MOUNT ANGEL — A Catholic Relief Services worker who builds water systems in Latin America spoke to students at Mount Angel Seminary about his work, which he considers a ministry.
Paul Hicks lives in El Salvador, where much of the world’s coffee is grown on small farms. He told the seminarians that their cups of joe, whether from Starbucks or the seminary decanter, link them to low-income farmers. And since each cup is 90 percent water, coffee drinkers also are connected to local watersheds and water users all over the globe, Hicks explained, quoting Pope Francis in “Laudato Si’, a 2015 encyclical on the theological and moral reasons to care for the earth.
“God wills the interdependence of creatures,” the pope wrote. “Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other.”
Hicks showed the future priests a photo of a Salvadoran girl climbing a hill with a large vase on her head, bringing water to her home. Like girls in developing nations the world over, she fetches water all day instead of going to school. That’s the life of a coffee farmer’s daughter and Americans bear some responsibility for the limits set on her, Hicks implied.
“It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected,” Hicks told the seminarians. He said that coffee, fruit of a tree and work of human hands, in a sense becomes a sacrament of interrelation. Knowing that may change the way we think, act and buy, he explained.
Hicks told the seminarians that priests and monks have urged him along the way in his work.
He said his vocation in overseas aid began when he was in high school in San Diego and went on a service trip to nearby Tijuana. In the 1980s, the Mexican border city was covered with shantytowns peopled by beleaguered Central American refugees. He learned about mission work from priests who served migrants by looking out for their basic needs.
Before moving to El Salvador, Hicks served in Albania, the Philippines and Afghanistan. He began the Blue Harvest program in Central America, which promotes sustainable water management.
Catholic Relief Services began a partnership with Mount Angel Seminary in 2015. The U.S. bishops’ overseas aid arm, CRS sees seminaries as an important way to reach future priests, whose support is critical to the agency’s mission. Seminaries have invited CRS to help form future priests by offering presentations and learning resources.
An audio recording of Hicks’ presentation at Mount Angel is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/8cvnev8cihitzvo/Paul%20Hicks%20Integral%20Ecology.mp4?dl=0