On Saturday 19 October, over seventy CAFOD parish volunteers and supporters from the dioceses of Westminster, Portsmouth, East Anglia, Brentwood, Southwark and Arundel and Brighton came together for a Zoom ‘Harvest Appeal’ planning meeting.
The meeting began with a prayer and reflection after which, Maria Gonzalez, CAFOD’s Head of International Development, and guest speaker, pondered on Pope Francis’ words at his General Audience on 19 August when he said; ‘our response to the pandemic must be twofold:, finding a cure for this small terrible virus, but also curing a larger virus, that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalisation and lack of protection for the weakest.’ She continued that we must combat indiffierence, this throwaway culture, and be converted from individualism to enable our brothers and sisters to survive, heal and rebuild their lives. She emphasised that nothing was possible without the support of the generous volunteers and asked them to thank their counterparts in parishes too. She told them that they were not just raising money, but importantly, raising the voices of the vulnerable and the power that lies within that.
Maria encouraged the listeners to do what is possible within their communities to ‘cancel the debt’, so that the money saved, could be kept in the developing countries and spent on much needed food security and health care. This indeed, wasn’t mercy, but justice. She said that Ghana owed 3.8 billion on debt repayments and that it caused unbearable sacrifices on the local people and that it simply wasn’t right to demand people to repay the debt, if it led to hunger. The younger population would be paying heavily for the mistakes made by those before them. She asked supporters to go to the website and support the ‘Cancel the Debt Campaign’ and to engage, empower and inspire others to do likewise.
Maria then spoke specifically about how the donations from the supporters have enabled CAFOD to respond to the Covid-19 global pandemic alongside 155 partners in 31 countries worldwide, using new or repurposed grants for 210 projects.The support offered has varied according to the needs of the individual countries but has included: providing families with emergency supplies, PPE, sanitizing equipment, Covid-19 tests, awareness and hygiene training for communities, supporting livelihoods, providing better equipped and more accessible local health centres and services and, organising cash and voucher transfers with additional, appropriate assistance.She outlined examples of support given by CAFOD to different countries.
In Sierra Leone CAFOD has funded the Handmaid Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and nurses at the Handmaids’ Catholic Health Clinic and Maternity Unit in Pendembu. As part of the coronavirus response in three districts of Sri Lanka; food and hygiene packages have been distributed to 580 of the poorest and most vulnerable families. Packages have included; rice, sugar, vegetables, soap and face masks. At the distribution centres, the importance of hand washing, social distancing and use of face masks have been emphasised.
Maria concluded by thanking the supporters for the generous funding CAFOD has received in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her key messages were that there is a sense of urgency and distress across the world and that the role of the Church was to support her sister churches and bring them hope and to raise their voices. She also said that everything that supporters can do is significant, whether they work backstage or frontstage, it doesn’t matter, but to do their bit in the circumstances they find themselves. The donations enable CAFOD and her partners to work with the most vulnerable people around the world, helping them to survive, rebuild and heal.
Her talk was followed by an opportunity for questions. When asked how a supporter can raise this message with the parish priest who has parish financial concerns; Maria advised saying we are part of a global family and urged that parishioners were at least given the information about the appeal and the opportunity to donate online should they wish, and not to decide on their behalf by withholding this information.
This year, the Harvest Family Fast Day Appeal is essential. In the words of Pope Francis ‘may the Gospel inspire us to find ever more creative ways to exercise charity, grounded in faith and anchored in hope, which can heal our wounded world and promote the true welfare of our entire human family.’CAFOD has admirably risen to the challenge of being ever more creative in reaching out to supporters in differing circumstances. There is however, still so much to do, which is why the Harvest Appeal this year is needed as never before!