Christmas Love Overpowers Worldly Despair and Violence

Dear Friend,

As my family gathered around the Thanksgiving table this year, we were once again surrounded by the power and presence of love, and the multitude of God’s blessings, none greater than the one given to me by my position at Catholic Relief Services—the opportunity to serve the poor overseas. That so many of you generously join with me in this privileged work is always comforting and energizing. I certainly gave thanks for that.

But this year our Thanksgiving table also felt the presence of the recent tragedies in the world—the violence in Beirut, Paris and then Mali, where the CRS offices are only yards away from the targeted hotel. We were thankful that our staff was safe, but were reminded of the risks that CRS personnel take every day in so many countries to help the poor as the Gospel commands. How can you not be thankful to be allowed to work with such wonderful people?

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Technology transfer in macadamia grafting technologies for Kenyan farmers

By Todd Walton

Todd Walton demonstrates macadamia grafting techniques.

Todd Walton demonstrates macadamia grafting techniques. Photo courtesy of Todd Walton, used with permission

Macadamia nuts are grown in Kenya both as a cash crop and foreign exchange earner with Kenya producing about 10 percent of the world’s total production. Macadamia has great potential for poverty reduction due to the high value of its products and its low requirement for external inputs. Although the crop has been grown in the country for over 50 years, the growth of the industry is not commensurate with the demand and market potential that exists. The macadamia industry in Kenya faces several challenges the biggest of which is the lack of quality seedlings due to limited expertise in propagation. Grafted macadamia are more popular due to their fast growth rate and increased production. Macadamias are particularly difficult to graft, and in Kenya there are very few that knowledgeable and experienced in grafting techniques.

logoGood Neighbours’ Community Project has been promoting macadamia nut production in the Western Kenya; using conventionally produced seedlings that are not only poor yielding but which also take up to seven years before they begin producing nuts. It is for this reason that this host organization requested for F2F volunteer assistance in training their members as well as the Ministry of agriculture extension agents. In August 2015, Todd Walton completed a two week assignment. In these two weeks, he trained 40 people. Together with the community, they explored the various factors that contribute to limited graft success such as scion selection, timing of grafting and management of the root stock. He also practically demonstrated various seedling multiplication methods with special emphasis on grafting techniques, while also demonstrating other methods such as air layering. To ensure success of grafted seedlings, he also trained on nursery management.

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Thanksgiving for Harvests of Progress

Dear Friend,

Odin Eliane with the dried stalks of his family's maize crop, Mozambique. Photo by Heidi Yanulis for CRS

Odin Eliane with the dried stalks of his family’s maize crop, Mozambique. Photo by Heidi Yanulis for CRS

Recently, before a Catholic Relief Services event in Wisconsin, I met a woman who told me that in the 1950s her mother was resettled from Romania to the United States through the Caritas network, which includes CRS.

Her mom made a good life for her family. The daughter I was talking to was the first to graduate from college—in nursing. Her brother became an engineer.

In November, we give thanks for the harvest. In this woman, I saw the fruit of our work from 60 years ago. The encounter made me reflect on how grateful I am to be a part of the organization that helped an individual step into a better tomorrow, and an entire family flourish—those here now and those yet to be born. I am grateful that in return for our work of planting, God sends unimaginable harvests!

There are harvests like this in families all over the world.

According to projections by the World Bank, about 700 million people are living in extreme poverty—on less than $2 a day—this year. That’s just under 10% of the world’s population. But 3 years ago, more than 900 million people—almost 13% of the world’s population—lived in extreme poverty. For many, these statistics say that the goal of eradicating extreme poverty is not an idealistic dream; it is achievable—perhaps within our lifetime.

The progress made is because of many factors—an important one being the involvement and generosity of people like you. You have heard the Gospel call to help those in God’s family who need assistance. We know that our economic privileges do not make us better than the poor. We do not reach down to help them; we reach across—across the miles, the oceans, the continents—connecting with our brothers and sisters, with our family, just as they connect with us.

What a privilege! You cannot help but be thankful.

So as we see the possibility of this poverty reduction milestone in the years ahead, let us re-dedicate ourselves to this mission. By working with CRS, you can help ensure that those living in poverty will have the building blocks they need to construct a better life—nutrition, education, health care, peace. These are fundamental to a successful economy and a more prosperous life for all.

You can also help ensure that those who suffer a severe shock—whether from a flood or drought, a hurricane or an earthquake—will soon be back on their feet and ready to stride into the future.

