CNS PHOTO | FEISAL OMAR, REUTERS
St. Michael-Resurrection Parish challenges other Canadian Catholic parishes to raise funds to help feed the starving Somalis.
EDMONTON — As the famine in the Horn of Africa deepens, Catholic parishioners are rising to the challenge of feeding the hungry half a world away.
St. Michael-Resurrection Parish has been challenging Catholics nationwide to raise $10 million for famine relief. At least four other parishes from across Canada have responded.
St. Michael-Resurrection itself has so far raised $23,428, enough to buy almost 47 tonnes of rice to feed nearly 84,600 people for one day.
"It seems like such a little drop in the bucket, but we figure if every person can do a little bit, we can make a big difference," says spokesperson Bernadette Gasslein.
Relief for the people of Somalia has been slow, and makeshift refugee camps are still overflowing. Some estimates suggest about 11.6 million people are affected by the food crisis. It's the biggest food crisis in a generation, according to the United Nations.
Asked why the parish got involved, Gasslein said, "Why not? They are human beings and they are hungry. Jesus said it's our job to feed people. And he said, 'Whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me.'"
Upon learning about the depth of the food crisis from an editorial written by Gasslein in Celebrate! magazine, Father Roger Keeler of St. Michael-Resurrection threw down the gauntlet and challenged Catholics across Canada to join his parish in raising $10 million for famine relief. He figures with 12 million Catholics in Canada it would be easy to meet the challenge.
"If only 250,000 (Catholics) gave $40 each, we'd have $10 million easily," he said. "What do we spend on Starbucks in one day? On lunch? A beer after work? Pet food?"
Keeler says if we can raise this sum before the Sept. 16 deadline currently set by the federal government for matching grants, "our $10 million could turn into $20 million."
He invited parishioners to be creative and to share the news with others. So far the response has been heartwarming. Many have been fasting. Three children from the parish opened a lemonade stand and brought in a jar of coins, bills and even a cheque from a thirsty patron - almost $130.
One young man, Nihal Nelson, went to Churchill Square on a Sunday and stood there, sign in hand, asking for money to help the hungry children and mothers in the horn of Africa.
He reported a startling fact: the street people who spend much of their day in Edmonton's downtown core were some of the most consistent donors, dropping into his box their hard-gained change, and even a few $5 bills. One street person said to him, "I know what it's like to be hungry. I can share what I have."
Four other parishes have taken up the challenge. Blessed Sacrament Parish in Cornwall, Ont., has raised $6,000, Christ the King Parish in Sudbury has raised almost $4,500 and St. Pius X Parish in Saint John, N.B., has raised $6,000.
The Cornwall pastor has said that for every family that gives $50, he would give $1. Keeler has agreed to do the same.
"It's kind of fun; it's a way of getting things going," Gasslein says.
All funds will be channelled to the Horn of Africa through Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
To learn more about the $10-million challenge, contact St. Michael Resurrection Parish at 780-468-4071 or visit the parish website at www.stmichaelresurrectionparish.ca. Donations can be made directly through CCODP at www.devp.org.