Donor gives to appeal because she was helped herself

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ifeoma Afoenyi-Onyejekwe gives to the Annual Catholic Appeal because she wants to give back — not just to her local faith community at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Hyde Park and the Archdiocese of Chicago, but around the world, through the efforts of Catholic Relief Services.

She wants to give back because she benefitted from the help of Catholics around the world when she was a young girl and her home in Nigeria was torn by the Nigerian-Biafran War. She and her family would have starved, she said, had it not been for the help provided by Caritas, the church’s international relief agency.

“They airlifted food to us,” she said. “If I hadn’t eaten food from Caritas, I would have starved to death.”

Raised a Catholic by her mother, Afoenyi-Onyejekwe found comfort in her faith both when she was a child and young woman in Nigeria and in her life in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

She came here, she said, at the insistence of her mother-in-law, who wanted her to come and bring her husband back home. Instead, she stayed in Chicago with him and they raised a family here, sending their three children to St. Thomas the Apostle School.

Afoenyi-Onyejekwe now lives in Matteson. She continues to practice her faith as a way to stay close to God and to give thanks for the blessings she has received.

“It’s what carried me through to today,” she says. “When I look around in the world there’s war everywhere. And when you look in the news, there’s shooting, there’s killing. That gets to me. War is scary for me. But when I go to church and I hear the sermons and the readings, a lot of them give me hope in life, to go out into the world.”

Giving to the Annual Catholic Appeal allows her to keep the faith alive and growing, able to provide hope for people who now are suffering as she once did.

“God is there and God will take care of those who believe in him,” she said. “If it weren’t for my faith I might have fallen by the wayside. … God is alive, and prayer works.”