Although progress lies before us, there are many obstacles. One of the biggest is violent conflict in too many places, which has millions of people on the road, seeking safety, a better life for their families—and peace.

You have certainly heard about the thousands now reaching Europe. For every one who makes it, there are many, many more still in the Middle East and Africa. They’ve been forced from their homes and are living hand-to-mouth wherever they can find shelter. Helping them return to their homes and livelihoods must be a priority for all of us. Contemplating their plight as we gather with our families this month must make us all thankful for the places we call home.

There are other challenges, including the need, as the Holy Father reminds us, to care for God’s creation so that its bounty can support us all.

And do not forget that even if extreme poverty is eliminated, that does not mean poverty will not exist. Living on $2 a day is hardly the life of dignity and grace that God intends.

So as we gather with our families, let us be thankful that we have received that grace, that we know that love, and that God allows us to share it with others.

May blessings overflow.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO

From Migrant Worker To ’Walking Miracle’

By Nikki Gamer

Caritas Lebanon staffer Nirmala Wijesinghe, 51, runs a safe house in Beirut for victims of human trafficking and employer abuse.

Caritas Lebanon staffer Nirmala Wijesinghe, 51, runs a safe house in Beirut for victims of human trafficking and employer abuse.

It’s lunchtime on a weekday and Nirmala Wijesinghe walks into a room bearing a piping hot bowl filled with curried chicken and rice. Without wasting any time, the 51-year-old sets it down before a table of hungry, young Italian volunteers and encourages them to dig in.

As the Italians enjoy their lunch, Nirmala looks on with pride.

“I love to please people,” she says with a smile.

The job of chef is just one of the many roles she juggles as head of a Caritas Lebanon safe house in Beirut. The safe house is for female victims of human trafficking and employer abuse. And it’s a place Nirmala has presided over for nearly a decade, often working seven days a week, and on call 24 hours a day. Her time is spent cooking, organizing, overseeing activities, cleaning, listening to and spending time with the 70 plus women who live there at any given time.

These migrant women are often referred to the safe house by the government, with whom Catholic Relief Services, through Caritas, works to support migrant workers to help them better understand and reclaim their rights – and to be in a safe, dignified place while doing so.

“There is a reason I’m here,” Nirmala explains. “I never think of this as a job. I think of it as a mission.”

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Pope Francis’ Harvest Message

Dear Friend,

ope Francis greets people outside the Vatican Embassy before leaving for the White House during his visit to the United States.

Pope Francis greets people outside the Vatican Embassy before leaving for the White House during his visit to the United States. Photo courtesy Jaclyn Lippelmann/CNS

Wasn’t the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States energizing and inspiring? The Holy Father spoke so directly to all of us who share his faith, communicating his deep understanding of how our faith demands that we look to those too often overlooked.

Though he spent just a few days with us in the United States, that was time enough to direct our focus to his messages―that we have special responsibilities to care for this common home that God has given us, and for the poor and oppressed who so often are the ones that bear the burden of our failure to care for that home.

Whether living around the corner or around the world, such people are all sacred members of God’s family―of our family. This message particularly resonated, coming as Catholics gathered in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.

During his visit, Pope Francis was not telling us anything that we do not know, but his compelling pastoral style and consistent emphasis on the actions that need to accompany our faith forcefully remind us of eternal truths about our Church and our beliefs. Personally, it has been a humbling honor to be able to spend time in his presence, both at the Vatican and in the United States.

The challenge for all of us in the extended Catholic Relief Services family is to make sure that the energy and inspiration Pope Francis brought us did not get on the plane and fly away with him. We must heed his messages and, indeed, grow them into forces and actions that will lead to genuine, sustainable change―in our lives and in the lives of those Pope Francis focuses on, who are too often confined to the margins of our societies.

We are now entering autumn―the season of harvest. It is when we reap the bounty of what was sown in the spring, when warmth returned to our hemisphere in God’s yearly renewal of promise and hope. That warmth increased over the summer and now, as it begins to disappear, we thankfully enjoy the life it has once again sustained.

But as we harvest those spring plantings, let us not forget that we plant in this season as well. The fall is when we plant bulbs―daffodils, tulips, iris, hyacinths―that will lie dormant beneath the barren ground of winter, but burst forth with vibrant color in the spring.

