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By Peter Novecosky, OSB
Abbot Peter NovokoskyChallenge of development work

Lent is the season that the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) launches its annual campaign for funds. It uses these funds to finance programs in the Global South. The Fifth Sunday of Lent, known as Solidarity Sunday, is the target date for parishioners to make their contributions.

In addition, CCODP organizes emergency collections to help people after natural disasters, and Canadians have proved to be most generous.

However, some Catholics are hesitant to give their full backing to CCODP because of allegations that some funding is tainted by supporting organizations that do not adhere to Catholic teaching.

Similar allegations have been made against the American international aid agency, Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

However, a Feb. 11 Catholic News Service story reports that charges that CRS used sex education materials in Rwanda that violate church teaching on human sexuality have been shown to be “unfounded."

No doubt, some of the mud thrown will stick, similar to mud that disfigured CCODP in the eyes of some in the past.

The charge against CRS was made by Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute. He claimed CRS used the publication My Changing Body: Puberty and Fertility Awareness for Young People to promote abortifacient contraception, masturbation and condom use.

In an internal investigation, CRS interviewed staff in Rwanda who worked for CRS and examined documents involved in the project. The joint project with Georgetown University promoted sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage in order to combat the spread of AIDS and the human immunodeficiency virus.

CRS said it found “no evidence that the objectionable passages Lepanto emphasized in the Georgetown document called My Changing Body were ever used in conjunction with CRS activities in Rwanda.”

CRS said it did “not collaborate with Planned Parenthood” nor did it “promote or ‘normalize’ masturbation for teenagers.” The agency said it also “did not promote or encourage the use of condoms or other forms of birth control” and it did not “ ‘normalize’ homosexuality.”

CRS said it worked with Georgetown University representatives in Rwanda, diocesan facilitators and priests to adapt My Changing Body to conform to Catholic teaching. The bishop from Rwanda’s Butare Diocese, where the project was implemented, said that the material in My Changing Body was adapted to ensure that all activities were consistent with Catholic teaching.

It will remain to be seen if this lifts the cloud that seems to follow Catholic organizations that are involved in development work with partners in the developing world.

Meanwhile, this year’s Share Lent program in Canada, titled Sow Much Love . . . to Give, is emphasizing the role of small family farmers in their struggle against hunger. It is part of Caritas Internationalis’ global campaign to eradicate hunger. Entitled One Human Family, Food for All, it was launched by Pope Francis in December 2013 and is being led by Caritas members throughout the world.

The CCODP website notes that there are 805 million people in the world who suffer from hunger. That is one person in nine. Amazingly, 50 per cent of them are farmers.

The website says: “Thanks to donations made during this campaign, Development and Peace can continue to build a more just food system, and a more just world. And thanks to our partners’ work, family farmers from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East have access to training and agricultural innovations that help them obtain good harvests and feed their families. These farming families also join forces in a spirit of community to share resources, create cooperatives, access markets, and assert their rights.”

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, encourages Catholics to support CCODP’s Sow Much Love campaign. He said helping the poorest of the poor “sows seeds of faith and love within ourselves.”

As the Bible says, faith is dead unless it shows itself in works of mercy and justice.