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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. In modern parlance, the word ‘Catholic’ has come to denote a religious denomination as in ‘Roman Catholic’ or ‘non-Catholic’. However, the real meaning of the word points to something very different. The word ‘catholic’ comes from the Greek word kata-holos or ‘according to the whole’. Therefore, to be a ‘Catholic’ is to be a Christian who sees him or herself within a faith community that keeps the universal or global dimension of that community in view. And so for example, when we celebrate the Eucharist, the needs of the whole Church and all of humanity are kept in view and are included as part of our prayer.

In our prayers and thoughts this weekend are the millions of people who live in countries on the east of Africa who are being pushed to the edge of starvation. A deadly mix of climate change, conflict, COVID-19 and desert locust infestations are adding to a major humanitarian crisis. Millions of men, women and children as suffering the consequences as it drives mass displacement, hunger and poverty.

The effects of climate change are being widely discussed in these days especially with the ongoing COP 26 conference in Glasgow and the Irish Government’s €125 billion climate action plan announced in recent days. These funds will alleviate carbon emissions that are causing long term damage with the hope that action taken now will avoid catastrophe in the future.

Unfortunately for the people of Eastern Africa and countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, they do not have the time to wait until things get better. Starvation is on their door because of a prolonged drought over recent years that is causing their crops to fail. This drought is being caused by climate change and a change in the weather systems that is changing once fertile land into a desert.

In the First Reading at Mass this weekend, the prophet Elijah is wandering around the desert begging for food and water at a time of drought and famine. On his travels, he comes across a poor widow and he asks her for a little water and food. Despite the little she had, she obliges and shares from her meagre resources. And in the sharing, everyone is nourished. This episode pre-figures the story in the Gospel where Jesus commends the poor widow for giving all she had in contrast to the Pharisees who gave more financially but only from what they had left over. Both stories feature a poor widow who emerges as a heroine who gave all they had and shared with the kind of reckless abandon of Jesus’ himself who also ‘emptied himself’ in a life of charity and service.

And so then, what is God inviting us to do? Perhaps the first thing is to think and feel with a ‘catholic’ heart - that is with a heart and mind big enough to embrace the whole world, including the people of Eastern Africa.

Climate change is testing, at an unprecedented level, the bonds of solidarity and communion that exist between us in the human family. Are we prepared to change of our lifestyles and habits in response to those who live thousands of miles away? Do we not have a moral obligation to do so, given that those who are suffering most from climate change are those who have contributed the least to cause it?

The emergency appeal this weekend is being organized by Trocaire, the development agency for the Catholic Church in Ireland. Trocaire teams are responding to the crisis on the ground and are helping provide life-saving assistance on the ground in East Africa. But they cannot do it without us. Any support our parish can give in this weekend’s appeal will help the urgent work of Trocaire and their partners in East Africa that alleviates suffering and reduces the tragic loss of life.

Together we can make a difference and be a truly ‘Catholic’ Church by name and by nature – a Church who cares for all our brothers and sisters but especially those in Eastern Africa at this time of dire need.

You can donate to Trocaire by visiting their website at or by calling them on 01-6293333. Thank you.


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