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Joanna Arellano is the Associate Director for the Office for Peace and Justice.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Rwandan Joy

It is important to be able to make people welcome; this is something even more beautiful than any kind of ornament or decoration…because when we are generous in welcoming people...not only do we no longer remain poor; we are enriched.” – Pope Francis, Varginha Favela

These words of Pope Francis echoed deep within my heart upon first hearing them at World Youth Day in Brazil. Then, I was blessed with the opportunity to see them beautifully lived out by the people of Rwanda. Memories of these trips are now beginning to resurface as I prepare for Lent this year. Prior to my trip to Rwanda with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), I was only vaguely aware of the devastating genocide that occurred in 1994. Throughout my visit to various CRS projects, the gravity of the trauma, violence, and profound pain, finally sank in.

Yet, despite that suffering, the Rwandan people greeted us with dancing and hugs and told us of their hope, peace building efforts, and their new vision of community. One leader told me that they go to great lengths to recognize one another as brother and sister so as to eliminate any possibility of re-living the militant hate that had brainwashed so many of their neighbors.

The Lazarus Effect

They were also very eager to share their stories of transformation through CRS programs. We visited a CRS agriculture project that had been dubbed the “Lazarus Effect” because they said it gave individuals a second chance at living. When it came time to introductions, one man shared his story of how he had been near starvation, as well as chastised by his village because he had a life-threatening virus. But after CRS workers showed the villagers how to develop kitchen gardens that grow fruits and vegetables that are nutritionally-dense for people with this type of virus, as well as teach them how to tend to it, this man became one of the leaders who looked after the garden and his health gradually became stabilized.

After experiencing such a trip, I encourage all of us to stay away from the temptation of simply giving up one’s favorite snack, Facebook, or other minor addictions this Lent, and really push ourselves to use this time to cultivate a new perspective of awareness, giving, and solidarity.

Solidarity through CRS Rice Bowl

CRS Rice Bowl encourages us to live out the three pillars of Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) in a global way. During the season of Lent, we have an opportunity to enter into a spiritual relationship with our brothers and sisters in various countries that benefit from CRS programs. With CRS Rice Bowl, you can get to know them and their stories, pray for them, share a meal with them by cooking their traditional recipes, as well as help fund the CRS programs that are changing their lives for the better. While our global neighbors might be oceans and continents away from us, they are not an idea we can compartmentalize into “the poor.” They have stories, histories, families, hope; they are us.

Rwanda graciously gave me a new lens of understanding happiness and joy. The joy that radiated so easily in their smiles and presence stemmed from an inner dialogue with Christ. Their continuous love and sense of community is an expression of the grace they foster in their hearts because they truly understand what it means to be enriched by giving, even if they have so little materially.

As we journey through the Lenten season, let us respond to the invitation by Pope Francis to be welcoming to our brothers and sisters no matter where they may be. Let us grow in solidarity with them, as we pray, fast, and give alms to assist them.

Connect with CRS Rice Bowl to begin fostering a spirit fed by the joy of giving.

For more information on CRS Rice Bowl, the countries and people being assisted this year, and how you can get involved, visit

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