Catholic Relief Services’ ambassador program inspires parishioners to care for the world’s poor
At St. Rose de Viterbo Parish, the simple act of drinking a cup of coffee after Mass is also an expression of global solidarity.
Only fair-trade coffee is served during post-Mass hospitality time, and “this year we bought the cups that say it is ethically traded,” said Katie Frei, a member of the Longview parish’s social justice commission and a Catholic Relief Services parish ambassador.
The social justice team is helping St. Rose parishioners realize that even small actions — such as paying a little more when buying coffee “to make sure that the farmer gets his just wage,” Frei explained — can make a big difference in the lives of people around the world.
In the past two years, the group’s Parish Ambassador Corps initiatives have included ethical trade sales during Advent, a corporal works of mercy prayer walk, and CRS Rice Bowl–inspired dinners on Fridays during Lent. They’ve used their space in the parish bulletin to educate parishioners about using their buying power to support fair wages and healthy working conditions.
“What we’ve heard around the church is, ‘Oh, we’re so glad you’re doing this program,’” Frei said. “The feedback is good. We’re just getting started.”
At 26 other parish communities around the archdiocese, members of the CRS Parish Ambassador Corps are coordinating similar initiatives aimed at helping their fellow parishioners respond to the Gospel call to care for those in need around the world.
Dan and Katie Frei, parish ambassadors for Catholic Relief Services, say working for social justice is part of a lifelong understanding of their Catholic faith. Photo: Stephen Brashear
“The mission, the vision, is really to have global solidarity integrated into the fabric of the parish,” said Kelly Hickman, assistant director of the archdiocesan Missions Office.
Going beyond Rice Bowl
During Lent, all parishes in the archdiocese join the global solidarity movement via the familiar CRS Rice Bowl program — learning about people in need, praying for them, eating simple meals and donating the money saved to help the poor both here and overseas.
“In Lent, we think about our global neighbor dealing with hunger and our local neighbor dealing with hunger,” Hickman said.
With 100 percent Rice Bowl participation from parishes and most schools in the archdiocese, the Missions Office was looking for a way to build on that success, to offer more emphasis on global solidarity throughout the year, Hickman said.
That success is one reason CRS chose Seattle as one of three dioceses in the U.S. to help develop and pilot the Parish Ambassador Corps program in 2015. The program trains and supports parishioners who are passionate about global solidarity, with the goal that these ambassadors coordinate three solidarity events at their parishes each year.
A dozen parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle participated the first year; today, in the program’s third full year, that number has more than doubled, with parishes from Bellingham to Vancouver involved.
In April, the Missions Office is hosting a “come and see” event for parishioners who want to learn more about the Parish Ambassador Corps (see box).
“Our goal, of course, is to have 100 percent participation in PAC,” Hickman said. “It’s an empowering experience for folks.”
‘Who we’re called to be’
For Katie Frei and her husband, Dan, becoming parish ambassadors was a natural extension of their work with the St. Rose Social Justice Commission and a lifelong understanding of their faith.
“You reach out — it’s a universal church, it’s just part of who we are as Catholics,” Katie said. “It’s who we’re called to be.”
The couple, married 40 years, have three children who “all grew up with kind of a love for social justice,” Katie said. The Freis have been involved with JustFaith and the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle. They also find social justice inspiration in the examples of Pope Francis, the late Seattle Archbishop Thomas Murphy and retired Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, who “deeply impacted how I feel about social justice,” Katie said.
Although the Freis are the official St. Rose ambassadors and bring ideas back to the parish, they’re quick to give credit to the rest of the social justice team, whose hard work helps those ideas become reality. “They’re very enthusiastic and supportive,” Dan said.
Members of the social justice commission at St. Rose de Viterbo Parish in Longview — including, from left, Mary Wheeler, Dan Frei, Sara Parkin, Joan Hourigan and Allison Hutchinson — have been educating fellow parishioners about the importance of ethically traded goods. Photo: Stephen Brashear
When the program began, the group identified a few areas of emphasis: fairly traded coffee, an ethical trade sale, a prayer walk and Rice Bowl, Dan said.
They soon learned that St. Rose’s after-Mass hospitality group was already using ethically traded coffee, but some other parish groups weren’t. So they began focusing on education and communication, both in the parish bulletin and at coffee hour. They purchased ethically traded coffee cups and sugar packets and posted signs on the coffee pots noting the coffee being served is ethically traded.
The team is seeing success with its ethical trade sale during Advent; December’s sales doubled over the first year, Dan said. Parishioners could buy cocoa, coffee and chocolates from Equal Exchange (a worker cooperative), choose gifts from a catalog or buy items on display, including Christmas ornaments.
Some parishioners, glancing at the bottom of the ornaments, noted they weren’t made in China, Katie recalled with a laugh. “A lot of people are beginning to understand the difference,” she said. “They were delighted they were handmade by someone. This really makes a difference when you support the small farmer or the small artisan.”
The ambassador program has also given new energy to the parish’s Rice Bowl effort — during Lent 2017, the social justice commission organized weekly dinners based on Rice Bowl’s countries of focus. The meals were prepared by various groups: school parents, the Knights of Columbus, parish staff, the social justice team and the parish’s Hispanic ministry group, which prepared a Salvadoran meal. “We had a huge turnout for that dinner, it was really fun,” Katie said.
The dinners are being held again this Lent, with the same groups signed on to prepare them, Dan said.
As CRS ambassadors, the Freis appreciate the chance to meet other parish ambassadors at the archdiocese’s twice-yearly training retreats. “We’re really inspired by the other parishes and what they’re doing,” Katie said.
And they’re proud of the work that Catholic Relief Services does to help those in need around the globe.
“You want to share that with parishioners that go to Sunday Mass every week but don’t know this is what you’re a part of” as Catholics, Dan said. “It’s fun to bring that understanding to the broader parish.”
Become a CRS parish ambassador
Parishioners interested in joining the Catholic Relief Services Parish Ambassador Corps can learn more at a “come and see” event April 21 in Seattle.
Ambassadors must have the approval of their pastor or pastoral leader, and make a two-year commitment to the program. They receive training and inspiration at two retreats each year in Seattle, and ongoing support and resources from CRS and the archdiocesan Missions Office.
Parish Ambassador Corps
These parishes in the archdiocese are participating in Catholic Relief Services’ Parish Ambassador Corps:
Bainbridge Island – St. Cecilia
Bellevue – Sacred Heart, St. Madeleine Sophie
Bellingham – Church of the Assumption, Sacred Heart
Bothell – St. Brendan
Bremerton – Our Lady Star of the Sea
Castle Rock – St. Mary (in conjunction with St. Rose, Longview)
Covington – St. John the Baptist
Duvall – Holy Innocents
Issaquah – St. Joseph
Kelso – Immaculate Heart of Mary (in conjunction with St. Rose, Longview)
Kirkland – Holy Family
Longview – St. Rose de Viterbo
Puyallup – All Saints, Holy Disciples/Our Lady of Good Counsel Mission
Sammamish – Mary, Queen of Peace
Seattle – Christ Our Hope, Our Lady of Guadalupe,
St. James Cathedral, St. Mary
Shoreline – St. Luke
Snohomish – St. Michael Parish
Tacoma – St. Patrick
Vancouver – St. Joseph
Vashon – St. John Vianney
Woodinville – St. Teresa of Calcutta
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