by Olivia Martin
OLATHE — Joe Weber has lived in an average of two- and-a-half countries per month for the past year.
And he isn’t backpacking across the world. He’s just doing his job.
Weber is the country representative for Pakistan for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and has worked in many of the 122 countries that have a CRS presence, from Zambia to Jamaica to Afghanistan.
In the midst of his work and travels, he recently found the opportunity to return to his former parish to speak about his experiences.
Once a youth minister at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe, Weber has always had a heart for service. From serving the poor in Guatemala with a group from the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center while attending the University of Kansas, to writing his theology master’s dissertation on St. John Paul’s definition of solidarity with the poor, Weber had a sense that he was called to give his life to them.
“It occurred to me: We just have to live close [to each other],” said Weber. “We don’t have to fix people. By living close to people, by being there, you develop a relationship. And then, you’re not dealing with an abstract concept of human suffering.
“You’re working with actual people.”
In 2004, when a magnitude 9.2 tsunami hit Southeast Asia, Weber was safely thousands of miles away returning to Kansas after spending Christmas in Colorado.
“I remember thinking, ‘That is where I should be. I should be in those places.’”
Ever since that moment, Weber knew he was being called to serve the poor abroad.
And he knew he wanted to be there the next time disaster struck.
“In 2010, I was in the Dominican Republic [with CRS] when the earthquake hit Haiti,” said Weber. “So, there I was.”
Now, more than eight years later — after years working with kids in inner- city Kingston, Jamaica, and helping Syrian refugees secure shelter and rural villages in Afghanistan start schools for their children — Weber loves his job more than ever.
“Nine-to-five are basically the best eight hours of my day,” he said. “I really love the people I work with and enjoy getting to know them and working through challenges with them.
“And these are the people we’re supposed to be afraid of — Afghans and refugees and kids involved in gangs! But when you get the good luck of meeting them in the right circumstances, they’re better friends and colleagues than you would get anywhere.”
Weber’s work has not only impacted the communities he has served abroad.
Ngugi Kamau, a parishioner of Prince of Peace Parish since 2006, was one of the crowd of people who listened to Weber’s presentation there earlier this month.
“I was very excited to meet someone from CRS,” said Kamau. “Growing up in coastal Kenya, I had a lot of help from CRS and always wanted to hear how it worked from the real people who work there.”
Kamau felt he was able to relate to Weber in many ways and was struck by Weber’s message of service.
“Joe made me realize that I need to do more — do more in love,” he said. “It could be anything: praying for those in need, giving to the needy, being there for the depressed. . . . I can be the light of Christ by the way I live my life in my family, my community and in my workplace.”
Father Frank Burger, who was pastor at Prince of Peace Parish during Weber’s time as youth minister, noticed the impact Weber has made on the local community as well.
“We were happy to have Joe as the leader of our youth ministry,” said Father Burger. “He provided both interesting and educational opportunities to our youth. He led the mission trips that provided greater insights to our youth about the need for service as a hallmark of the church.”
Following the yellow brick road home to Kansas is more than a chance for Weber to visit family and friends.
“Coming back to the U.S. has given me so many opportunities to talk about what I do,” he said.
“What people don’t necessarily realize is that in some way, shape or form, they’re already supporting CRS,” he continued, pointing out that the Lenten Rice Bowls are a common way people in parishes contribute to CRS.
“Coming back and meeting people that make that possible and [saying] thank you gives me the opportunity to marinate in my own gratitude,” said Weber.
“It’s been really good for my faith to be able to put faces to the generosity of the church,” he added.
For more information about CRS, visit the website.