Many Catholics know of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as the international charitable outreach of the church. When the devastating typhoon hit the Philippines, parishes across Pennsylvania held collections to send aid.
Emergency relief is an important part of CRS’s work, but they do so much more. Over 4,500 people work with CRS in 93 countries, serving nearly 100 million of the poorest people in the world each year. CRS addresses the root causes of poverty, drought and disease in partnership with the local Catholic Church across the globe.
Jerica Youngken, a Diocese of Scranton native from Our Lady of Victory Parish in Tannersville, PA, long admired CRS’s work and is serving as an International Development Fellow in Kigali, Rwanda.
While the Pennsylvania Catholic Advocacy Network is working to affect change here, Jerica and other CRS fellows and missionaries are likewise improving communities across the globe.
Jerica took time from her service in Rwanda to answer a few questions.
What is the most striking difference between life in Pennsylvania and Rwanda?
The most striking difference for me is the pace of life. I often find that in Pennsylvania I rush from one thing to the next and I hardly take the time to really treasure the current moment. I am also always “plugged in” to the TV, computer, or smart phone.
In Rwanda, on the other hand, a large emphasis is placed on time spent with friends and family. When you run into someone you know on the street you take the time to properly greet them and have a conversation. Our office takes a break each day to share tea and coffee together and catch up on our lives outside of work. In the evenings I often visit a friend and we enjoy one another’s company without the distraction of electronics. Life in Rwanda feels much more peaceful and intentional in many ways.
How did your Catholic upbringing impact your desire to help others?
I was a student at a Catholic CCD program and attended Villanova University where my desire to serve others really took root. I participated in various Campus Ministries and even went on several service trips, both domestically and abroad. After college I volunteered with the Salesian Lay Missioners in Cochabamba, Bolivia. While there I worked at a Catholic orphanage for girls and decided that I wanted to pursue a career in international relief and development in order to use my gifts to assist others in bettering their quality of life and ensuring their human dignity.
How has the experience affected your Catholic faith?
Every time I travel abroad, and therefore far away from my closest friends and family, I am reminded of God’s unyielding love for me. It is in those moments when I am feeling alone, unsure, or simply unsettled that I feel God reaching out and reminding me that He is always there to guide and comfort me.
I also believe that my faith is strengthened everyday by observing the faith of our projects’ beneficiaries. Despite enduring food insecurity, malnutrition, barriers to healthcare and education, and numerous other hardships, they give thanks to God for the blessings they do have – family, a roof over their head, their community – and have faith that God will continue to provide. They have inspired me to constantly reflect on the blessings in my own life.
Where do you see this fellowship taking you next?
The beauty of the fellowship program is that we [the fellows] are exposed to many different areas of programming and operations, enabling us to gain a true sense of what we would like to pursue after the fellowship ends. For me specifically, the fellowship has confirmed my interest in pursuing a position in business development and/or program quality, preferably in the Latin American region.