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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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Alphonsus Rodriguez: Tragedy and challenge beset today’s saint early in life, but Alphonsus Rodriguez found happiness and contentment through simple service and prayer. 
<p>Born in Spain in 1533, Alphonsus inherited the family textile business at 23. Within the space of three years, his wife, daughter and mother died; meanwhile, business was poor. Alphonsus stepped back and reassessed his life. He sold the business and, with his young son, moved into his sisters’ home. There he learned the discipline of prayer and meditation. </p><p>Years later, at the death of his son, Alphonsus, almost 40 by then, sought to join the Jesuits. He was not helped by his poor education. He applied twice before being admitted. For 45 years he served as doorkeeper at the Jesuits’ college in Majorca. When not at his post, he was almost always at prayer, though he often encountered difficulties and temptations. </p><p>His holiness and prayerfulness attracted many to him, including St. Peter Claver, then a Jesuit seminarian. Alphonsus’s life as doorkeeper may have been humdrum, but he caught the attention of poet and fellow-Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, who made him the subject of one of his poems. </p><p>Alphonsus died in 1617. He is the patron saint of Majorca.</p> American Catholic Blog People mess up, and it’s especially hard to watch as our children and other young people go down paths we know are likely to lead to heartbreak. Providing gentle guidance when it’s needed, and love even when that guidance isn’t followed, helps them to start fresh.

 
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