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If you’re having a cup of coffee while reading this, you might be interested to know that a small group of American Catholic journalists are packing their bags and getting ready to take off for what some consider the coffee capital of the world.
Hosted by Catholic Relief Services, the journalists will be flying to Colombia this Sunday to get an inside look at how the US bishops’ overseas relief and development agency is helping coffee growers attain a better life there.
The Jan. 10–16 press junket will bring PR expert Sherry Brownrigg, radio hosts Lino Rulli and Drew Mariani, author Lisa Hendey and Father Rafael Capo, a Hispanic ministry director, to San Juan de Pasto, a classic South American city of 500,000 with beautiful architecture, restaurants and people.
Their agenda is packed: a look at the entire coffee-making process, from seed to savor; a tour of a “safe” coca field where they will hear from experts on how the plant that is used in cocaine production exists side-by-side with coffee; a visit to sites where refugees from conflict and drug trade violence are received; a stop at a Jesuit-owned plantation, where the priests combine coffee growing and ministry, and possibly a chance to interview experts in the government about the ceasefire coming up in March between the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and the government.
Colombia’s five-decade-old armed conflict and ongoing human rights violations have made it a country with one of the largest numbers of internally displaced people in the world, CRS points out.
The goal of the trip is for media to go into the fields where CRS is doing the projects supported by the Rice Bowl project, explained Lisa Hendey in an interview. Hendey counts herself lucky to have a chance to travel with the group, not least because she and her family have long supported CRS.
“I am a firm believer in the work that they do. I love traveling, but more importantly the chance to see these projects firsthand, the work they’re doing and the difference they’re making in people’s lives, and to share that with our readers, is an amazing opportunity,” she said.
CRS provides humanitarian assistance to displaced Colombians in the host communities that receive them in Ecuador. According to its website, the agency strives to meet needs for “food and non-food assistance; provides psychosocial support for victims of gender-based violence; works with schools to promote the integration of children and adolescents who come to border communities; provides training and support for income generation through productive ventures and SILC (savings and internal lending committees), microfinance groups that benefit the most vulnerable; and influences local authorities to develop favorable public policies for vulnerable populations.”
“I’m planning on using every means possible to bring our readers along on the trip,” Hendey said. “I’ll be using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram primarily, and I’ll probably have one or two blog posts each day that will be a recap of the day’s events.”
She said that her previous trips with CRS — to Rwanda and Tanzania — provided fodder for speaking engagements and writing projects.
“Last year’s trip, the focus was clean water projects, and I had the opportunity to be part of Matthew Kelly’s new book, Beautiful Mercy, and the chapter I wrote for that book was related to what I learned in Tanzania about water.”
She acknowledged the concerns about safety in Colombia but said the region the group is visiting is “not one that has particular safety concerns.”
“This is my third time traveling with them, and I know they have guides and drivers who know what they’re doing,” she said.
But on her website, which links to the social media where she will be posting updates throughout the trip, she asks readers to join her in praying through the intercession of Colombia’s patrons, Our Lady of Chiquinquirá, St. Louis Bertrand and St. Peter Claver “for the success and safety of our journey.”
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.