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
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…)