So, even as we harvest the bountiful inspiration that Pope Francis has left us and use it to extend our care and compassion to everyone he’s ministered to, we must also allow the seeds of his message to germinate within us so they will burst forth months from now and renew our commitment to the demands of our faith.

This is important because the tasks that Pope Francis calls us to undertake are not easy ones.

The refugees from Syria and Iraq are not going to disappear. The violence that drove them from their homes has been going on for years. Even as we use our voices to call for peace, we must ensure that those forced from their homes are treated with dignity and respect.

The damage that our Earth endures each and every day is having real impact on those who did nothing to cause it. Even as we push to lessen the emissions and the waste that are causing damage, we must do all we can to help the people most affected adapt to climate change in ways that sustain and empower them.

There are many more tasks that will need your continuing commitment. But never forget―and this is so crucial to what the Holy Father tells us―these are not burdens. Undertaking them brings the joy that comes when you let God work through you―through your hands, through your feet, through your mind.

Every day at CRS we learn over and over again something that Pope Francis knows so well: Serving the poor is a privilege.

May blessings overflow.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO

Sharing Best Practices with Uganda Farmers

Jeff Knowles, a retired USDA employee recently completed a three week assignment in rural Uganda with the Farmer To Farmer program sponsored by Catholic Relief Services. While in Uganda, Knowles worked closely with a local farmers cooperative to provide technical assistance to its 1,800 farmer membership.Knowles with local host, Joseph Mugushi, traveled to seven different villages and gave presentations on soil conservation, composting and best management practices.

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Web chat: Caring for Our Common Home

Thank you for joining the Catholic Relief Services and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops online Catholics Confront Global Poverty discussion: Caring for Our Common Home: Following Pope Francis’ Call to Action on Climate Change. A transcript of the conversation is below.

Live Blog Caring for Our Common Home: Following Pope Francis’ Call to Action on Climate Change

For more information:

Francis Affirms CRS Work With Families

Dear Friend,

In a few weeks, Pope Francis will be in the United States, focusing the attention of so many Americans on the beliefs and works of our wonderful Church. This Pope has garnered admiration from all segments of our society by steadfastly proclaiming the eternal verities of Catholicism while projecting the caring, warmth and love that Christ asks from all of us.

Francis will meet with the powerful—the President, Congress, the United Nations—and the poor. He will obey a command of Matthew 25 and visit prisoners at a jail in Philadelphia. He will also address the World Meeting of Families—the triennial gathering begun by Saint John Paul in 1994 to celebrate, examine and strengthen this essential of our society.

When we think of the Church as the bride of Christ, we realize that the family is the building block of our faith. We are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of these parents. And then we come to understand that all of us are God’s children—part of the family that is mankind.

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Prayer for Taiwan

God of all creation,

Out of darkness you brought beauty and goodness as you created the world.

Even before day and night, you created the sea and the earth out of chaos and called them good.

Today, we come to you as people in need of that life-giving goodness. As you once created order and goodness out of chaos,
Do so so again in Taiwan.

Be with your people as they rebuild their lives.
Fill them with faith to trust in you, knowing that you are present in the calmness of the whispering wind.
Surround them with your love as they try to make sense of this act of nature.

May our hearts remain open to our brothers and sisters as we respond in faith to their need.

We ask this in the name of Jesus.


Better Than Disney World

By Michael Trujillo

CRS Fair Trade benefactor Adonis Santiago, 5, with his mother Maria Escalante.

CRS Fair Trade benefactor Adonis Santiago, 5, with his mother Maria Escalante. Photo by Alex Núñez. Used with permission.

Last month, Stephanie Bossee, CRS program coordinator for the Diocese of Orlando, spoke to students at St. Francis of Assisi’s Vacation Bible School. She talked about CRS’s commitment to fair trade and our partnership with companies to ensure livable wages and better lives for those we serve overseas. St. Francis of Assisi’s Children’s Faith Formation Coordinator Yahaira Olmeda and her students were inspired and decided to collect funds to help their brothers and sisters in other countries.

Adonis Santiago, 5, came in one day with a bag full of coins to put in the collection jar. Because other kids in the crew did not have anything to put in the jar that day, Yahaira’s sister, a Vacation Bible School teacher, asked the boy if he would be willing to have the other kids put some of his money into the jar. Adonis agreed and started handing coins to the other kids. Expecting Adonis to give maybe a coin or two to each kid, Yahira’s sister was surprised and delighted when he stuck his hand in the bag and started handing out coins by the fistful.

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