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
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.
Catholic Relief Services was founded as War Relief Services in 1943 initially to help refugees from the cataclysm that was World War II. The unprecedented devastation of that war left tens of millions dead and even more homeless and seeking shelter and safety. The relief and recovery efforts supported by the Catholic community in the United States lasted for years.
World War II lived up to its name as its devastation was genuinely worldwide. It affected my parents who fled Japanese-occupied Hong Kong where I grew up. Perhaps it affected your family as well. When it ended with nuclear horror, there was a firm commitment to ensure that the world would never see anything like it again.
Out of that came the United Nations, a forum built on the hope that words would be an alternative to weapons. In recognition of the tens of millions who had become war refugees, this new body included the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to help protect the rights of people forced from their homelands, giving them aid and upholding their dignity. In the decades since World War II, CRS has often worked with UNHCR to help refugee populations.
I was honored to be asked to the Vatican last month to be one of the speakers at the press conference announcing Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. It was an honor that really goes to Catholic Relief Services—including all of you who support CRS—because it was a recognition of the important work we do to help the poor around the world.
Because of my background in business education, I was asked to address the issues the encyclical raises with the business community. I have always felt that the true purpose of business is to contribute to the common good by harnessing its power and importance with appropriate ethics. The environmental issues that our world faces as we contemplate the fate of God’s creation give business just such an opportunity. (more…)
Many of us who live in Baltimore, where Catholic Relief Services is headquartered, heard from far-flung family and friends in April wondering if we were okay. Some of these inquiries came from the other side of the world.
The concern was understandable, after violence erupted in connection with protests over the death of an African-American man in police custody. Some buildings near our headquarters were damaged or destroyed. Following police advice, CRS closed early one day and remained closed the next. But overwhelmingly, our response to the inquiries about our safety was, “Yes, we’re fine.” The experience made me think about the challenges CRS faces in our peacebuilding work in countries around the world.
In the United States, we rarely appreciate the structures we have to maintain peace. If we have a dispute—whether it is over a business deal gone bad or a traffic accident—we consult the authorities. In general, we trust their objectivity and fairness, that the rule of law will be applied. Our peaceful electoral process is a wonderful example of nonviolent transition of power in our democracy.
May is the month of hope realized.
It is the hope promised by the Passion of Easter, turned into a full realization of redemption for mankind.
It is the hope promised by the minutes of daylight beginning to outnumber those of darkness, and the leaves and flowers and shoots of grass that emerge into the returning warmth.
It is in this month that we honor our mothers, thanking them for their faith when they began the journey of motherhood.
Easter is upon us, our day of redemption and joy as the grace of our Lord turns the despair of the crucifixion into the joy of the resurrection. This most important day of our faith is a celebration of life, both temporal and eternal, the fundamental gift that God has bestowed upon us. It is the Good News that we must proclaim.
Easter has been celebrated for over two millennia by Christianity. Its linkage to the life-affirming celebration of Passover gives it a heritage that goes back many more centuries, to the beginnings of humanity’s understanding of the one God who is the Lord of us all.
These are indeed venerable traditions and we should be rooted in the authenticity that comes with their age. Our faith is not subject to the winds of change or the whims of fashion. It is solidly anchored, the rock upon which our Church is built.
This month we observe Lent, when we contemplate the sacrifice our Lord made on our behalf, performing acts that are both symbolic and concrete, and which are designed to lead us to a better understanding of what it means to be selfless—to sacrifice for others.
CRS Rice Bowl is a Catholic Relief Services Lenten program focused on faith formation through helping the poorest of the poor around the world. Many think it is a fundraising program, but that is not why we do it. Certainly we are grateful for the generosity of millions of Catholics across the United States who fill their CRS Rice Bowls. The money helps tens of thousands of poor people in other parts of the world.
But we look at CRS Rice Bowl as primarily being about gaining a better understanding the Gospel message that Jesus brought us.
I know that many of you, like me, can remember a moment when it “clicked”—when the faith you were taught and which you accepted suddenly took on a deeper resonance, a meaning that touched your soul as it never had before.
The Lenten season approaches and, at Catholic Relief Services, that means the season of CRS Rice Bowl.
In 1975 a group of Catholics in Allentown, Pennsylvania, heard the cries of hungry people in the Sahel region of West Africa, which was suffering from famine. During Lent, they created Operation Rice Bowl to reach across the ocean with their prayers and donations.
Two years later, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the program as a recurring expression of their Lenten tradition. CRS Rice Bowl became a pillar of our work as the official international relief and development agency of the Catholic community in the United States. So this Lent, for the 40th time, Catholics will take part in fasting and almsgiving as we prayerfully consider the plight of the hundreds of millions in God’s family who hunger for food every day.
In the past 4 decades, much has changed. CRS Rice Bowl has spread from Allentown to the majority of parishes nationwide. You can now download the CRS Rice Bowl app—and I urge you do so. You can watch videos about the impact CRS Rice Bowl has in countries where hunger is endemic. You can also hear personal reflections on the meaning of Lent from prominent Catholics and learn how to prepare simple meals that are enjoyed by the people CRS serves. And you can get ideas for small sacrifices you and your family can make during the 40 days of Lent that will help our global brothers and sisters in need. (more…)
And so a New Year begins: a time to make resolutions and face the future with a clean slate, ready to write a better narrative. Maybe this is the year you will get that promotion or lose those 10 pounds or spend more time with your children. I encourage you to nurture such hope. From it can spring the flower of positive change.
At the same time, we realize that the New Year begins amid many problems around the world.
You are aware of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and how Catholic Relief Services—with your help—is responding to thousands of people affected by this deadly virus. Children who are now orphans need our support, and the virus has dealt a major blow to economies still recovering from years of war. These effects will be felt for a long time to come.
Beyond West Africa, we can point to crises in other countries, including Syria, Iraq and Central African Republic. Violence rooted in politics has taken on religious dimensions, forcing millions of people from their homes.
Then there’s South Sudan, the world’s newest nation. Fighting there is entering its second year and making it difficult to get support to those who need it the most.
Such tough challenges can make you wonder if New Year’s Day really marks the beginning of something new or just a recurrence of old problems.
But you are making a difference, and progress against malaria is one example of that. The World Malaria Report 2014 shows that the incidence of this disease dropped by 30% from 2000 to 2013. Mortality rates have declined by 47% worldwide and by 54% in Africa. Among children under age 5, the mortality rate declined by 53% worldwide and by 58% in Africa.