A welcome development in recent years is the practice of using the federal holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to take “a day on, not a day off.” Though his actual birthday is today, Jan. 15, the date it is celebrated (Jan. 19) has become a day on which school students and hopefully more than a few adults perform a great variety of volunteer services for needy people in towns and neighborhoods close to home.

These corporal works of mercy reflect Catholic social teaching and they honor Dr. King, a proponent of nonviolent social change and racial equality. Thanks be to God, America continues to make strides toward realizing King’s dream of respect for people based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Still, we cannot forget our brothers and sisters in need around the globe. It’s easy to help in a concrete way our fellow Americans, but harder to reach out to people living in far different circumstances than we’re used to, especially if those people don’t appear in the news.

Reaching out to people abroad is one of the goals of the collection for Catholic Relief Services being taken up in all churches in the Archdiocese this weekend. The official relief and international development agency of the Catholic Church in the United States, CRS works in more than 100 countries to respond to human suffering in many forms.

It responds to natural and man-made disasters – including war and food deprivation – both at the time of immediate need and for long after TV news crews have moved away. For instance, CRS right now is helping to move much-needed supplies to Gaza in Palestine and food to drought-stricken Ethiopia, even while it helps residents of Haiti cope with last year’s hurricanes. And CRS continues to develop such projects as clean drinking water in Nicaragua and local vegetable gardens in western Africa, plus rebuilding tsunami-wracked areas of Indonesia.

Read more about the benefits of the CRS collection on the web at www.usccb.org/crscollection, and Cardinal Justin Rigali’s message on the topic at www.archphila.org.

The collection of this weekend and the volunteerism of next week are tangible ways for everyone to build a culture of peace, justice and harmony of peoples both close to home and far afield.