided to concentrate his efforts in Hungary. He led the army to Belgrade. Under the great General John Hunyadi, they gained an overwhelming victory, and the siege of Belgrade was lifted. Worn out by his superhuman efforts, Capistrano was an easy prey to an infection after the battle. He died October 23, 1456.</p> American Catholic Blog When we are linked by the power of prayer, we as it were, hold each other’s hand as we walk side by side along a slippery path; and thus by the bounteous disposition of charity, it comes about that the harder each one leans on the other, the more firmly we are riveted together in brotherly love. —St. Gregory the Great

 
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