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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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Ansgar: The “apostle of the north” (Scandinavia) had enough frustrations to become a saint—and he did. He became a Benedictine at Corbie, France, where he had been educated. Three years later, when the king of Denmark became a convert, Ansgar went to that country for three years of missionary work, without noticeable success. Sweden asked for Christian missionaries, and he went there, suffering capture by pirates and other hardships on the way. Fewer than two years later, he was recalled, to become abbot of New Corbie (Corvey) and bishop of Hamburg. The pope made him legate for the Scandinavian missions. Funds for the northern apostolate stopped with Emperor Louis’s death. After 13 years’ work in Hamburg, Ansgar saw it burned to the ground by invading Northmen; Sweden and Denmark returned to paganism. 
<p>He directed new apostolic activities in the North, traveling to Denmark and being instrumental in the conversion of another king. By the strange device of casting lots, the king of Sweden allowed the Christian missionaries to return. </p><p>Ansgar’s biographers remark that he was an extraordinary preacher, a humble and ascetical priest. He was devoted to the poor and the sick, imitating the Lord in washing their feet and waiting on them at table. He died peacefully at Bremen, Germany, without achieving his wish to be a martyr. </p><p>Sweden became pagan again after his death, and remained so until the coming of missionaries two centuries later.</p> American Catholic Blog Every vocation is a vocation to sacrifice and to joy. It is a call to the knowledge of God, to the recognition of God as our Father, to joy in the understanding of His mercy.

 
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